First Drive: 2012 Audi R8 GT

#Audi, #R8

The Audi R8 GT is a slightly more powerful, slightly lighter version of the R8 5.2 FSI coupe, which isn't exactly short on power (525 hp) or overweight (3583 pounds) to begin with. Perhaps that's why Audi only managed to bump peak horsepower to 560 and drop the curb weight 152 pounds for the GT.

How do you cut weight from a car that's built almost exclusively out of aluminum and magnesium? Thin down the front glass, substitute polycarbonate for the rear windows, and you've saved just under 20 pounds. A basic R8 apparently has pretty thick carpeting and you can reduce its weight by 17 pounds without resorting to an exposed aluminum floor. Using carbon-fiber for the rear bumper, hatch, and side blades will net an impressive 29 pound reduction. It turns out there's nearly 21 pounds of unneeded weight hiding inside the battery and another 11 pounds to be saved in the air intake and sound insulation around the engine. Switching to carbon ceramic brakes removes another 20 pounds while improving braking performance. European buyers have the option of selecting lightweight bucket seats that drop the curb weight by an additional 69.5 pounds, but these sports seats likely won't sneak past federal crash regulations.

Audi is also offering European customers a race package that will allow the car to go racing right from the showroom floor. The package includes a roll hoop, fire extinguisher, four-point harnesses, and a pair of kill switches. If that's not quite extreme enough for you the roll bar can be turned into a full cage, which pretty much eliminates the possibility of street driving. Audi does not plan to offer the race package to U.S. customers, but we will be offered a comfort package that includes seatbelt-mounted Bluetooth microphones and a full leather interior.

Simply cutting weight out of a car doesn't make it an automatic track tool, so Audi massaged the 5.2-liter V-10 to give it an extra 35 hp and 9 lb-ft of torque. A fixed-length intake manifold develops peak power at the top of the rev range and subtly emphasizes the R8 GT's track pretentions. The manually adjustable coilover suspension can lower ride height by as much as 10 mm without significantly reducing the ride quality we've come to love in the base R8 equipped with magnetorheological dampers. More downforce from the fixed rear wing and front bumper wing "flics" will keep the R8 GT planted at high speeds without increasing the coefficient of drag.

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