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This new Audi might be about as fleety as the Lamborghini Gallardo to which it is closely related, but it proves once and for all that Audi is making the biggest strides of any carmaker in turning itself into a properly lusted-after brand.
Once upon a time, not very long ago, Audi was a comfortable third behind BMW and Mercedes-Benz as a luxury brand. Remember that ad where the rather brash chap rejects the Audi in favour of something a little more brazen? Although clever in its reverse-psychology way about the type of person who liked Audi’s ‘understated style’, it also showed that if you’ve got cash to splash, you want the world to know it.
On the road, even one as striking as those in the south of France at the launch, the R8 seems unreal – an outrageous vision in a mundane world. It’s sharp, it shimmers and from every angle looks a car from a futuristic age. Frightened old farmers might point shotguns at it, Back to the Future-style.
And while we’re on the subject of figures, which really struggle to do the car justice, the R8’s residuals are also worth noting. Do 60,000 miles in an R8 over three years (and what a pleasure that would be), and it will still be worth nearly half its value new, according to CAP.
That’s better than a Porsche 911, that most trustworthy of sportscars. And while a hard working life isn’t a very likely scenario, it proves that Audi has managed ‘brand stretch’. It has gone out of its comfort zone of handsome, sensible cars for executives and into an entirely different realm of the super sexy, super rich. Plenty of firms attempt this stretch into a market they might not previously have inhabited (recent failures include the Renault Vel Satis, Volkswagen Phaeton and Honda NSX). Not many succeed.
But at £80,000, the R8 goes up against the 911, BMW M6 and Jaguar XKR, and great cars that all three are, none can match the Audi for drama. It’s a supercar for sports car money. The sky is the limit at Ingolstadt now.
Unfortunately for buyers, the R8 does have a limit, and that’s the number that can be sold. In the UK, there will only be 750 available annually and it’s already sold out well into 2009, with most owners adding around £10,000-worth of options. And if you need one in 2010, it’s worth getting in a call quickly, because no doubt that year’s allocation is going fast too.
The quattro system ensures that anybody could drive this car safely. It might not have feel quite as alive as the rear-engined, rear-wheel drive 911 but it feels so, so sharp. The magnetic ride suspension gives the owners an amazingly comfortable journey when cruising, then stiffening up to racing car levels when needed.
As for the gearboxes, the manual is perfectly lovely, but I enjoyed the semi-automatic most. Pootling about? Stick it in drive and let it transfer gears itself. But giving it some welly and using the paddles requires a little practice to do smoothly.
Model: Audi R8
Max power (bhp/rpm): 412/7,800
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 317/4,500
Max speed (mph): 187
0-62mph (secs): 4.6
Fuel consumption (mpg): 19.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 349
On sale: Now
Prices from (OTR): £77,000