Even though we've had plenty of time to get used to the idea of an Audi supercar, through numerous motor show concepts and years of hinting, seeing the R8 in the metal for the first time is still a breath-taking experience.
It would have been easy for Audi to come up with a conservative first effort, one that would immediately find favour with the majority of wealthy shoppers in this small but lucrative corner of the market. And yet Audi has done the exact opposite by creating a car with near shocking visual presence and jaw-dropping individuality. Have they not, perhaps, gone overboard, though?
Sci-fi looksThe general consensus is... no. The Audi R8 4.2 is a car that gets people talking excitedly, almost always while pointing their cell-phone cameras in the Audis direction. If you're looking for a car that will garner plenty of stares and admiration, then look no further. In terms of head-turning ability, there's nothing on the market right now that comes close.
Yes, the R8 is loosely based on the Lamborghini Gallardo, but you'll never guess it, even though the proportions are not dissimilar. The trademark single-frame Audi grille is flanked by a pair of beautifully detailed headlamps that seem to float on top of the large front air inlets. LED lamps create a stunning "eye-liner" effect that also adds to this Audi's significant overtaking presence.
Everywhere you look there is exceptional detailing to be found – the contrasting side blades are an important element of the R8's design DNA, as is the large glass "tailgate" that puts the V8 engine on such magnificent display.
Snug interiorSwing open the long doors and the visual assault continues. The controls are tightly packaged together, the instrumentation comprehensive and the attention to detail quite superb - notice the carbon fibre door-pulls, as examples. You sit low in the R8, which is to be expected, but visibility out of the vehicle is not too bad for this type of machine, and the comfort levels certainly among the best.
Audi has always been good at interiors, and the R8 is no different. The steering wheel boasts generous rake and reach adjustment, and the seats are excellent, too. If there is a small criticism to be made, it concerns packing space - hardly a high priority, we know, but Porsche's similarly priced 911 Carrera 4S is certainly more practical. What you'll also notice is the feeling of solidity. Audi has skimped neither on equipment, nor on the quality of the textures. So, even though the R8 is constructed using a lot of aluminium, it still weighs a hefty 1 560 kg.
Under the... er... glassMounted low-down and towards the rear of the R8 is an engine that we've all come to know and love in the magnificent RS4. The 4.2-litre V8 is one of the most high-revving of its kind and delivers 309 kW and 430 Nm of torque. In the R8, however, the maximum torque figure remains available over a wider range of engine speed, and the company says 90 % is available from as low as 3 500 rpm. Falling nicely to hand is an aluminium gear knob, and lovers of classic supercars will love the exposed shift gates as much as they'll adore the click-clack sound every gearshift makes. After all, these days a manual transmission in a supercar is a rare thing...
The transmission delivers power to all four wheels via Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system. But before you sigh in dismay... be aware that this is a heavily reworked quattro system. For one, in its default mode a whopping 90 % of the power goes to the rear wheels, and the maximum that can be sent to the fronts is only 35 %. This was done to give the R8 the rear-end bias so loved by petrolheads the world over, but to also ensure that it would retain the legendary grip levels of fast quattro models of the past.
And boy does it work... Considering the car's not-insignificant weight, the R8 is a hugely accomplished robot racer. All-wheel drive helps it vault off the line and to 100 km/h in around 4.6 seconds, all the time accompanied by a gloriously rich V8 thunder. Approach a corner, lift off the gas and there's a slight lightness in the nose that is initially unsettling, but soon forgotten once you've learnt to trust its immediate grip and acceleration when the throttle is planted.
Where other quattro Audis would soon start pushing the nose, the R8 remains beautifully neutral, with the steering - another usual Audi problem - remaining informative and nicely weighted. This is a properly entertaining supercar, undoubtedly, and yet its talents run even deeper.
The ride quality is quite superb for this kind of car, with the R8 ironing most road surface irregularities like a sedan, and the cabin remaining free from shake and noise, except for that spine-tingling roar from the V8. So, very possibly, this is a supercar that could be driven to the office and back quite comfortably. Every day.
VerdictThe Audi R8 4.2 has easily been one of the most hyped and eagerly anticipated cars of this decade. In the automotive world, such heady expectations almost always turn into disappointments. With the R8, however, Audi has outdone itself. At the price there is nothing that offers a similar blend of supercar emotional appeal, and luxury coupe comfort and quality. In fact, Audi has in one move rendered most supercars at twice the price obsolete. Yes, that includes you, Lamborghini...
We don't like:
A bit tight on packing space... but do you care?
Engine: 4.2-litre, V8, petrol
Power: 309 kW @ 7 800 rpm
Torque: 430 Nm @ 4 500 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
Wheels: 18-inch alloy
Top speed: 301 km/h
0-100 km/h: 4.6 seconds
Fuel economy: 14.6 litres/100 km
Also offers all-wheel drive grip and security, but adds some extra practicality, if that is what you're looking for. Arguably can't match the Audi's visual drama, but is every bit as fast and fun.
This beautiful Brit is seriously down on power and performance, as well as build quality, but makes up for it with drop-dead gorgeous looks and a sound track straight from automotive heaven. Overpriced, however.
Costs about twice as much as the Audi, and shares a lot under the skin... But in its defence, the Lamborghini does have true supercar status and looks.