Funny thing about the word super. Despite the promise that anything described as super will exceed every expectation, using that label almost guarantees that it will possess at least one crippling weakness. Superman crumbles in the presence of kryptonite. The Super Bowl smothers football in overhyped commercials. And for supercars, an otherwise perfect driving experience will inevitably be spoiled by an inability to handle trivial, everyday challenges.
Yet it shouldn't surprise you that we begged Audi for a mid-engine R8 to add to our long-term fleet. For its touring-car comfort, exotic performance, relative bargain price, and stunning sheetmetal, we had named the R8 our 2008 Automobile of the Year. Now, as a daily driver, the four-ringed supercar would face every challenge that's ever stymied a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. In our Four Seasons fleet, the R8 would be tested by crawling traffic, a brutal winter, frequent road trips, and expectations of impeccable reliability.
Our Mugello blue Audi R8 arrived in July 2008 with 15,127 miles on the odometer and a brand-new six-speed manual transmission. Since our test car had previously made the rounds through Audi's press fleet, we attributed the need for a new gearbox to ham-fisted journalists rather than mechanical fragility. However, it was immediately clear that even the new transmission had issues. Directing the shifter into third gear took finesse and patience, as the R8 had a penchant for spitting the stick back to neutral before the gear was engaged. Audi's mechanics couldn't find anything wrong with the gearbox, so we taught ourselves to shift with greater diligence, and over time and miles, the severity of the problem faded.
That early hiccup didn't dampen our enthusiasm for such a rare car. In addition to winning our top award, we also declared the R8 as our 2008 Design of the Year. Its combination of style and performance led one driver to comment that the R8 is "one of the few cars that really delivers on the promises of its looks." We gushed at the arrival of our $131,245 Four Seasons car, yet we all agreed that the dark blue paint dulled the R8's gorgeous lines and masked the carbon-fiber blade just behind the doors. Still, the R8 has presence, and hordes of drivers and pedestrians noticed and stopped to photograph the supercar, even after the model had been on sale for nearly two years.
Early on, some staffers questioned whether Audi's 4.2-liter V-8 was sufficient for this segment. The R8's 420 hp is equaled by the much less exotic Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, senior Web editor Phil Floraday pointed out. West Coast editor Jason Cammisa wanted to be rewarded for redline runs with a power boost in the 6000-to-8000-rpm range. Several people complained about gearing that kept the engine spinning above 3000 rpm on the highway.
But eventually, drivers fell for the refined, charismatic engine. A light flywheel makes it one of the most responsive V-8s we've driven. The 4.2-liter revs with the speed of a finely tuned four-cylinder. It may not have the highest output, but the Audi powerplant certainly doesn't lack character. Eleven months after his first drive in the R8, Floraday was finally seduced by the engine's charm. "It's sad that I'm just now appreciating how amazing the R8 is," he wrote. "The 420 hp is certainly more than adequate, the V-8 sounds spectacular, and on secluded roads, you can bang off two shifts before you have to lift."
Shod with Pirelli Winter 240 Sottozero tires, our R8 encountered several Michigan snow dumps, and although the low ground clearance occasionally made for slow going, it never left a driver stranded. The slippery white stuff also highlighted the Quattro all-wheel-drive system's rear bias. With 90 percent of the engine's torque normally routed to the rear wheels, packed snow was an invitation for long, low-speed bouts of oversteer while waiting for the front wheels to do their part and straighten things out.
On drier pavement, the car's mid-engine balance rewarded tight turns and high-speed sweepers with predictable neutrality. Swinging the needle to the top of the tach and spinning the wheel through a curve proved that the Audi really does belong in the company of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches. "The R8's weight is concentrated so completely between its axles that it pivots as if mounted on a ball-bearing post right under the driver's butt," wrote Cammisa. "It's one of the most throttle-adjustable all-wheel-drive cars I've ever driven. With neutral balance built into the chassis, the all-wheel-drive system needs only to throw a little power rearward to allow endless tail-out drifts."
As tickled as we were with the Audi's performance, we logged plenty of unexciting miles in the R8 running errands. Over deep potholes and treacherous expansion joints (expansion canyons?), the R8 remained composed and comfortable. We were also pleasantly surprised at the R8's ability to keep bottoms and backs happy over long trips. The Audi further impressed us with how easy it was to drive, thanks to positive clutch engagement, a well-calibrated throttle, and pedals optimally placed for fancy footwork. "I've never encountered a car that can be so docile in daily driving, so calm during long cruises, and so raw at full throttle," observed Web producer Evan McCausland.
Of course, there are a few practicality issues that come into play when using a supercar for grocery shopping. Long, low doors made entry and exit difficult, and the tiny front trunk seriously restricted the amount of cargo that could be carried. Packing for a weekend getaway required tucking small bags and packages into every corner of the cabin. Still, that didn't stop executive editor Joe DeMatio from stocking up at an outlet mall and Costco in a single trip. Copy editor Rusty Blackwell even verified Audi's claim that two (compact) golf bags can (barely) fit on the parcel shelf behind the seats.
The Audi wasn't without fault when it came to reliability. With some 23,000 miles on the odometer, the R8's oil-pressure gauge stopped registering, and the display warned of a problem with the oil-level sensor. Eventually that monitor, along with a rear parking sensor, was replaced under warranty. Pricey service visits and short tire life reminded us that buying a supercar is the gift that keeps on giving - to your local dealership. In its defense, however, we logged more miles in one year in our R8 than most supercars are likely to cover in ten years.
"Our Audi has gone through hell and back," McCausland contended. "There are nearly 42,000 miles on the clock, and I guarantee that we weren't babying this beauty. I'd be impressed with any car that holds up to this amount of daily wear and tear, but it's even more amazing that a supercar like the R8 can stand up to such hard use and continually ask for more."
Daily life with the R8 proved that the Audi wasn't immune to super syndrome, with its own lot of quirks and annoyances. However, the car also showed that it could conquer snow, brutal roads, and groceries while packing a unique combination of performance, comfort, presence, and usability. For its capabilities and real-world performance, the R8 is one of the most livable supercars we've ever driven.
4-yr/unlimited-mile roadside assistance
26,170 mi: $260
34,034 mi: $460
19,844 mi: Inspect transmission and shift linkage
26,170 mi: Inspect oil warning light and replace gauge cluster; fix passenger door handle and power outlet
34,034 mi: Replace oil-level sensor, parking sensor, and rear underbody scoops
19,844 mi: Replace front and rear brake pads and rotors, $1395
24,990 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Pirelli Winter 240 Sottozero tires, $1559
32,012 mi: Remount Pirelli PZero Rosso summer tires, $121
34,034 mi: Replace wiper blades and front tires, $1316
2008 Audi R8 Coupe Quattro MT6
Base Price: $109,995
As Tested: $131,245
Body Style: 2-door coupe
Accommodations: 2 passengers
Construction: Aluminum "Audi space frame" unibody
Engine: 32-valve DOHCV-8
Displacement: 4.2 liters (254 cu in)
Horsepower: 420 hp @ 7800 rpm
Torque: 317 lb-ft @ 4500-6000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel Economy: 13/20/15 mpg (city/highway/combined)
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns lock-to-lock: 3.3 turns
Turning Circle: 38.7 ft
Suspension: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Wheels F/R: 19 x 8.5/19 x 11 in alloy
Tires: Pirelli PZero Rosso
Tire Size: 235/35YR-19 front and 295/30YR-19 rear
Headroom: 37.7 in
Shoulder Room: 54.8 in
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Track F/R: 64.3/62.8 in
L x W x H: 174.5 x 75.0 x 49.3 in
Weight: 3597 lb
Weight Dist. F/R: 44.2/55.8%
Fuel Capacity: 23.8 gallons
Est. Range: 357 miles
Fuel Grade: 91 octane
ABS and ESP
Chest and knee airbags
Automatic climate control
Power adjustable driver and passenger sports seats
Mugello Blue Pearl Effect paint, $650
Enhanced Leather Package, $5500
Carbon Exterior Package, $5300
Premium Package, $3500
Audi Parking System Advanced
Audi Hill Hold Assist
Bluetooth Phone Preparation
Auto-Dimming Exterior Mirror
Carbon Interior Trim, $2200
Audi Navigation System Plus, $2000
0-60 MPH: 4.2 sec
0-100 MPH: 10.4 sec
1/4-Mile: 12.9 @ 113 mph
30-70 Passing: 5.6 sec
Peak Acceleration: 0.85 g
Speed in Gears: 1) 40; 2) 64; 3) 92; 4) 123; 5) 155; 6) 180 mph
Cornering L/R: 1.06/0.98g
70-0 Braking: 148 ft
Peak Braking: 1.15 g