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Audi R8 (including video)

Audi

Review

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    Now I finally know what it must be like to be Angelina Jolie.

    I haven’t tried an empathic bid by dressing up as her and wearing lipstick or travelling around war zones scooping up orphaned children either.

    But for a while every man I saw came to a halt when I passed by. They’d be wearing a look of shock, which rapidly turned to lust.

    Because driving the new Audi R8 provokes the most unself-conscious of reactions. People just stand there, mouths agape. It’s not too hyperbolic to call the reaction ‘awe’.

    Camera phones track every move. Come to a full stop and you’ll be surrounded by fans.

    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.

    It’s a tenet of luxury living. It might be crass and egotistical, but as it is in the business of making money, Audi knows it has to tap into that rich vein.

    The mid-engined, aluminium-bodied R8, more in-your-face than anything BMW makes, is a perfect illustration of that new boldness.

    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.

    Priced at nearly £77,000 for the manual, and £82,000 for the semi-automatic, the R8 is powered by the glorious 4.2-litre V8 FSI engine, which produces 412bhp.

    Channelled through the quattro four-wheel drive system, it blasts the R8 from standstill to 62mph in 4.6 seconds, and onto a top speed of 187mph.

    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.

     

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    Behind the wheel

    Slide into the driver’s seat and the interior is unmistakably Audi, and beautifully done. It’s also fantastically comfortable and anybody could find their perfect driving position.

    But the real fun starts when you get the R8 moving. The engine, already glorious in the RS4, is even better with the lighter R8 to shift.

    But for the full sonic experience you need to have the windows down or be outside the car. It’s one of the great automotive noises – not shrieking like a Ferrari, but thick and syrupy.

    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.

    You need to blend off the throttle at the right point to avoid jolting – it’s not a video game DSG-type change, but much more interactive instead. This is a proper sportscar.

    Verdict

    That Audi can enter such a rarefied market and, straight out of the box, ace it, shows just what a roll the firm is on at the moment. Brad Pitt can keep Angelina. I’ll have the R8 thanks.

    Fact file

    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

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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