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.

Drive: 4-wheel
Trim levels: R8 4.2 FSI Quattro, R8 5.2 FSI Quattro, R8 5.2 GT Quattro
Body styles: Coupe, convertible, 2-passenger
Engines: 4.2L V-8, 430 hp, 316 lb-ft
5.2L V-10, 525/560 hp, 391/398 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
Passenger Volume: N/A
Cargo space: (trunk/behind seats) 3.5/3.2 cu ft

With the addition of the R8 5.2 GT, there are now nine R8 models to choose from — coupe or Spyder convertible, V-8 or V-10, manual or R tronic automated manual. The R8 GT is a limited-production model based on the V-10 coupe. Only 333 units will be produced worldwide, with 90 earmarked for the U.S. The remainder of the R8 lineup carries over unchanged.

Front, side, and knee air bags; traction and stability control; and ABS are standard.

All: 11-13 mpg city/19-21 mpg highway

  • Gorgeous styling
  • Brilliant performance
  • Everyday usability
  • Overweight despite aluminum
  • High V-8 fuel consumption
  • Jerky automated manual

A Lamborghini for the working rich.

  • Ferrari 458 Italia
  • Lamborghini Gallardo
  • McLaren MP4-12C
  • Porsche 911
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