September 28, 2006

World Premiere of Audi’s R8 Supercar
By: Chris Ostberg

At last. After all the hype, all the anticipation, all the waiting, all the speculation, and all the secrecy, Audi has finally unveiled their new “halo car” which is guaranteed to elevate the brand to an entirely new level. This quattro equipped mid-engined supercar known as the R8, will change people’s expectations as it brings an unprecedented combination of luxury and performance into this niche market. Not only does this car showcase an impressive list of “firsts” for Audi, it also pushes the envelope and even demonstrates technologies never seen before on any production vehicle. Naturally, AudiWorld brings you a front row view with exclusive photos and videos from Audi’s private launch party held in Paris France the night before the Paris Motor Show.

Familiar Name, New Territory

The R8 name should be familiar to any Audi fan. Audi has racked up more wins in at Le Mans than any other make in the 21st century with their R8 prototype class race car. This technological tour-de-force turned the endurance racing world upside-down with its unbeatable V8 FSI (Fuel Straight Injection) power, fuel efficiency, and rock solid reliability. Audi has wisely taken the knowledge culminated from designing, developing, and racing the R8 race car and produced a road going supercar bearing the same name.

When VW AG board chairman Ferdinand Piech brings his whole family out of an event, you know you’re going to be in for something special. It is very clear from the onset that Audi is extremely proud of this achievement. The road going R8 is Audi’s first effort into what is arguably the most demanding market segment, high end sports cars. Professor Dr. Martin Winterkorn, chairman of the board of management at Audi AG, went into detail on how building such a high tech sports car combining special features like the Audi Aluminum Space Frame (ASF), FSI technology, a mid-engine design, and quattro AWD has been a longtime goal. The challenge has finally been met and it’s plain to see Audi couldn’t be happier with the results. Racing legend Jacky Ickx personally drove the first R8 into public viewing. After exiting the car, he was almost lost for words as he attempted to describe how wonderful the R8 driving experience is. The unique combination of style, comfort, safety, luxury, craftsmanship, and top level performance is unmatched at any price.

The design is flat out stunning. The R8 is low and wide offering a very aggressive stance and squatty appearance. The characteristic Audi grille is centered between two flaring LED (Light Emitting Diode) headlight systems, a world first for any production automobile. The dipped beam, main beam, daytime running lights, and turn signals duties are all handled by LED lights. The outer profile of the sculpted lighting system is traced by LED city lights. When lit, the appearance is very menacing. LED lighting is superior to halogen or HID (High Intensity Discharge) as it offers much lower energy use, much longer bulb life, and a desirable color temperature. The rear tail lights are also LED in design and are inspired by the 2006 Le Mans winning R10 TDI racecar.

As seen on the Audi Le Mans quattro concept car (the design predecessor to the R8 supercar), the vertical “sideblade” panel directly aft of the doors is available in a contrasting polished aluminum finish. In addition, the other R8 shown by Audi featured a natural black carbon fiber weave. Either option is a very unique styling point which is special to the R8. The lower sections of the doors are channeled to allow air to be sucked in underneath the sideblade panel for the engine. Housed in the passenger side sideblade panel is a polished aluminum fuel tank cap featuring the R8 logo. The tail section has two aggressively styled vents underneath the LED tail light assembly. Also seen is the rear diffuser (to increase downforce at speed) and 4 round exhaust pipes reminiscent of a Ferrari F-360 Modena. The exhaust system provides a deeper and more aggressive tone when compared to the RS4 (with S button activated). A small ventilated rear lip spoiler will extend automatically when a pre-determined speed is reached to increase downforce and engine ventilation. A console mounted button offers additional control over spoiler operation.

The interior of the R8 is equally impressive. Shown with either black carbon fiber or black piano trim finishes, the R8 offers a beautifully and artistically crafted yet ergonomically functional interior which will undoubtedly raise the bar for Audi yet again. The quality, precision, and feel of the switchgear and interior pieces are at a level above and beyond Audi’s current already class leading standards. The shift lever which is finely machined out of aluminum, feels like a precision surgical tool. The gauge layout, although mostly new and refreshing, does not deviate far from the typical Audi norm.

Interestingly, the DIS (Driver Information System) has taken a step backwards showing the older style red pixilated window between the speedometer and tachometer. I wouldn’t go so far as calling that a disappointment, but it is a curious move on Audi’s part when even the A4/S4 line comes equipped with a slicker looking color DIS display. The climate control and RNS-E DVD navigation system dominate the right side of the dash offering a clean and user-friendly interface with the car’s controls. It is very refreshing to see Audi straying away from the overly complicated iDrive type interfaces on their sporty lines. As a neat side feature, the navigation display can double as a rear mounted camera/monitor system during reversing maneuvers.

The full Alcantara headliner is a nice touch common on Audi’s high end cars, as are the fully adjustable sport seats offering a fantastic blend of comfort and side bolstering. An available Bang & Olufson sound system featuring 465 watts, 12 speakers, and a self adjusting dynamic feedback system will be sufficient to satisfy even the most hardcore Audiophile. A CD changer resides between the two seats. On the practical side, the forward mounted trunk compartment offers a full 100 liters of storage space. Displayed within the luggage area was a finely crafted leather and carbon fiber suitcase set especially designed for the R8 embossed with R8 logos. Very neat. The storage area behind the front seats is large enough to carry a golf bag laid horizontally.

The full aluminum body of the new R8 supercar is Audi’s innovative Aluminum Spaceframe (ASF) design. As a result, the claimed curb weight of the R8 is maintained at a relatively light 1558 kg (3428 lbs) despite offering a very comprehensive level of luxury. As a result, the 0-100 km/h (62 mph) sprint is met in 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 301 km/h (187 mph) available to those with an open Autobahn at their disposal. Advanced aerodynamic development in the body shape and undertray design result in a low drag coefficient of 0.34 (with spoiler raised) while maintaining cornering grip and stability at speed due to the downforce created.

For a road car to live up to the namesake of the fabled R8 race car is no easy task. Audi has pulled out all the stops on the technical, R&D, and engineering fronts to make sure this street car will exceed all expectations. The similarities between the road car and the race car start with the platform itself. Both the race car and the street car share a mid-engined layout. This brings a number of positive attributes to the table.

For one, the weight distribution shifts the balance slightly over the rear wheels (44/56% Front-Rear). Compared to the typical nose heavy balance of Audi vehicles, this offers more traction over the rear wheels during dynamic driving situations as well as reduces the tendency of the front tires from being overburdened (often resulting in understeer). Also, the mid-engine design inherently has a lower polar moment of inertia (tendency to resist rotation) meaning turn-in and rotation behavior should be much sharper than previous Audi offerings. Lastly, the mid-engine design allows the engine itself to be mounted much deeper within the chassis keeping the center of gravity low and body roll to a minimum.

Any car with pretensions of being a supercar better come with serious firepower under the hood. In this case, the “hood” is the rear hatch with a heated glass pane allowing unrestricted viewing of the 4.2 liter DOHC 32 valve FSI V8 tucked in just behind the rear seats. Rated at 420 hp at 7,800 RPM and 430 Nm (317 ft-lbs) from 4,500 – 6,000 RPM, the power output is basically the same as the RS4 variant, as is the 8,000 RPM redline and 8,250 RPM rev limit. The V8 architecture, FSI fueling system, and dry sump lubrication system are all technologies developed from the R8 racecar. In the case of the street car, the basic design of the engine is carried over from the recently released B7 RS4. There are a few key changes making the engine more suitable for the R8 platform.

The “dry sump” lubrication system is a prime example of motorsports technology carrying over to street car use. This system houses oil reserve within a special tank, rather than allowing the engine oil to collect (by gravity) at the bottom of the oil pan. An extra pump brings oil from the reciprocating bits back to the oil storage tank. This type of design offers two key advantages for the R8. Due to the lack of an oil pan reservoir, the overall engine height is reduced allowing it to be mounted even lower in the chassis. Also, the dry sump system eliminates the risk of oil starvation which is critical given the massive acceleration, braking, and cornering forces this car is capable of generating.

Due to the extra space afforded within the mid-engined platform, Audi has redesigned the intake manifold especially for the R8. Starting at a beautifully crafted carbon-fiber airbox assembly, two separate mass air sensors feed two “drive-by-wire” throttle bodies fresh air taken from ductwork in the rear. Raising the ventilated rear spoiler not only increases rear downforce, it also helps bring more air to the engine. Within the intake manifold, each cylinder has its own tuned velocity stack offering a straight path to the cylinder head. Housed near the base of each velocity stack is an adjustable tumble flap designed to direct intake air to the specially designed piston crown in a controllable manner.

The engine is presented as a piece of fine art within the engine bay. Surrounded by all sides with carbon fiber trim and silver contrasting mesh, the R8 emits a level of craftsmanship and design unsurpassed at the approximately $100,000 price point. Bright white LED lights are mounted flush within the engine bay allowing the jewel of an engine to be seen day or night.

Audi cars are known for their sure footed quattro all wheel drive grip, and the R8 is no exception. Standard equipment includes quattro all wheel drive featuring a viscous center differential with a yet undisclosed torque distribution. It is very likely that the all wheel drive system and torque bias is shared with the Lamborghini Gallardo which splits the power 30/70% Front-Rear.

Gearbox choices are a standard 6-speed manual or the new Audi R tronic sequential gearbox. This semi-automatic unit operates via steering wheel mounted paddles or the beautiful console mounted stick. The system has been optimized by Audi’s motorsports division for use in the R8. The resulting system is said to shift extremely fast as well as offering perfect rev matched downshifts. The R tronic gearbox can also be operated in a fully automatic mode.

Wheels and tires are available in staggered 18” and 19” sizes. The top model will feature 235/35/19 tires in the front and 295/30/19 tires in the rear. The open double spoke wheels showcase an extremely impressive braking system which is sure to offer breathtaking performance. The front brakes feature an 8 piston caliper system shared by the outgoing RS6, Gallardo, and RS4 cars. The front rotors are non-directional with a pinned floating design. They appear to be identical to the rotors from the Gallardo and RS6 applications, not the RS4 rotors. The rear brakes offer similar non-directional pinned floating rotors clamped by stylized 4 piston calipers of considerable size. The calipers are painted black and proudly display the R8 logo. An auxiliary caliper is mounted on the rear axle for the hand brake.

The R8’s suspension is given the daunting task of offering a very sporty, yet civilized driving behavior. Audi has accomplished this feat by using an advanced adaptive damping system. The “Audi Magnetic Ride” suspension is centered around a special damper filled with a “magnetorheological” fluid. In simple terms, the viscosity (thickness) of the fluid can be altered by use of a magnetic field. What this means is that though the use of feedback sensors throughout the car, Audi’s Magnetic Ride system automatically adjusts the suspension behavior to suit the situation at hand. The driver can choose between a more performance oriented mode and a comfort oriented mode.

The evening went off without a hitch. Audi did a fantastic job of presenting their newest creation to the world. At this time, details are still scarce. Pricing and option information will be forthcoming. The launch cars will be equipped with the 4.2 liter 420 hp FSI V-8 engine. In the future, a 500 or more horsepower variant of the R8 is expected offering V-10 power. After speaking with some Audi representatives, a few extra pieces of information were obtained.

The R8 should require fewer changes compared to the RS4 in preparation for the North American market. They expect that the curb weight and appearance will go relatively unaffected. A few small changes will be made to comply with DOT standards. The car has been tested and developed on Germany’s Nürburgring racing circuit. No official time has been given, but it is rumored that the car should easily beat the RS4’s time by 10-15 seconds putting it under the 8 minute mark. Very impressive.

In any case, stay tuned to AudiWorld for the latest information, specifications, and test drive of Audi’s groundbreaking supercar, the R8.

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