The R tronic sequential gearbox is the only component Audi sourced from the Lamborghini Gallardo for use in the R8. New Bosch electronic controls (replacing the Gallardo's Magneti Marelli modules) operate the clutch and shift the gears on cue. Like Ferrari's illustrious F1 system, a choice of automatic and manual shift modes compensates for the lack of a clutch pedal. Unfortunately, the R8's transmission, especially in automatic mode, feels like an older, cruder version of the F430's sweet sequential manual.
Dip into the R8's throttle while cruising, and your speed sags before a lower gear and the expected surge ahead are delivered. The R tronic's auto-mode gearchange gaffes are a pity, because the box works superbly in manual mode. Redline shifts are quick and clean, and the wheel-mounted paddles are more readily accessible in the heat of battle than the F430's column-mounted shifters.
An additional gripe that applies to both the R tronic and the R8's conventional manual transmission concerns sixth gear: this ratio delivers maximum terminal velocity instead of quiet cruising. At 75 mph in top gear, the tach registers a busy 3200 rpm (versus 3000 rpm in the Porsche and 3400 in the high-metabolism Ferrari). The resulting engine hum blots out some of the finer notes wafting out of the R8's twelve-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
It's a good thing that the Audi's motor music is suitable for most occasions. Resembling an IndyCar's V-8 with tall intake stacks, a flat (dry-sumped) bottom, and racy red ignition coils, the R8's 4.2-liter engine whips up 420 hp at an ear-tingling 7800 rpm. Credit the prodigious output to an abundance of advanced technology, including direct fuel injection, variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust tracts, tubular exhaust headers, and a huge dual-mode muffler.
Lustier than the cylinder-deprived 911 but never as heady as the F430's nominally larger and more potent V-8, the R8's engine is an equipoise of torque and decorum. In other words, cockpit insiders are well-insulated from the dirty din of energy conversion. It's innocent bystanders who receive the truly evocative serenade described by road test coordinator Marc Noordeloos as deeper and more manly sounding than the Ferrari's aria. "The mix of American muscle and European technology in the R8's exhaust reminds me slightly of Audi's Le Mans racer I heard three years ago in France," he observes.