2008 Audi R8

Barry Hayden

The cockpit's design is an acquired taste. There's a lot going on in this somewhat overstyled workstation. Not everyone will love the prominent carbon-fiber (or piano black) arc that swings from the center console across to the driver-side door panel. The glossy bits tend to reflect in the windshield, the TT-inspired air-conditioning controls fight the gearshift for clearance, and the steering wheel's squared-off bottom is a dumb idea for a road car. But the big picture is right on: the six gauges are easy to read, the MMI controls are placed above the shifter, and the supportive seats adjust with uncommon generosity. There is soft leather and furry Alcantara from wall to wall, and the monochrome trim is highlighted by brushed-aluminum accents. Extra cash will buy sportier bucket seats, a noise-canceling Bang & Olufsen sound system, a clutch-pedal-free R tronic transmission (E Gear in Lambo speak), and a choice of elaborate leather treatments. When the car goes on sale next fall in the States, buyers also will have eight different paint schemes and four leather colors to choose from.

Eventually, it will likely be possible to spend even more money on a 500-hp, 5.2-liter V-10 engine and on the exciting, open-top body style that is about to be approved. For the next two years at least, production is limited to fifteen units a day, or about 3750 vehicles per year. What if there is demand for more? "Everyone involved obviously hopes that this model will be well received," Isgen says. "But there are no plans to crank up the output. Let the market clamor for more vehicles--it's good for resale value and for our brand image."

At 3440 pounds, the R8 weighs more than both the V-10-engined Gallardo and the Porsche 911 C4S. The Audi's 4.2-liter direct-injection V-8 engine musters 420 hp at7800 rpm and maximum torque of 317 lb-ft between 4500 and 6000 rpm. Floor the throttle, and it will (according to Audi) propel the coupe from 0 to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds, to 125 mph in 14.7 seconds, and on to a top speed of 185 mph in a little more than sixty seconds. Fuel consumption averages out to 17 mpg.

The high-revving V-8 is derived from the Audi RS4 engine, although it received revised intake and exhaust systems, dry-sump lubrication, and a bigger radiator for its new mission in the R8. The V-8 is amazingly civilized and refined. Its full-throttle voice is loud and clear and has an unmistakable tonality, but the part-throttle sound waves are no less engaging.

The R8 features an unequal-length control arm suspension front and rear. "This configuration gives us an edge in terms of ride comfort, and it reduces steering-related interference to an absolute minimum," explains Isgen, who is also in charge of Audi's sports car programs--a title that suggests the R8 will eventually get a sister model. "Compared with the Gallardo, this layout allows for longer wheel travel and a tighter turning circle. Optional Magnetic Ride allows you to dial in an extra dose of compliance at the one end and a little more firmness at the other." Our test car did without the trick dampers, but it was fitted with optional nineteen-inch aluminum wheels shod with Pirelli 235/35YR-19 tires in the front and 295/30YR-19 footwear in the back. The standard wheels are eighteen inchers.

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