Entering the ultra-performance car league

With the introduction of the super high-performance exotic R8, Audi has literally moved into almost every automotive niche. Now Audi dealers can satisfy virtually everyone from the economy car customer (albeit with some flair) to the thrill-seeking driver.

Fresh from a number of wins at Le Mans and other major sports car-racing events, Audi has added a 410-horsepower rear engine mounted V-8 sports car to its line. The low-front fascia clearly broadcasts the brand with its open-mouth grill boasting Audi’s four trademark rings atop it.

But the side, top and rear end are perhaps more entertaining. With the rear engine needing airflow, Audi decided to cover the side air vents with what it calls a “contrasting color sideblade.” The sideblade can be ordered in various colors and materials, including carbon fiber.

For your modern art entertainment, whether day or night, the 4.2-liter powerplant is on display in a lit chamber under a glass lid. Beside four exhaust pipes below the tail lights are more air vents to maintain the airflow.

Even though this Audi is quite low, the interior is roomy and designed for easy operation. Many of the display and dash items are pulled from other high-end Audis. A large, flip video screen displays many layers of information, from the fully operational and easy-to-use navigation system to the various telephone and stereo functions. An automatic climate system keeps everyone comfortable. The racing-style, flat-bottomed, leather-covered steering wheel has various buttons and dials to control the same features. To provide a better view while backing up, a rear-mounted camera shows in the dash’s video screen exactly what is behind the car.

In keeping with the theme, the fine leather-covered power seats have high bolsters on both the bottom and seat back to keep both the driver and passenger fully planted.

But this Audi is not just about creature comforts. Crank the key over and the big V-8 snaps to life with a deep-throated rumble. Thereafter, the sound is muted until – and unless – the throttle is fully exercised. Surprisingly, the Formula One-like manual/automatic six-speed transmission is standard, and the old-style six-speed clutch/manual is optional. Both are connected to a four-wheel drive system that feeds power to all the wheels, but with varying amounts of thrust depending on need.

With use of electrical motors and hydraulics, the racing-style transmission will shift the gears without a clutch pedal. There are lots of variations: Put the lever in the A slot, and the transmission does the work; however, it is not a lot of fun since the computer is deciding when to shift. Better to place the lever in the manual mode, press the sport button and the upshift or downshift with paddles on the steering wheel, or tap forward or backward the chrome gearshift lever. All things considered, the best combo is using the gearshift lever to upshift at a lightning pace and let the computer downshift. Fortunately, Mr. Computer will not let the person behind the wheel make an over- or under-revving mistake.

But the action comes from behind the head of the driver – the engine compartment. The direct injection V-8 can quietly haul you along or terrify you. With the right launch and its great traction, the 0-to-60 time is just above a flat four seconds.

With a fully independent suspension and 19-inch wheels, the ride is surprisingly accommodating. Want it a little rougher and tougher on the corners? Simply push the suspension button and instantly the shocks tighten up to hunker down the suspension and increase the already excellent cornering capability.

Even with all the kudos for the R8, Audi is not resting on its laurels and will be moving up a notch to another niche with a V-10 powerplant for the R8, resulting in a 525-horsepower package. Either way, the “exotic” box on the order sheet has been completely checked off with this addition to the Audi lineup.

AUDI R8

Engine: 4.2-liter, V-8, 410-horsepower

Acceleration: 0-60: 4.3 seconds

Braking: Four-wheel disc brakes, 15-inch front rotor, 14-inch rear rotor

Sound system
: AM/FM/CD-changer/SD card stereo

tagged in AUDI R8