Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Audi R8 (ADE II)

Audi R8 Gear Lever

Despite what I said yesterday, the agenda for the Audi Driving Experience happened in a different order than was listed. For me, it went as follows: braking and turning; high speed lane change; R8 track time; autocross challenge; RS4 track time.

Not much to say about activities one and two. The A6 seems a fine mid-size, premium saloon car. Comfy seats, plenty of toys, healthy dollops of leg room and a decent balance of leather and wood. Not my sort of thing but well up there with the likes of Mercedes and Lexus, and streets ahead of anything Detroit has to offer.

Let's start then with the R8. Yeah, I know, bit like eating desert first and spoiling the rest of dinner, but having said that then hang the menu and pass me the spoon!

Sitting in the R8, first impressions are very positive. The interior looks and feels like it belongs in a German car costing around $150k all-in (more on the price later). Subtle touches abound such as the machined gear lever nicely complementing the heater controls and the Ferrari-style metal gate on the manual transmission. (I was offered the paddle-shift tiptronic-auto version to drive but refused, and not so politely at that! Completely unacceptable.) Seats were comfortable, well padded and very easy to get into a driving position that felt instantly "right", no mean feat in itself and a good sign that the driver's needs were given priority throughout the design process. Anyway, after a bit of random button poking to see what was what, time to fire up the engine and see what we have to play with.

Dip the - nicely weighted - clutch and turn the key. Car starts cleanly, emitting the kind of idling growl that might better come from the jaws of a mountain lion shortly before it decides that you are looking good for lunch. Engine temperature now picking up so time to blip the throttle to see how the engine reacts.

Jeez. That can't be right. This thing spins up to 5,000 rpm with the barest press, revs rising and falling with seemingly no inertia or lag. I try again just to be sure. Yup, same thing. This engine reacts more like a race lump than those gracing most of the actual racing cars I've ever driven. Things just got serious. Now we know we have 420 bhp in a dry-sumped, light weight V8 unit, revving to over 8,000 rpm, packed amidships into a car that certainly looks like it was designed by a company used to winning the 24 hours of Le Mans year-in, year-out. Add to that 4 wheel drive, trick magnetic dampers and tyres so fat they must have a BMI north of a hundred, and all of a sudden I can see what the fuss is about. This has all the makings of a serious performance car, not just some Audi design exercise intended merely to impress fat-walleted poseurs into lining up for a limited availability boulevard cruiser.

Time to roll-on-out to the track ... but not until the next post!

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