BY STEVE WALKER
Ambition can be a dangerous thing but through the late nineties and early noughties, it seemed to be propelling Audi to greater and greater feats of expansion. The marque which had previously played third of fourth tambourine to its illustrious German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz was on the march but just how far was it prepared to go? The new models kept coming but it was the R8 that really showcased the scope of the desire burning within Ingolstadt. Audi had built a supercar.
Models Covered: R8 two-door coupe - 4.2 V8, 5.0 V10 petrol
Behind Audi's dramatic growth from manufacturing three models lines in 1990 to being well into double figures by 2007 was the guiding hand of the Volkswagen Group. Audi was being groomed as a direct rival for BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the premium car markets and had become that by the time the R8 came onto the scene in October 2006. A supercar to shine its illustrious light down on lesser models in the range can be of real benefit to a brand like Audi but the costs associated with developing a convincing one are huge. Fortunately, the Volkswagen Group already had a formidable mid-engined supercar on its books in the breathtaking shape of the Lamborghini Gallardo. With four-wheel-drive and a cabin heavily reliant on Audi switchgear, the Gallardo was a perfect option to form the basis of the R8. Audi was always at pains to emphasise the differences between the two cars and that workers at its subsidiary company quattro GmbH fitted over 5,000 unique parts by hand to each car but the links to the Gallardo became common knowledge and did the R8 the power of good, primarily because it was £60,000 cheaper. In the interests of keeping the R8 pricing accessible and preserving the Volkswagen Group brand heirachy, the R8 was launched with Audi's 4.2-litre V8 engine 414bhp. It took until 2009 for the car to get the 5.2-litre V10 that powers the Gallardo and then it was in 518bhp guise where the Lamborghini by that stage was available with as much as 552bhp. The formidable V12 TDI diesel R8 was unveiled at the 2008 Geneva motorshow.
What You Get
One of the most fascinating things about the R8 is its complex, unorthodox shape. Viewed in profile, it's not conventionally beautiful, looking a little stretched and with some strange design features such as the awkward ridge at the rooftop and the rather weak looking haunches. Move around the car and the shape improves with front and rear three-quarter views looking especially muscular. There are many details to soak in. The side blades which channel air to the engine come in many different colours and finishes. Look closely at the headlights and you'll see an R8 logo etched into the main beam reflector. The twelve LED running lamps that rim the light pod look particularly menacing when looming out of the darkness. This was a feature that first appeared on the R8 but was rolled out across the Audi range. The engine bay is beautifully displayed and the interior is an object lesson in how to package a two seat car with plenty of space, decent visibility and fantastic Audi build quality. The monoposto fascia sweeps from door handle to door handle in a broad arc, encompassing the main dials and information system. There's room in the front boot for a couple of squashy bags and there's also a slot behind the seats but the R8 is otherwise not long on luggage space.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The majority of cars that crop up on the used market will have been equipped to well above standard spec. Typically, there will be around £10,000 worth of extras and demand for the R8 is such that sellers will be able to reflect this outlay in the asking price. Avoid outlandish colour combinations and the R8 should be a sound bet by supercar standards. The running gear is tried and tested and shouldn't throw up too many problems.
Spares for the R8 promise to be less expensive than for more exotic supercars.
On the Road
Prior to the R8, Audi made a number of rather half-hearted attempts at building a convincing sports car. This from a company that can build a racing car so brilliant it could probably win Le Mans driven by Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo. In short, Audi always had the ability to build a fantastic sports car for the road but for one reason or other, didn't. Instead, it chose to patronise the enthusiast with some so-so offerings packing a lot of engine but all the subtlety of an elbow to the ocular orbit. Things changed with the R8. And how. The main engine you probably know about. It's the same 420bhp 4,163cc V8 that powered the RS4, a car that moved Audi in the right direction but which still regards its driver as a bit of a berk. Punting 1,560kg of R8 up the road isn't much of an impediment for this powerplant and 60mph will flash by in 4.5 seconds on the way to 187mph. Audi also fitted the 518bhp V10 petrol engine borrowed from the Lamborghini Gallardo. So far, so predictable. What is a genuine eye-opener is the way the R8 involves the driver, crediting its pilot with some judgement and skill. Arrive mid-corner at speed and the R8's handling balance gives you options. It's softer edged than its distant cousin, the Lamborghini Gallardo, but more benign, offering plenty of feedback as to what's going on at the tyre contact points. Both the six-speed manual and the sequential R tronic gearbox have merit. We usually detest sequential manuals but really rather warmed to the Lambo-derived R tronic with its aggressive Sport mode and surprisingly adept 'automatic' system. Ride, handling, brakes, visibility, and engine note all get the thumbs up. In fact, it's hard to pinpoint one aspect of this car's dynamics we don't like. Perhaps the steering could use a little more weight. That's about it.
The portents weren't particularly good for an Audi supercar given the quality of the brand's previous sportcar efforts but it still took a brave person to bet against the firm from Ingolstadt on the form it was showing in 2006. The R8 ultimately justified its existence and then some using the technology from the Lamborghini Gallardo to deliver an exhilarating supercar driving experience coupled with ultramodern looks and Audi's cool brand image. Perhaps R8's greatest claim to fame is that this was the first car for years to dent the armour of the mighty Porsche 911. The 997 version of the 911 was winning car magazine comparison tests with monotonous regularity until the R8 reared its head. Mission accomplished Audi.