Attention, Porsche 911 Turbo, Lamborghini LP560-4, Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG: Here comes your nemesis.
This Audi probably would have never happened had Porsche gained control of the Volkswagen Group five years earlier. But now the Audi R8 5.2 is out, larger than life and even better than expected. True, the Gallardo is sharper. The SL63 AMG is wilder. And the 911 Turbo is all that in a more compact package. But in terms of total dynamic balance; anyone-can-do-it, A-to-B ground-covering ability; and that all-important blend of confidence, compliance, and comfort, the 5.2-liter V-10-powered R8 is the new leader of the pack.
That's the inescapable conclusion after a memorable day in which even losing my driver's license ten times over would not have dimmed the sparkle in my eyes. In the morning, I left Marbella, Spain, for the remote, privately owned Ascari racetrack in a Suzuka gray R8 with a three-pedal transmission and magnetic dampers (standard in the U.S.). After lunch, I chased the warm winter sun through the rolling hills of the Costa del Sol in a brilliant red coupe that featured the R tronic automated-manual transmission and the conventional chassis setup. My pick? The manual version, even though it is a little less aggressive on the track and a little thirstier overall.
When we first tried the R8 a couple years ago, the last things it seemed to need were two more cylinders and 100 extra horses. Which only goes to prove that even the finest sports car can always do with more power. In the case of the R8 5.2, the 420-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 was replaced by a 525-hp, 5.2-liter V-10. Redlined at 8700 instead of 8000 rpm, the engine dishes up 391 instead of 317 lb-ft of torque. Although the torque curve peaks at a tall 6500 rpm, more than 350 lb-ft are on tap all the way from 3500 to 7500 rpm. Perfectly spaced and mated to a creamy yet meaty clutch, the six-speed gearbox combines short throws with sensuous connectivity and the classic aluminum gates. The R tronic works very well in paddleshift operation and in superquick sport mode, but when the lever is stuck in Drive, the transmission responds jerkily and somewhat reluctantly to impatient throttle orders.