96 Hours with the Audi R8

Regis Lefebure
#Audi, #R8


It's 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday and I'm shivering at the end of my driveway, waiting for associate art director Nicole Lazarus to arrive in the R8, which came to rest at Jason Cammisa's house only a few hours ago, when he returned from his run to Pittsburgh. The shriek of the R8's 420-hp V-8 finally rends the morning air, and the silvery shark rushes toward me. Nicole opens the door, jumps out, and pronounces the R8 "the coolest car I've ever driven!" In my excitement and haste, I leap into the R8 and come within inches of backing it into a pile of landscaping rocks. While sitting in the driveway letting my blood pressure recede and thanking my lucky stars, I take a gander at the R8's cabin. Strangely but endearingly, the driver's interior door handle differs from the passenger's, to accommodate additional window controls. But, somehow, when Audi does asymmetry, it still ends up looking symmetrical.

We're headed from Ann Arbor to Chicago for lunch, the realization of a longtime notion of mine that heretofore has met with indifference from my colleagues. The way I figure it, we have a car that is beyond fabulous, so we need to go to the greatest city within reach--Chicago, hands down--and have a fabulous lunch in a swank place. Peninsula Hotel, Magnificent Mile, city of broad shoulders, here we come.

Westbound I-94 is crawling with cops, so I set the cruise at 80 mph, ask Nicole to break open the chocolate and the Evian, and turn up the radio to mask the annoying wind noise coming off the trailing edge of the driver's door. (It's an early production car.) The seats are comfortable and the ride is reasonably supple, but the dead pedal needs more space in the footwell. Thick fog gives way to sun and clear skies as we reach Saint Joseph, so we stop to bathe the R8 at a hand car wash. We cross into Indiana well before eleven o'clock, and soon enough we're running through the gears, gunning out of the Indiana Toll Road tollbooth.

With the transition from Eastern to Central time zones, it's only 10:45 a.m. when we crest the Chicago Skyway bridge, and the city's skyline, anchored by the Sears Tower on the left and the John Hancock Center on the right, unfolds before us. It's a view I've seen a hundred times, in dozens of different cars, and one that I never tire of. The R8 noses up Stony Island Avenue to Lake Shore Drive to Columbus Circle, and within minutes we're amid the throngs on Michigan Avenue, where we blip the throttle to part the streams of office workers, shoppers, and kids on spring break. Dawn, the woman training the horses for the tourist carriages that hang out near the old Water Tower, sticks her head into the passenger's window of the idling R8, so I offer her a ride. "Wow, what is this?" she asks. "I bet it's fast. I went 120 mph once in my Grand Am GT."

Our arrival at the Peninsula's valet lane is suitably grand, and an elevator whisks us up to the fourth floor and the Shanghai Terrace restaurant (Avenues, the really swank on-site eatery, wasn't open for lunch, or editor-in-chief Gavin Conway would still be choking on the bill). As he twirls a stem of Laurent-Perrier champagne, my friend Paul Clark, a firefighter who just came off shift, remarks on his circuitous journey that morning from his fire company's impoverished west-side location to his middle-class north-side neighborhood to this gilded epicenter of wealth and privilege.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's not Chicago's Gold Coast but rather the South Side where the R8 gets its most enthusiastic reviews. "Hey," asks another customer as we pull up to the pumps at a BP station on Stony Island Avenue before heading home. "Ain't you a movie star?" "Nope, I'm afraid we're not Hollywood royalty," I reply. But in the Audi R8, we sure felt like the king and queen of Chicago for the day. Joe Dematio

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