Supercar Summit: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi R8, Porsche 911, McLaren MP4-12C, and Ferrari 458 Italia

Dave Kinney
Greg Pajo John Wycherley

4. Audi R8 5.2
A reinvented Gallardo clone ready to eclipse its secret idol.

The R8 is a neo-Italian sports car that appeals to those who prefer their pasta more marinara than arrabiata. Although the R8 has evolved into more of a Gallardo competitor, its original mission in life was to challenge the Porsche 911. True to its brand image, Audi chose a more pragmatic approach than Lamborghini by making its flagship sports car emphatically accessible, benign, and homogenous. But unlike the fast yet totally uninvolving RS5 and RS6, the R8 is rewarding to drive yet astonishingly compromise-free. The mid-engine coupe is smooth, progressive, and compliant -- but smooth doesn't mean soft, progressive doesn't mean boring, and compliant doesn't mean passive. With 525 hp on tap, the superstar from Neckarsulm (home of the Quattro division) may not qualify on the pole position, but it deserves praise for its fluid motions, its blend of poise and balance, and its ground-covering ability on all kinds of turf. The steering has plenty of feedback, the standard cast-iron brakes have taken out a college degree in deceleration, and four-wheel drive pushes or pulls you out of trouble with that miraculous Quattro touch. Purists prefer the R8 without the snappy carbon-ceramic discs or the jerky R tronic transmission. The manual box with the chrome gate adds a welcome retro touch. At the push of a button, the dampers and the stability control can be adjusted to further sharpen the car's reflexes, but even with all the electronic watchdogs on full alert, there's no shortage of suspension feedback and drivetrain response. The V-10 R8 may be a little wide, a little heavy, and a little thirsty, but despite its genetic proximity to the Performante, it is not only a talented sports car but also a fully adequate GT. You may, however, want to wait for the face-lifted model due next summer, which will boast a more efficient 540-hp engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

On the track: Creamy, capable, and compelling in its blend of velocity and controllability.

On the road: A perfect four-seasons sports car for those who can afford to travel light. Provides nine-tenths of the excitement without inflicting any of the punishment you may have to live with in other supercars.

Audi R8 5.2
Base price $150,250

40-valve DOHC V-10
Displacement 5.2 liters (318 cu in)
Power 525 hp @ 8000 rpm
Torque 391 lb-ft @ 6500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Drive 4-wheel

Hydraulically assisted
Suspension, front Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear Control arms, coil springs
Brakes Vented discs, ABS
Tires Pirelli PZero
Tire size f, r 235/35YR-19, 295/30YR-19

L x W x H
174.6 x 75.0 x 49.0 in
Wheelbase 104.3 in
Track F/R 64.3/62.8 in
Weight 3731 lb
Weight dist. 44/56%
Fuel mileage 12/19 mpg
0-62 mph 3.9 sec
Top speed 195 mph

Best lap
01:31.06 min
Top speed in lap
135.25 mph

Mercedes really needs to get with the program when it comes to tires. A high performance car needs Maximum Performance Summer Tires like the Goodyear Asymmetricals, Continental Extreme Contact DW's, or Michelin Pilot Super Sports, or Bridgestone Potenza S-04s. It makes reviewing Mercedes products a fruitless endeavor.P.S. If you need ideas for an article, try testing a vehicle with all of these tires along with the factory rubber and give your readers a real sense of how important tires are to performance, even among the best.

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