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Click to view picture gallery“Audi’s ultra-desirable
  new supercar, the
  discreetly named R8,
  is a styling and
  engineering work of
  art. Not only that, but
  it’s an impressive
  supercar in its own

ALTHOUGH arguably filled with a range of very fine cars, the Audi brand hasn't, until now, had a 'hero' model or 'supercar' in its line-up.

The new aluminium-bodied, mid-engined R8 sports car fills that role — for now — but it is quite feasible a larger engined variant could be added in the future.

Only 5,000 R8s will be built for annual global sales, and deliveries to UK customers will start in July. Just 450 of the cars will arrive this year and 750 in 2008. With 1,200 deposits paid by UK customers and 700 R8 advance orders already being built to specific customer requirements, new UK customers placing an order now will receive their car towards the end of 2008.

Germany, the USA and then the UK are expected to be the largest markets for the R8 — but when it comes 'early adopters', Audi UK says that the UK leads the world.

If the sales pattern follows that of the new Audi TT Coupé and Road-ster models, the UK could become the biggest market in the world to satisfy proven demand. And if Audi can transfer scheduled production of left-hand drive R8s to meet the demand for right-hand drive cars, then the UK could also become the largest market in the world for the new R8 sports car.

Priced at 76,825 in manual form and 82,025 with the R-tronic auto-mated sequential shift manual transmission, the R8 combines classic mid-engine configuration in an all-aluminium space-frame two-seater bodyshell with quattro permanent four-wheel drive. Power comes
from a high revving 4.2-litre V8 FSI petrol engine, delivering 414bhp
at 7,800rpm and 317lb ft of torque from 4,500 to 6,000rpm. Maximum speed is 187mph with the 0-62mph sprint covered in 4.6 seconds.

At the media launch of the R8 — held this week at Paul Ricard Circuit, Le Castellet, in the south of France — Audi said that advance orders for the new R8 showed that 55 per cent of UK customers have ordered the car with the manual transmission, while in mainland Europe 70 per cent of customers have chosen the R-tronic sequential-shift auto-mated manual gearbox.

Early UK customers have, on average, added 10,700 to the price of their new R8 by choosing most of the available extra-cost options.
The principal three ordered are: satellite navigation (90 per cent of customers); Magnetic Ride Adaptive suspension system (70 per cent take-up); and the Bang & Olufsen sound system (56 per cent want it).

Speculation at the media launch event suggests that the R8 range could, in future, have an even more powerful V10 petrol engine option and, because of Audi's past and current Le Mans prototype endurance racing successes, maybe a diesel engine could be added as well.

But not having a hero-model sports or supercar in their range before has not hindered the growth of Audi sales in the UK. Last year was an-other record for sales in the UK and, already for the first three months of this year, sales are again at record breaking levels. Audi long ago outstripped Mercedes-Benz sales in the UK — and now they have over-taken BMW as well.

Jeremy Hicks, Audi UK brand director said: "We have seen Audi UK sales double from 43,000 in 2000 to 86,000 last year and we are planning to achieve 90,000 sales this year."

In the first quarter of 2007 Audi recorded 30,284 UK sales — a growth rate of 19 per cent. BMW's UK sales were 28,413 and Mercedes-Benz 23,361.

Audi UK also make the point that, unlike BMW and Mercedes, they do not compete in every market sector — the sports car or supercar sector for instance, although this role has now been satisfactorily met by the R8. While Audi UK does not expect to keep the sales lead over BMW this year, once their line-up of additional new model ranges is complete they do expect to be the leading premium brand overall.

Hicks said: "We are less than two years into our product explosion and this will reach a peak in 2009. By then we will be offering a car range for almost everyone. The rise in Audi model types, from seven in 1996 to 25 now, is matched by the seismic shift in our brand image in the UK. We are poised to become the most successful prestige brand by 2012."

A state of affairs personified by the new Audi R8. It's a stunning and uncompromising sports car, developed with the benefit of knowledge gleaned from thousands of gruelling Le Mans laps that has, thus far, culminated in six Le Mans victories.

The two-seat R8 looks fantastic. Undeniably a real supercar, it looks stunning up close and is a huge crowd puller. It demands attention — and gets it. The pictures do much better justice to the styling than my words. From the front, side or rear, the R8 is one of the most pleasing cars currently available, and without doubt Audi's finest car to date.

The interior is also sporty, stylish and relatively roomy for both pas-sengers. Classy touches inside the cabin include a flat-bottomed,
3-spoke leather-covered multi-function steering wheel, aluminium gear knob and lever gate and sill scuff plates, also in aluminium, with R8 logos. Standard kit includes essentials such as Sports seats with elec-tric lumbar support, fine Nappa leather upholstery, Driver's Information System and Electronic climate control.

There's just enough luggage storage under the front bonnet and behind the two seats for soft carrying bags. Audi say two golf bags can be carried behind the seats — perhaps so, but there is no mention of bags with clubs in them and certainly there is no space for golf trolleys. Presumably, no sane enthusiast would let that come between them
and an R8!

Mounted longitudinally directly behind the cockpit of the comparatively lightweight 1,560-kilogramme aluminium-bodied R8 is a high-revving, V8 FSI direct injection petrol engine that spins freely to its 8,250rpm limit and delivers 414bhp while contributing to an exceptional power-to-weight ratio of 265bhp-per-tonne. Given the usable performance, the combined official fuel consumption figure of 19.3mpg isn't bad and is made more bearable by the touring figure of 27.6mpg. A decent sized fuel tank — 19.8 gallons — keeps forecourt visits to a comfortable 360 miles between fill-ups.

Driving purists can choose a six-speed manual transmission to channel the 317lb ft of torque to the four driven wheels. However, they may also be tempted by the racing-inspired R-tronic sequential shift 'box with joystick and paddle control, which uses 'shift-by-wire' technology to provide exceptionally rapid gear changes. The R-tronic system also has a 'Sports' setting option which sharpens up the throttle, gear shift and steering responses although it tends to hang on to the lower gears for too long.

Initial driving impressions suggest the manual transmission is faster and more precise, although the six-speed 'racing gate' style gearchange, whilst very positive and slick, does not allow for fast and easy 'block' gearchanges (fourth-to-second and sixth-to-fourth, for example) to keep the high-revving engine in its power band for rapid acceleration out of corners. The metal 'cut-out' gearchange gate (see the picture gallery) means that it is easier, but not as quick, to go through the gears in numerical order rather than cross changing.

The semi-automatic transmission — not a torque converter type be-cause they absorb power — is not so smooth, and can only be des-cribed as jerky. Not a very technical term, but then that is how it per-forms. The best transmission will depend on how the driver will use the car. For high performance 'cut-and-thrust' driving or trackdays, the manual transmission is best. But for long-legged cruising and day-to-day driving in traffic, the semi-automatic is more leisurely and refined.

Audi says that by mounting the potent eight-cylinder unit as close as possible to the centre of the new R8 — in deference to racing legends such as the Le Mans-winning R8 sports prototype and Auto Union Type C Grand Prix car — their engineers have achieved near perfect 44 per cent front/56 per cent rear weight distribution for optimum handling balance. Dry sump engine lubrication — another racing-derived element — also furthers this aim by enabling the V8 to be mounted as close to the road as possible to lower the R8's centre of gravity.

The relationship between the road and the 19-inch five double-spoke design alloy wheels — fitted with 235/30 size tyres at the front and 295/30 size at the rear — is made crystal clear at all times by the fast-reacting hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering. That relationship is also constantly moderated by the legendary quattro permanent four-wheel-drive system which, by apportioning power to front and rear axles in constantly varying degrees as dictated by road conditions, prevents the tendency for the 'waywardness' sometimes exhibited by powerful mid-engine, rear-drive sports cars.

Brakes are powerful discs all round and feature internally vented,
8-piston callipers at the front and 4-piston at the rear.

An electronically-activated rear spoiler also deploys when sensors detect that composure at higher speeds would benefit from additional down-force. Alternatively, it can be operated manually by a button in the centre console.

I was not always a great fan of the quattro all-wheel drive system.
In some Audi models its weight dulls performance, and driving all the wheels saps power. In the R8 it is perfection. It allows the power and grip to be spread and applied as smoothly as butter on bread, making the R8 an extremely agile and sure-footed sports car.

The optional (1,350) magnetic ride system I think is a must — it shar-pens up the handling and the benefits are too great to not choose it.

The R8 has so many styling and technical features worthy of mention — unfortunately far too many for this first drive review — but, as a singular example of attention to detail, the stunning lines of the 4.43-metre long, 1.90-metre wide and 1.25-metre high R8 are accentuated by its striking bi-colour paint finish, with 'side blades' in a contrasting shade and a choice of eight colour combinations.

Other noteworthy touches include the R8's lighting. From the end of 2007, the Audi R8 will be the first vehicle in the world to be equipped with LEDs for all lighting functions. The daytime running lights — horiz-ontal strips of LEDs within the headlights — give the R8 an amazing front-end 'signature'. At the rear, the all-LED light units have a uni-quely three-dimensional look, irrespective of the angle from which they are viewed.

In short, the Audi R8 is a styling and engineering work of art. More impressive, it performs and handles in most areas just a well as it looks. Road grip is especially good and while it does not need it, it could handle even more power to make it an even more potent performer. Some of the options, I felt, should be standard. But having said that, overall quality is excellent and — compared to its supercar peers —
the R8 comes at a very competitive price.

I loved the R8 and so did everybody else with me at the driving launch event. We all just stood there at the end of it, nodding at each other in appreciation and acknowledgement of the fact that Audi — at a
first attempt — has come up with such an impressive sports car. — David Miles

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Audi R8 | 76,825
Maximum speed: 187mph | 0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 20.7mpg | Power: 414bhp | Torque: 317lb ft

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