This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Wed, Nov 21, 2007
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
R8 at Silverado Vineyards, Napa Valley
By JOHN GRAFMAN
On a warm, fall day while roaming the twisting roads of Napa Valley I found something that I misplaced among so many cars over the past few years. I won't go so far as to say I've become jaded, but perhaps I am. Once in awhile, I stumble upon something refreshing, invigorating, something that revitalizes my long lost automotive mojo.
Those who have been to Napa Valley know exactly what it's like. For those who are unfamiliar with the region, few places are quite so striking. Just a short drive out of the dense San Francisco cityscape lays another world. Greenery in vineyards overwhelms the landscapes. While all of San Francisco appears to be a solid mass of structures dotted by foliage, Napa is just the opposite. A few scattered houses and wineries break up the miles of natural growth and vines.
R8 at Silverado Vineyards, Napa Valley
Connecting the wineries are two main arteries that gracefully flow along the foothills. These smooth two-lane roads wrap around the valley, creating enticing views at every turn. Certainly, this alone will satisfy most.
As a bonus, numerous winding roads that lead off into the hills are readily accessible for more spirited driving. This would be fun with nearly any vehicle. But here we have something better than fun; we have the extraordinary.
The Audi R8 doesn't look like any the other car because it isn't. This is a machine with a purpose. The mid-engine layout, while adding complexity, provides confidence-inspiring handling. The layout of the engine dictates much of the design. And while this was meant to perform with perfection as a sports car, there is no lacking of creature comforts. A number of companies, including Audi, offer some great alternatives. Yet, somehow they miss the magic that this so masterfully pulls out of the hat.
The silhouette of the R8 is not that of your typical transport. While the overall flavor is perhaps dialed back compared with a number of radical exotic sports cars from the likes of Lamborghini (which also falls under the VW-Audi corporate umbrella) or Ferrari, this does have a refined look to it - similar to many of the Porsches or even the Bentley GT (again, a VW-Audi sibling).
Audi has the goods to go head-to-head against tough competition on the street or track. Complementing the performance is a level of user-friendliness that allows even rookie drivers to look good. The rear-biased Quattro all-wheel drive system along with the front-to-back weight balance of 44:56 distribution (due to the mid-engine layout), and the Audi Magnetic Ride suspension (similar to the Corvette) allow for a composed behavior even when pushed hard at the track. Both at Infinion Raceway up in the Bay area and later at Willow Springs Raceway outside Los Angeles on the way to the Mojave, I discover, lap-after-lap, the goodness baked into this tasty treat. Or another way to put it is, this is the fastest production Audi ever made.
The heart of the car shines as brightly as the sun in Napa. The 420 horses provided by the 4.2-liter engine are enough to turn a respectable 4.4 second 0-60 time. Personally, I prefer a quicker time to 60 mph as opposed to higher top speeds. I guess my ballot wasn't received when Audi voted on that. So instead, the R8 is blessed with a top speed of 187 mph. Unless those purchasing this have access to a large world-class racetrack, or reside in some desolate state, or a foreign country that indulges automotive enthusiasts, the upper regions of the cars ability won't be explored. That will be a shame, as this seems up to the task at any given moment.
It was but a short time ago that 400 horsepower was a rarefied number in a production car. My, how times have changed! A number of brands tout products that can make a claim to figures that equal or better that. However, while even Audi itself offers the RS4 with the same motor, the R8 has an ace up its sleeve with a power-to-weight ratio of 8.6 pounds per horsepower. This is how it maximizes the all-aluminum eight-cylinder, and assists the handling dynamics all at the same time.
Along the roads in Napa, it is hard not to appreciate the sweet song coming from just over my shoulder. It only gets more intense as the revs increase. The six-speed manual with a gated shifter is a cinch to use, although the throw can feel a little unnecessarily long. The 8,250 rpm redline allows for the wail to saturate all my pores, as I soak up this cream of the crop with an abundance typically reserved for special occasions just like this.
Specs on this coupe give reason to boast, but the sensory aspects are the crowning achievement. The feel coming back from the wheels is much improved over some other Audi products, as the system has been re-engineered to provide better feedback, less of an artificial and numb response to input and road conditions.
It does seem that this machine is screwed together tightly, as the pedals feel very responsive. The package is effective at providing the pilot a connection that encourages discovering what the car is able to do. The same attention is shared by ancillary controls as well. Perhaps it's the extensive race proven technology of the R10, or the knowledge gleamed from its other closely related brands has allowed for a superior driver oriented machine. Whatever it is, I am definitely growing accustomed to this in a hurry.
Speed does have its price. On the track with the windows down, the cabin does get blustery. As the A8 approaches 80, the buffeting increases to the point of being bothersome. Of course, the problem is eradicated by simply pressing the window switch up.
On a coned course it is exceptional not just because of the aforementioned capabilities, but rather due to the design itself. Outward forward visibility is brilliant. The difference between this and even Audi's own S5 and RS4 are striking. With little to no roll and pinpoint accuracy, the R8 can be negotiated with the precision of a guided missile.
Fortunately, the side and rear mirrors are adequate. Rearward out the back glass is not as panoramic, but by no means is this as hampered as the Lotus Exige S. Overall this is far better than many cars that have the engine placed mid-ship (and even better than some with conventional layouts). But with a good radar detector, who needs to see reward anyhow? The optional Audi parking system with its rearview camera should resolve any complications in docking this curbside in Beverly Hills.
Due to the hand-made nature of the chassis, this ensures but 22 units a day coming off the assembly line. With a price tag of about $109,000, it seems the R8 will be a popular car among the well healed, for better or worse. This is a beauty that does deserve attention in all the best 'burbs, but to not explore the R8's track worthy stats is sad, like caging a wild animal.
In defense of the cost of ownership, this is a complete car in every sense. Audi, well known for its creature comforts, doesn't hold anything back in this flagship. Aluminum knobs and (optional) carbon fiber inlays accentuate the beautiful interior styling that for the most part works with very little effort on the driver's part. Adjusting the fan speed for the HVAC is a little problematic when the gearshift is in third gear, as it begins to interfere with the knob.
Interior space is not nearly as bad as one would think. The cabin is relatively airy and the parcel behind the seats allows for a moderate amount of interior stowage. Soft baggage is recommended in order to make the most of the well between the front wheels. In actual use, it does swallow up enough for a carefully packed weekend getaway. I can think of one or two more conservative vehicles that can't provide as much useable room.
As this does have real world ability, it is also available with goodies like a Bluetooth hands-free phone interface, and a Bang and Olufsen sound system, as well as two leather packages. But even standard equipment includes pleasantries like heated R8 sport seats, Bi-xenon self-leveling headlamps, and Sirius satellite radio.
Carving along some back roads in Napa that are in less than stellar condition it is clear this compliant enough to handle moderately rough roads without upsetting the occupants. Darting on the straight sections and braking without trauma at hillside curves in rapid fashion arouses my soul from its slumber. The R8 just asks to be played with, and who am I to argue?
I suppose this will be just as scintillating in Miami or Paris as it is in Napa. A fortunate few will be able to drink this up and savor the flavor for decades to come. Looking back years from now I think our descendants will decree 2008 as a good year for Audi. The future is still looking very ripe for enthusiast, indeed!
Just a few flaws in an otherwise exceptional car that retains the family traits for design and performance.
For more information go to www.audiusa.com
Price: Base $109,000, with R Tronic automatic gearbox $118,000
Engine type: 4.2-liter, cast iron block, aluminum cylinder heads, DOHC, eight-cylinder engine, 4 valves per cylinder
EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 13/20, 13/19 (automatic)
Horsepower: 420 @ 7,800 rpm Torque: 317 lb.-ft @ 6,000 rpm
Drive configuration: mid engine / all-wheel drive
Transmission type: 6-speed manual, with gated shifter, 6-speed R Tronic Automatic (optional)
Suspension: Front: Audi Magnetic Ride, double wishbone, 15-inch diameter Rear: Audi Magnetic Ride, double wishbone, 14-inch diameter
Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 8.5 x 19" alloy, 235/35/19Y Rear: 11 x 19" alloy, 295/30/19
Brakes: Front: Disc brakes, internally vented, 8-piston brake calipers Rear: Disc with 4-piston brake calipers
Overall length: 174.5"Overall width: 75" w/o mirrors Overall height: 49.3" Curb weight (lbs.): 3,605
0-60 mph: 4.4 Top Speed, mph: 187