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Audi R8 4.2 FSI quattro R tronic

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The 187mph R8
  will scorch to the
  ton in ten seconds,
  scythe through the
  trickiest and most
  challenging bends
  with ease, tear
  round a track
  without a trace of
  trepidation — or
  take you
Manchester to
  Monaco in subtle
  style. It can do all
  that and it’s also
  one of the easiest
supercars to drive that you can buy...

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE R8, apart from the blindingly obvious — the striking good looks is that the race track it its true home, an impression firmed up after you've heard the luscious tones of its 424bhp V8 powerplant at work. And while first impressions are often wrong, this time they're not.

Because the R8 owes much to motor racing — Audi's R8 race car has won the legendary Le Mans endurance race an amazing eight times since first entering in 2000. And it was in recognition of this unprecedented success that the R8 supercar was created.

Not surprisingly, given the R8's heritage, you quickly realise that this streamlined, ground-hugging projectile is a very fast car indeed. Just a glance though the rear glass screen/engine lid to admire the 4.2-litre V8 will reassure you of that. Sited amidships directly behind the cockpit, it's as emotively suggestive of raw power as is the similarly-displayed V8 inhabiting the engine bay of a Ferrari 430.

Despite the supercar-grade visual drama and head-turning looks, buying into the mid-engined R8 experience is less expensive than joining Club Ferrari. The basic on-the-road price of the Audi R8 is £77,405 but that's for the manual version; the R tronic sequential transmission model reviewed here would set you back £82,495. And spec'd to the same level as our test car, you'd be writing a cheque for £93,575.

You can't wait to experience the R8's scorching 0-62mph acceleration or take it someplace where you can sample the 187mph top speed without going directly to jail.

Swing open the long door and you'll find form and function fluently entwined in the roomy cabin; fine leather and superbly-considered aluminium generate the right ambience — with more than a hint of race-track inspiration provided by the physical layout and the flat-bottomed steering wheel. The sports-style, leather covered seats look inviting and offer fine support (everyone who sat in them commented on how good they were) and, combined with extensive reach and height adjustment for the steering wheel, contribute to the first-rate driving position.

Two opposing 'teardrop' instrument clusters make up the instrument pack, each holding one major dial and a smaller secondary gauge — Left: rev-counter/oil temperature; Right: 220mph speedometer/battery condition. These are separated by the driver's information display and two more small dials for coolant temperature and fuel. The delightfully-tooled aluminium selector lever and knurled rotary controls for the air conditioning shine like jewels in a dragon's den. Overall the cabin, the appealing layout and quality touches notwithstanding, is above all a driver's workplace.

“Even trickling along
in traffic the V8 feels
and sounds
ripe for mischief...”
Storage space is not too bad for this class of car. Inside the cabin there's a long, slim glovebox and long, but not very deep, door pockets plus an 8-inch-wide shelf behind the front seats. To save space, the six-disc CD autochanger is installed into the rear bulkhead, accessible from between the seatbacks. Under the 'bonnet' there's a deep but modest 102-litre well — bear in mind similar supercars offer much the same; some even less. But to prove that the wealthy have the same needs, there is a pair of cup-holders!

Neither have the finer things in life been overlooked: no fear of getting lost with the DVD-based SatNav with 6.5-inch colour screen and 3D map display, and a Bang & Olufsen 465W 12-speaker sound system guarantees you will be suitably entertained along the way. Of course, if music's not your thing, then there's always the splendid symphony provided by the 4.2-litre 8-cylinder 'ensemble' playing on demand just behind your head…

All round visibility is surprisingly good for a car with its engine amidships, although over-the-shoulder visibility is obviously limited when parking — which is where the parking sensors prove their £610 worth.

Other essential cabin equipment includes electronic climate control, driver's information system, supportive and grippy manually-operated sports seats with electric lumbar support, multi-function wheel with gear-change paddles for the R tronic two-pedal transmission, auto lights and wipers, electrically-operated, power-folding heated door mirrors, one-touch auto up/down windows, drive-off automatic central locking and, for the Apple of your 'i', an AUX-in socket. Both the driver and the passenger are protected by a front and side airbag; the passenger's front airbag can be key-switch deactivated.

Extras totalling £9,600 were fitted to our test R8 including an Extended Leather pack (£2,445) that spreads even more fine Nappa leather throughout the cabin to complement the standard-fit leather upholstery, the Magnetic Ride system (£1,320), SatNav with DVD (£1,760), Acoustic Parking (£610), Bang & Olufsen sound system (£1,760) and three-stage heated seats (£270). You'll need to spend a little more if you want power-operated seats, but again it's worth it.

Other standard equipment that can't be seen from the cockpit includes a set of 19-inch double-spoke design alloy wheels shod with 235/30 rubber at the front and 295/30 tyres at the rear, über-cool LED daytime-running lights, quattro all-wheel drive, Electronic Differential Lock traction control, internally-vented disc brakes with 8-piston callipers at the front and 4-piston at the rear (ceramic brakes are, incidentally, a £6,600 option) and ESP Version 8 — the latest generation electronic stability programme that networks the ABS, EBD, ASR and EDL systems. Owners who have a mind to push their R8 to the limit on a racetrack can switch off ESP, complete with its traction control feature.

What you won't find in the R8 is a Start button. Two switches you will find — and which you will definitely take pleasure in — are sited just behind the stubby selector lever: the first is marked 'SPORT'; the second bears a self-explanatory damper icon. Sport mode does exactly what it says, holding off upshifts for optimum acceleration, while the 'damper' button switches the Magnetic Ride adaptive suspension system between Normal and Sport modes.

Switch to the magnetic
ride’s Sport setting
and the R8 feels track-
As we mentioned earlier: no Start button; just a key. Twist it and the V8 bursts into life with a muscular metallic bark that quickly settles to a civilised idle. The R tronic can be started in manual mode or Neutral; when the engine's switched off you see a message on the driver's display warning you to leave it in first gear. If you haven't used this type of transmission before, you need to know that it is not an automatic but effectively a manual 'box — only the clutch and gearchanges are controlled electronically for you.

The other characteristic of the driver-biased R tronic is that if you use the paddles to shift up or down while in Auto, the system them stays in manual mode from that moment on until you nudge the lever back to the left to re-engage Auto. And when the R8 is stationary on an incline it will roll (as would a normal manual gearbox with the clutch down) unless the footbrake or handbrake is applied. Move the selector lever left into Auto and pull away.

In the first 100 yards four immediate impressions hit you. First, the steering feels great and imparts a nicely-weighted sense of connection. It's also fast and reactive; the R8 changing direction fluently, obediently and immediately. A turning circle of 11.8 metres — which is small for a sports car — helps here. The rim, incidentally, is just the right diameter; firm and wrapped in smooth leather. Second, the brakes are meaty and extremely powerful. Third, get used to being stared at and pointed at because the R8 has the same capacity to attract the public as a Hollywood A-lister. And fourth, even trickling along in traffic the V8 feels and sounds ripe for mischief — with the promise of the awesome performance yet to come.

Designed to be high-revving (it revs to 8,250rpm), the dry-sumped, quad-cam V8 is also flexible: it will pull cleanly from a 'traffic-calmed' sub-20mph in fifth gear. Peak power is served up at 7,800rpm while maximum torque of 317lb ft is on the menu from 4,500 to 6,000rpm. And while it is gratifying to drive at regular speeds in town and cross-country, find yourself a challenging open road and, space permitting (the R8 has a deceptive and almost startling ability to shrink long straights) you'll experience relentless acceleration.

This amount of power in a car weighing barely more than a tonne and a half is a surefire recipe for dramatic performance — and the R8 does not disappoint. Officially, the 0-62mph sprint is despatched in 4.6 seconds, but well run-in examples have been clocked in the low 4.1s/4.2s — placing the R8 firmly in Ferrari 430 (4.0 seconds) and Porsche 911 GT3 (4.1 seconds) territory. The more telling 0-124mph figure is, officially, 14.9 seconds with 'the ton' gone in a 10-second burst. Top speed is 187mph. Extended, the V8 pulls hard — thrillingly hard — making a magnificent sound as it closes in on the redline.

Prod the stainless steel accelerator pedal as brutally as you like and, in spite of 424bhp clamouring to overwhelm the four patches of rubber in contact with the road, there's no hesitation and no wheelspin as the R8 takes flight. This is down to the quattro all-wheel drive that effectively replaces wheelspin with grip… and then more grip.

As impressive as the steering quality is the agreeable ride. The magnetic ride system is well worth every penny of the extra £1,350 it costs, giving you the choice, at the press of a button, of decent ride comfort or a stiffer-damped, harder-edged and flat-riding setting for when you want to have some real fun. Actually, both modes are surprisingly accommodating and, on some motorway surfaces, the well 'tied-down' Sport mode is actually preferable for its ability to rein-in suspension travel over crests and ridges.

In Normal mode, the R8 is unexpectedly comfortable and compliant, dealing forgivingly with quite rough road surfaces yet without isolating you from what lies beneath. Switch to the magnetic ride's Sport setting and the R8 feels 'track-ready' — yet still never harsh. Any reduction in comfort is rewarded pro rata by road feel through the rigid aluminium body. The mostly hand-built bodyshell is formed predominately from lightweight aluminium: an aluminium spaceframe chassis 'skeleton' with forged aluminium suspension (double wishbones all-round) clad in all-aluminium body panels.

Enormous amounts of grip and high-speed stability are engineered into the R8 — so much so that perhaps only a small percentge of R8 drivers are ever likely to come close to exploring the road or track limits. The all-wheel drive set-up makes it embarrassingly easy to dive into challenging corners safely and quickly. Put the R8 through a series of sweeping bends and it feels unshakeably poised, sticking to its line as if 'on rails'. The brakes, which on first acquaintance seem slightly over-servoed (particularly at low speeds), quickly show themselves to be as progressive as they are potent. It doesn't take long to get used to the R8's realisitic driveability.

An under-floor diffuser and pop-up rear spoiler generate downforce to keep the R8 pressed tight onto the road. The spoiler extends automatically at speeds above 62mph and retracts at speeds below 22mph, or can be operated manually via the button in the centre console.

Serious driving is best done with the R tronic in its manual mode, using either the selector lever or the wheel-mounted paddle-shifts to play the ratios. With the R tronic in its Sport mode, overtaking slower traffic can be done with fearless purpose by tapping the left-hand paddle and dropping down to the most appropriate gear in the blink of an eye, punching you towards the horizon and only relenting when you lift off or tap the right-hand paddle to trigger an upshift. A well-considered touch — both aurally and for those concerned about how the world rates their driving skills — is the perfectly-timed 'double declutch' blip generated by the electronics when changing down manually.

When the tempo is unhurried, the R8 is a fine means of travel: the V8 is fairly muted unless hard-pressed and in spite of rolling on lo-pro tyres of sizeable girth, road noise is extremely well suppressed and the cabin quite restful. Simply put, while able to genuinely entertain the blue-blooded driving enthusiast with its sporting ability, the R8 can also perform the role of inter-continental express or even polished urbanite with an easygoing panache.

During testing, our admittedly hard-driven R tronic R8 averaged 17.7mpg. Officially, urban, combined and extra-urban consumption are given as, respectively, 13.8, 20.7 and 29.4mpg. Motorway runs made at the legal limit, with the V8 spinning at an unruffled 2,800rpm, should see notably better figures than we achieved. R8 owners wishing to extend the touring range can specify a 19.8-gallon tank over the standard 16.5-gallon item.

Hand-built in limited numbers (restricted to a maximum of 15 per day), easy-to-live with yet possessing the driveability, power and pace of an out-and-out sports car, the slinky R8 is that elusive beast of urban legend — a genuine everyday supercar. Drive one for several days and you'll never want to give this terrific car back. We certainly didn't. Be assured that not only is the R8 Audi's star turn, it is also a clever, well-thought-out and totally usable supercar and a star in its own right. —

Audi R8 4.2 FSI quattro R tronic
| £82,495
Maximum speed: 187mph | 0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 17.7mpg | Power: 424bhp | Torque: 317lb ft
CO2 325g/km | VED Band G £400 | Insurance group 20