Thanks to its dry-sump lubrication; its lowmounted, midship fuel tank; and its ground-hugbase ging body architecture, the R8 5.2 puts its center of gravity closer to the tarmac than most of its rivals. The enlarged rear spoiler extends at an even more adventurous angle; it deploys at 60 mph and automatically retracts again at 20 mph. With the tail deflector up, the drag coefficient deteriorates slightly, but front and rear axle loadings are improved. On Spanish highways, the directional stability was good even on rutted stuff and over slab-surfaced bridges, but the final verdict on life in the 125-to-200-mph bracket must wait until we can try the car in its unrestricted German habitat.
In Germany, the Audi R8 V-10 edition costs some $45,000 more than the V-8 model, but it is worth every penny because of the extra top-end grunt and that irresistible bottom-end urge, and because the 5.2-liter engine revs you into a different universe. It's like upgrading from business class to first, and Audi expects that eight out of ten customers will do just that.
In fact, the 525-hp variant arrives not a day too soon. After all, R8 production has recently dropped from a peak of twenty-five cars per working day to a current low of only two units. In total, 7900 vehicles have been completed in the Neckarsulm, Germany, facility. The 5.2, which is due at German dealerships in May and in the United States sometime in the first half of 2010, should end the slump. But like every drug that works, it carries certain side effects. Porsche will soon feel them, as orders for upmarket 911s are bound to suffer. And you don't need a crystal ball to predict that the Lamborghini Gallardo will be even harder hit. Although the soon-to-be launched LP560-4 Spyder may provide a brief rebound during the upcoming summer season, the open-top R8 due at the Frankfurt show in September will soon make life difficult again for its sister brand.
The R8 5.2 epitomizes a new level of fluidity in motion, of input and feedback, of competence and control. This is a proactive sports car, not a permanent provocation to mind and body. It can do Munich to Malaga, Spain, in two days with the cruise control set at 75 mph and the driver totally at ease. But it can also storm from the seaside resort of Marbella to the mountain city of Ronda and back in just under forty minutes, a pace that is so illegal that the Spanish police would question their radar-gun readings.
How is that possible? Because this Audi establishes a new middle ground between breakneck fast and play-it-safe moderate. That middle ground is challenging but not to the extreme, ambitious but not overly so, eye-opening but not to the point where death stares back at you. Like no other mid-engine sports car I can think of, the Bavarian coupe with the Italian soul makes you a better, smoother, and more complete driver.