The mid-engine, all-wheel-drive R8 enters its fifth model year and is still capable of turning heads at rotational speeds that rival the engines' lofty redlines: 8200 rpm for the 4.2-liter V-8, 8700 rpm for the 5.2-liter V-10. Regardless of engine choice, this aluminum masterpiece is as spectacular to drive as it is to look at. Provided, that is, that you're driving one equipped with a manual transmission. The six-speed stick is a pleasure to master, as its metal external shift gate provides a satisfying clack-clack soundtrack as you row through the gears. Even as the rest of the world (including Audi) has moved on to dual-clutch automatics, the R8's automatic transmission remains a jerky, single-clutch unit that saps the everyday usability out of this car. Although the R8 certainly looks and feels more exotic, the Porsche 911 is really its biggest competitor. In terms of usability, the 911 -- available with a dual-clutch transmission and a back seat -- is the clear winner. On the other hand, there are few cars on the road that compete with the R8's presence, exclusivity, and performance. If the latter two are especially important, you might consider the R8 GT, which contains a 560-hp version of the Lamborghini V-10 engine but, unfortunately, comes mated only to the automatic gearbox.
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