The ten-cylinder R8 is a seriously fast driving machine that does not rely on any kind of artificial aspiration to beam itself toward the horizon. First gear expires a trifle early at 49 mph, but second stretches to 79 mph, third maxes out at 111 mph, and fourth is good for 142 mph. Fifth should run out of revs at 172 mph, but we found no road that was long or straight enough to prove it. The claimed top speed is 196 mph, which means that the R8 5.2 is a little faster than the 911 Turbo and the top-spec SL63 AMG, yet a little slower than the closely related 552-hp Gallardo, not to mention the $107,000 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. The acceleration time quoted for the 0-to-62-mph sprint is 3.9 seconds, which puts the fastest-ever production Audi on par with the Porsche and the $302,000 SL65 AMG Black Series. Thanks to Quattro all-wheel drive, a 15/85 front/rear torque bias, a limited-slip rear differential, 44/56 percent weight distribution, and substantial nineteen-inch Pirelli tires, grip is never an issue on dry pavement.
Of course, you can switch off stability control, but in view of the massive maximum cornering forces (1.2 g, according to Audi), it takes a braver man and preferably a wider circuit to perform the art of power oversteer. Instead, it is worth dialing in ESP Sport, a useful in-between setting that permits all the basic dance steps except those that typically end in tears. Equipped with polished two-tone Y-spoke wheels and a set of extrawide tires (235/35YR-19 in the front, 305/30YR-19 in the back), our test car provided the kind of roadholding one normally associates only with warmed-up slicks.
Tipping the scales at 3571 pounds with the six-speed manual, the new Audi is 132 pounds heavier than its V-8-powered brother, 77 pounds heavier than a 911 Turbo, and 50 pounds more than the latest Gallardo. Weighing down the Audi are its longer wheelbase (104.3 versus 100.8 inches for the Lambo), its less radical materials, and its more generous equipment. While the Gallardo LP560-4 is a tight fit, the R8 offers more head- and legroom as well as a second luggage bay behind the seats, which expands cargo volume to 6.7 cubic feet. Like the R8 4.2, the R8 5.2 gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel, but in the V-10 model it can be rimmed with a suedelike material. Exterior upgrades over the V-8 version include flared sideblades, extended sills, a larger rear diffuser, standard LED headlamps (an industry first but of no obvious benefit at night), different wheel designs, polished black front and rear air vents, and more chrome for the single-frame grille.
The key features aimed at enthusiasts are R tronic, magnetic ride dampers, and optional ceramic brakes, which probably won't be available in North America. It's just as well, because although the composite rotors have their merits, in real life they have more to do with image and resale value than performance. They need to be kept at working temperature to deliver-which they do with aplomb on the racetrack, where riveting, fade-free deceleration along with consistent pedal travel and pressure are the bonuses. On public roads, one rarely reaps the full benefit of the brakes, since the ceramic rotors can be noisy when they're cold and their performance, which ranges from casual to grabby, depends too much on your driving style.
On the highway, however, it often takes only a couple of highspeed stopping maneuvers to show the advantage of the system's extra strength and stamina. The magnetic dampers work a lot better in the R8 than, say, in the TT. They effectively reduce pitch, roll, and yaw; turn-in is more prompt; and the front axle in particular relays the kind of enhanced suppleness and malleability that we like so much in the Ferrari 430 Scuderia and the Nissan GT-R. Not surprisingly, the system works best in comfort mode.