The Audi R8 is stunning in this monochromatic color pallete. The only glaring omission is a set of blacked-out wheels. I think bright alloys look wrong on a car that’s otherwise devilishly dark and mysterious. Not everyone will love the dark interior, but it does reduce glare on sunny days.
This was my second experience with Audi’s R tronic transmission, but the other R tronic-equipped car I sampled packed the more potent 5.2-liter V-10 engine, and the transmission was calibrated differently. R tronic works well enough for a single-clutch unit, although most enthusiasts will likely clamor for the more traditional six-speed manual. It can be frustrating if you try to drive an R tronic car like a traditional automatic but there are other automated manual transmissions that don’t work as well as Audi’s solution (BMW’s old SMG comes to mind). A twin-clutch unit would be much nicer, but it’s not yet available.
An Audi R8 is still a very rare sight on the roads around Ann Arbor, so I got lots of looks in traffic. The R8 doesn’t generate as much attention as the Lotus Exige S 260 I recently sampled, but then again not much can compete with a car that looks like a toy.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Having the Audi R8 back on Liberty Street is great. I agree with Phil that black-on-black color scheme on this R8 is pretty slick. I’m afraid adding black wheels would just contribute to the vehicle’s batmobile-ish features it already possesses. I do like the black interior far more than our recently departed four-seasons Limestone Gray. It’s easier on the eyes, looks classy, and allows the carbon fiber and chrome accents to really stand out.
The R Tronic transmission is just fine. It can be jerky and shift unexpectedly in automatic mode, but when you put the vehicle in sport mode and use the paddle shifters, the transmission is awesome and rips off lightning quick shifts. I still prefer the manual strictly for the fun aspect.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
The R Tronic single-clutch transmission is definitely a compromise. This racing-derived gearbox reportedly works great on the track, and it’s better when you put the car in sport mode, but it’s extremely herky-jerky in daily driving around town. I’m also told that R Tronic works better with the V-10 engine in the new R8 5.2, but I haven’t yet driven that car.
The actual user interface for R Tronic is interesting. Slide the lever to the left to select M for manual mode or A for automatic mode. Push the lever forward to upshift. Pull the lever backward to downshift. Reverse is down and to the right. It’s all intuitive and works well, and the gearshift lever itself feels great in your hand. Since there is no P-for-park setting, I’ll just make sure to use the parking brake. The Audi setup is certainly much better than the R-for-reverse buttons on a lot of modern Ferraris. I can never get accustomed to those.
To be specific about the R8 R Tronic, when you’re in normal automatic mode, this transmission takes a deep breath with every gear change, then spews the car forward. It’s really quite weird, and yet more evidence that carmakers, in their quest to provide the convenience of a traditional torque-converter automatic with performance that exceeds a traditional manual transmission, still aren’t there yet. They’re making progress, to be sure, but R Tronic is just the latest in a long line of compromised transmissions over the past decade, along with BMW’s SMG and Maserati’s CambioCorsa.
My concerns about R Tronic aside, it was certainly a delight to get into an R8 again, especially one as well tricked-out as our black-on-black test car, and I found the illuminated V-8 under glass to be so enchanting when I got home late last night in the dark, I took a picture of it and Facebooked it.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
There are few tasks in life I can perform better than a computer can, but apparently, engaging a clutch and shifting a transmission is one of them.
I agree with both Phil and Joe — R Tronic is best if treated as a conventional manual transmission, but the gearbox is crippling in congested city traffic, and subsequently removes one of the characteristics I loved about our Four Seasons car: everyday drivability. Without the ability to allow my left foot to modulate power, that characteristic starts to disappear.
The transmission is slightly better on open stretches of road, but it’s still somewhat ungainly. Shift it as you would a twin-clutch — no throttle lift — and you’ll be greeted with a giant burst of power that unsettles the car’s posterior. Treat it like a normal manual — lift off the throttle, squeeze one of the flappy paddles, and press back on again — and the car shifts smoothly and quickly.
Is a quirky transmission enough to douse my passion for the R8? No. This car is otherwise flawless to drive, and despite its mid-engine supercar status, is remarkably usable as a daily driver. I do also like a few of the new features (LED turnsignals, Alcantara headliner, Bang & Olufsen audio system) that our last R8 did without.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I’ve heard that this R tronic transmission performs much better on the track when shifting at wide-open throttle. Unfortunately, I drove this R8 on a wet night in moderate traffic, so I lived with the perplexingly abrupt calibration of the gearbox. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the lift-throttle manual shift technique, so even when I was pulling on paddles, I found the shifts to be unacceptably rough. The transmission’s sport mode is also quite extreme. Feather-foot the gas pedal, and the car still rockets from a stop like a full-throttle launch, shifting north of 6000 rpm. Very strange.
Unlike for Evan, this transmission definitely cools my interest in the R8. While a 911 is equally appealing with a manual transmission or the PDK dual-clutch box, this Audi R8 is a non-starter if it’s going to be packaged with the automated-manual R tronic. Of course pairing the R8 with a manual makes this an entirely different and much more desirable car.
I haven’t driven many other cars with automated single-clutch manual transmissions, but I’m well aware that there are plenty of examples of bad ones that have passed through the market in recent years. For that reason, and the fact that Volkswagen/Audi engineers are quite possibly the leaders in dual-clutch gearboxes, I’m surprised this car didn’t get a twin-clutch transmission. I know Audi is tied up in Lamborghini technology with the R8, and the Volkswagen Group doesn’t have a dual-clutch transmission for the high-torque, mid-engine configuration, but it seems like investment in a more advanced, smoother transmission would go a long way in making this car more palatable to the prestige buyers who don’t want a manual.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2009 Audi R8 R Tronic
Base price (with destination and gas guzzler): $126,600
Price as tested: $147,550
6-speed sequential manual transmission
Audi magnetic ride adaptive damping
8-piston front brakes with 4-piston rear brakes
LED tail and daytime running lights
Heated 10-way power adjustable sport seats
Automatic climate control
6-disc CD changer
7-speaker 140-watt sound system
Automatic dimming mirror
Auxiliary stereo input
Side and knee airbags
Options on this vehicle:
Phantom black pearl effect – $650
Enhanced leather package – $5500
Carbon fiber engine compartment trim – $3600
Carbon fiber interior trim – $2500
Premium package – $2100
– Parking sensors with rearview camera
– Hill hold assist
– Auto dimming and folding side mirrors
Navigation system – $2000
Bang & Olufsen sound system – $1800
Black alcantara headliner – $1300
Body color sideblade – $1000
19 in. polished aluminum alloy wheels – $500
Key options not on vehicle:
Carbon fiber side mirrors – $1400
Carbon fiber door sill inserts – $1050
Carbon fiber exterior package – $8100
Carbon fiber front lip spoiler and rear diffuser
Carbon fiber sideblade – $2300
Oxygen silver sideblade – $1000
LED headlights – $3500
Navigation system with music interface – $2200
13 / 18 / 15 mpg
Size: 4.2L DOHC DI V-8
Horsepower: 420 hp @ 7800 rpm
Torque: 317 lb-ft of torque @ 4500-6000 rpm
6-speed automated manual
Weight: 3605 lbs
19 in. polished aluminum alloy wheels