February 19, 2007
The Best Handling Audi We’ve Ever Driven
By: Neil McGarry
The red rocks of the Nevada desert and the glitz of the Las Vegas strip set the backdrop for world-wide journalists first time behind the wheel of Audis all new R8 sports car.
Mid-engined madness with a viscous coupled center differential set the R8 apart from all other Audi models in the line up. Powered by a 420 bhp V8 FSI engine as in the RS4, a dry sump has been added in order to lower the engine placement in this low slung super coupe. Audis lightweight aluminum body, which is of course based on the Audi Space Frame, keeps the weight down and weight distribution comes in at 44/56. When taken all together these ingredients make for the most neutral handling production Audi ever.
We were excited to finally see and drive this car in person, and as with most cars it looked a hell of lot better in person than in the press and auto show photography. We particularly liked the high contrast of a white or red body with carbon fiber side panels, but of course when it comes to the unique side blade every owner will get to choose for him or herself. The sleek sports car definitely shows its aerodynamic predisposition and includes a prominent rear diffuser.
Inside are the usual high end amenities, including a full telematics system and an optionally available Bang & Olufsen sound system. Although our test cars were pre-production Euro / North American hybrids there was still a very close attention to interior detail shown. Each vehicle demonstrated just how good things get when hand-assembly is part of the build process.
Finally behind the wheel, we headed together with a co-driver into the desert in search of tarmac which could be torn up. With high daily temperatures we actually encountered grippy roadway made all the better for the optional 295 width 19-inch wheels on our test car. This particular test car was also equipped with the manual 6-speed gated shift, European only ceramic brakes and Audis magnetic ride. With a Valentine One securely attached to the front windshield, we first navigated towards Lake Mead and then later through The Valley of Fire State Park.
Long stretches of deserted highways with an ample amount of twisty roads gave us all we needed to test this Audi under real world conditions. The Electronic Stability Program was appropriately tuned to allow the driver some fun before any intervention. The lightweight forged aluminium suspension sucked up road undulations and made aggressive driving so easy that we swore the car was practically begging for it.
In the afternoon it was on to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Audi had set up a small infield course. We were bummed that we were not going to get some high speed laps on the 24-degree banked turns NASCAR style, but the R8 was no mere stock car.
The infield course consisted of a slalom section, S-turns and few short straights and finally a nice big 180-degree sweeper. With ESP disengaged and Magnetic Drive engaged we blasted through the circuit exploring the limits of traction and balance. After only a few laps we were able to hang the back end out in very controllable, power-on oversteer throughout the entire 180-degree turn. What fun! This was the best handling straight-from-the-factory Audi we had ever driven without a doubt. Then everything went terribly wrong – Audi said play time was over! We reluctantly left the track and headed to the Las Vegas strip. Cruising down the main drag we saw fingers pointing and camera phones pulled from pockets. This car gets attention every where it goes – there is no doubt about it.
Back at the hotel we chose to finish up with an R tronic electro-hydraulic transmission-equipped R8. Time for a leisurely drive to Hoover Dam in the “automatic” R8. The leisurely part didnt last long. Selecting S mode and then stomping on it from a dead stop undoubtedly produces the claimed 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. We were giddy every time the first to second shift would engage ESP briefly to get the immense power back under control.
All-in-all this hand built beauty from quattro GMBH is a magnificent vehicle. The combination of great looks, lightweight materials and a high-revving, growling V8 make for an incredible driving experience.
- Road Test Photo Gallery
- 2008 Audi R8 Photo Gallery
- Press Release: 2008 Audi R8 In-Depth
- R8 Discussion Forum
- Audi Model Guide (includes link to R8)