Can we have another one of these for a year? I’d not been in an R8 since our V-8 Four Seasons V-8 model left late last summer, and quickly recalled just how much I loved it.
Of course, this is not quite the same as the R8 that we honored with Automobile of the Year and later enjoyed for more than twelve months. First and foremost, there’s another liter and two cylinders worth of power. I actually missed the way the 4.2-liter V-8 growled at lower rpm, as the V-10 sounds docile about town. That problem quickly resolves itself when you stop being docile with the accelerator pedal, which unleashes an angry cacophony mere inches behind your ears. Simply awesome. The added acceleration isn’t bad, either, though I wasn’t able to put much of it down on our icy roads (as we’ve discussed before, the R8 hardly sends any power to its front wheels). One can debate the value of this extra power, as it shoots the relatively affordable R8 well past the Porsche 911 Turbo, but if I had $160,000, I’d certainly give the Audi some consideration.
I wouldn’t consider the R-Tronic transmission, though. Even if I cared about its theoretical superiority on a racetrack – let me tell you, I don’t – it wouldn’t be worth all the extra hassle it causes in everyday driving. On two separate occasions, the transmission decided it was in neutral at a stoplight, leading me to pollute two crowded intersections with V-10 exhaust noise. Given how ostentatious one already looks driving around in a red supercar seen in the movie “Ironman,” revving needlessly at a light must appear particularly obnoxious and desperate.
Did I mention that it’s red? Well, it is. And while that might be a bit too loud for some owners, it does fit with the car’s outspoken design. Even after a few years on the market, the R8 still finds plenty of eyeballs focused on it wherever it goes.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Oh, wow, this is one sexy car. I drove it only briefly, as I worked late the night I had it, but the advantage was, at 11 p.m., the streets of Ann Arbor were largely deserted, so I had quite a lot of fun driving this ultraexotic car on a very unexotic task: buying a furnace filter from Meijer. There is nothing like getting out of a bright red, $170K, mid-engine exotic in the parking lot of a grocery store at 11 p.m. on a weeknight to make you feel like life is pretty grand.
This R Tronic sequential automatic transmission would not be my choice, but I quickly remembered how to shift it, and the harder you drive the car, the better the transmission responds and the more smoothly it shifts. The V-10 is a gem, and it really does make the R8 significantly more electrifying to drive than the standard V-8 version. Throttle response is immediate, and the soundtrack from behind your head is absolutely intoxicating. As we’ve reported endlessly about the R8, steering, braking, body control, ride, and general chassis behavior all are pretty much in the top tier of automotive performance circa 2010. Yeah, sure, the Lamborghini Gallardo is more extreme looking and a bit more extreme sounding, but the R8 V-10 is probably a better car to live with day-to-day.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
During my time with the Audi R8 V-10, I found myself staring out my living room window, over my yard, and to my driveway. My field of vision included white snow on the grass, dormant brown trees, lifeless plants, and pow! a bright red supercar: almost surreal. It was enough to make even the dullest winter day a little hotter.
Upon starting up 5.2 liters and 10 cylinders of fury, the deep bellow from the exhaust sends a tingle down your spine and grabs the attention of anyone within earshot. My neighbor even came out of his house to see what all the engine noise was; I told him the car was just idling. The R-Tronic transmission takes some getting used to. I found myself using the paddle shifters in manual mode rather than the unexpected jolt and shift in automatic mode. The car was more comfortable, predictable, and enjoyable that way.
Like Joe DeMatio, I, too, had to run an unappealing errand in the 525-hp buggy; a trip to the store for a single bag of dog food. The look on a man’s face parked next to me was priceless. I placed the large bag on the front seat, because the front storage compartment was too small. In doing so, I also had to buckle in the food so the airbag chime would turn off. Imagine: a $171,000, mid-engine supercar going down the road with a bag of dog food strapped to the front passenger’s seat. Now, that’s properly securing your cargo.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
Just a few days ago I was drinking beer with some car guys and trying to explain exactly how a car like the Porsche Boxster can be so much more fun to drive than more powerful vehicles that aren’t as well balanced. We touched on this idea last year with our story about the Joy of Slow and the delight that “slow” cars bring to drivers who appreciate handling, balance, and finesse more than outright speed and power.
The Audi R8 5.2 is the perfect example of this. For most people, the “base” R8 4.2 is a 10 out of 10 in terms of looks, performance, and, to some extent, practicality. Adding the extra pair of cylinders amps the R8 to the proverbial 11. Yes, it’s faster, has a more unique sound, and makes the car more exclusive, but I don’t think the 5.2 is nearly as much fun (at least on public roads).
Equipped with winter tires, the V-8 R8 is just a bit more predictable and reassuring than the V-10 R8. There’s so much power on tap with the V-10 that it’s easy to overpower the tires and you end up having to drive very carefully. With the V-8 you don’t ever feel the car is underpowered but the better balance of power and grip makes the drive much more enjoyable when the weather turns foul.
Of course the average R8 5.2 buyer is probably living in a gorgeous climate year round and not concerned with the behavior of the car on snow tires. And this person is pretty likely to have traded in a Ferrari or Lamborghini to get the R8 instead of moving up from a 911. To them, the exclusivity of a V-10 is all that matters.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
If you walked into my kitchen last Sunday evening, you likely found me preparing a three-course meal out of my hat. The last time I drove an R8 with the R-Tronic transmission — an automated manual transaxle — I wasn’t a huge fan of it.
But having put this car through an impromptu 10-hour dash to Chicago and back for lunch, I’m warming up to it. It’s nice to have an automatic mode when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 90-94-55 interchange, and if you treat it like a manual transmission — lift off the throttle when you initiate gear changes — it behaves like one. The best of both worlds, perhaps, although I’m not fond of how dipping too far with the accelerator triggers a sudden — and at times, explosive — 6-4 downshift, even in manual mode. I accidently did this twice, treating me, my passenger, and six lanes of traffic in Gary, Indiana, to the howl of this V-10 at full throttle. Whoops.
This V-10 is quite the powerplant, but unless you’re moving from a Lamborghini or Ferrari into this car, I’d reason the 4.2-liter V-8 is more than sufficient. It’s plenty powerful, is more than happy to rev at your left foot’s beck and call, and as Phil noted, is much more linear, especially once the weather turns nasty.
If you are shopping the V-8 car, I’d also opt to skip the Bang & Olufsen sound system (standard on the V-10 model). It may be able to rupture eardrums with nary a hint of clipping or distortion, but when you have an engine making some of the most beautiful noises known to mankind, why would you pay to mask that soundtrack?
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
2009 Audi R8 5.2 V-10 R-Tronic
Base price (with destination and gas guzzler tax): $158,300
Price as tested: $171,600
6-speed sequential automatic transmission
19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels w/summer performance tires
LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights
Heated 10-way power seats
Automatic climate control
465-watt, 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system
6-disc CD changer
Sirius satellite radio
Automatic dimming rearview mirror
Auxiliary audio input
Side and knee airbags
Options on this vehicle:
Carbon fiber engine compartment trim – $3600
Enhanced leather package – $3500
Carbon fiber sigma interior inlays – $2500
Carbon sigma sideblade – $2300
Black alcantara headlinder – $1300
Key options not on vehicle:
Navigation system with music interface – N/C
Carbon fiber side mirrors – $1400
Carbon fiber door sill inserts – $1050
Carbon fiber exterior package – $8100
– Carbon fiber front lip spoiler and rear diffuser
13 / 20 / 16 mpg
Size: 5.2L FSI V-10
Horsepower: 525 hp @ 8000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 6500 rpm
6-speed sequential automatic
Weight: 3650 lbs
19-inch 10-spoke Y-design aluminum alloy wheels
235/35 front and 295/30 rear winter tires