What's it about
The R8 is a showcase of everything Audi knows about cars... and more. Its 309-kW V8, aerodynamics and overall engineering (which include quattro drive and an impressive space frame made from aluminium), shows the best of Vorsprung durch technik.
But it is also a ground-breaking model for Audi. For example, the R8 is a mid-engined super car, which is more common among exotic marques such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, and not a make such as Audi. So, with the R8 Audi also challenges its own norm.
Furthermore the Audi R8 propels Audi's range beyond sedans, station wagons, drop-tops and coupes and there is more to come as an R8 V10 is to be launched too. Also, the R8, with a price tag of about R1.3m, is Audi's most expensive production car too.
Then again, in many other ways, the R8 is everything that we got accustomed to when it comes to Audis - superb fit and finish, stylish and of course eye-catching.
However, there is no doubt that the R8 it is different from any Audi we've ever driven.
In short, the R8 is wheels that makes you dream about performance, power and class.
What immediately strikes you is that the R8 isn't actually that big. It's about the same length as a Porsche 911 but it is wider and lower giving it the same kind of presence as a Lamborghini Gallardo. But typical of Audi design it isn't too over the top and all the design elements just work.
Slick "sideblades", which you can order in several colours or finishes, accentuate the engine's location in the middle of the car while there are subtly-chiseled body lines which add a stylish flair to the R8.
The designers were also daring with the car's lights, which are prominent styling features. Each of the standard bi-xenon headlights are surrounded by striking 12 LED lights that shine day and night. Also at the rear LEDs create a three-dimensional effect for the taillights. But that's not all, as you can even spec the R8 with lights in the glass-enclosed engine compartment!
However, there is nothing frivolous about the R8's looks and Audi also didn't just conceive a super car for the sake of it.
No, the Ingolstadt carmaker made sure that the R8 is free of elements that make other super cars tiring to live with. It is sensible, the cabin doesn't feel claustrophobic and it accommodates two tall adults with ease.
The cockpit is as special as the rest of the car and the curved centre console, with the centre dropdown tilted towards the driver, complements the R8's sporty nature. Its racy genes are highlighted by bucket seats, an open lever gate for the transmission and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Under the skin
The R8 is largely hand-built, at a rate of 19 cars per day, and crafted almost entirely from lightweight aluminium.
Audi furthermore modified the RS4's 4.2-litre V8 FSI slightly to provide dry-sump lubrication that enables the engine to be located low in the chassis.
The engine revs to 8 250 r/min and the 309 kW of power comes in at 7 800 r/min. 430 Nm of torque is available between 4 500 and 6 000 r/min with 90% of it achieved between 3 500 and 7 500 r/min.
Depending on the conditions, the Quattro all-wheel-drive system sends as much as 35% of the power to the front wheels.
Our test car also was equipped with about R150 000 worth of extras.
The R8 is a distinguished sports car and what is particularly great about it, is that it is actually built for real-world use too. Of course its ride is as thrilling as that of its rivals and the R8 feels 100% ready for a racetrack, but it is great wheels for everyday commuting or cruising too. There is nothing taxing about driving it.
Basically the R8 is a true road-going sports car, but from behind that flat-bottomed wheel, top-class engineering and technology make it absolutely controllable and easy to drive.
Start the engine, and you instantly know that this is another special attribute of the R8. The normally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 doesn't only have an addictive snarl but it delivers impressive performance too.
From 2 000 r/min to the far end at the red line at 8 250 r/min the R8 will give you mind-blowing acceleration. As the revs climb, you can feel and hear the R8's 309 kW-potential.
The R8 dashes from 0 to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.6 seconds, touches the 200 km/h mark after 14.9 seconds and can reach a top speed of 301 km/h.
Although this V8 is nothing new, since it has proven itself in the RS4, it is quite a decent performance engine in the R8 too. The 6-speed manual transmission is superb and really engages the driver, while braking is strong, confident and sharp.
The R8 continues to impress in the handling department and one can't help but to be in awe with its capabilities.
It is a machine with loads of grip and it doesn't lose pace, ever, while it shows great body control and excellent steering on twisties. R8 drivers will be delighted by its responsiveness and nimbleness. It is also a car that truly involves its commander with every aspect, though it is probably not quite as sharp as a Porsche 911.
The steering is extremely responsive, and the slightest turn causes the R8 to change direction.
Thanks to its Quattro drive, which also reduces wheelspin, and perfect weight distribution the R8 gives you an agile and high-precision drive. Furthermore the tight chassis results in minimal body roll.
A must-have option for the R8 is Audi's Magnetic Ride dampers, which stiffens up the suspension when needed and just improves overall ride-quality significantly. Another pricey option, at about R110 000, is the potent ceramic braking system.
And just in case something upsets the R8's fluid ride, a range of electronic safety aids will kick in to save the day.
This Audi also skims through air with minimal wind and road noise, with only the V8 leaving behind a deep, but pleasing, exhaust note.
Audi's achievements with the R8 deserve recognition as it has what it takes to gives its more established rivals a fright. It has also boosted the Audi brand to another level in which its traditional German competitors, BMW and Mercedes, are not active (yet).
It is hugely desirable as well with looks to match while the R8 has the confidence to compete in the super car league.
Furthermore the R8 definitely grabs the attention as every time we stopped people swarmed over the Audi. We can't remember driving any other car that created such a stir!
The thundering V8, superb engineering, design detail and driving experience make the R8 a masterpiece. Its low-slung design and aggressive appearance gives the R8 the super car look too.
Watch our video clip of the Audi R8!