When the Audi R8 burst onto the dealer lots in 2008 it had a lot to prove. Here was the usually reserved Audi dipping its toes into historically unreserved supercar market. The R8 answered a lot of questions, chief among them; would exotic cars buyers who usually value shocking, “hey, look at me!” sight and sound aesthetics over the more staid metrics that Audi had built its brand on. Afterall, Ferraris were for extroverts…Audi’s were for architects.
Well, turns out Audi knew exactly what they were doing and the R8 has been a huge success, both achieving its goals as a desireable/sellable product as well as serving as a halo car to elevate the entire Audi brand.
“As far as I’m concerned, this car is almost without fault. It is absolutely stunning.”
-Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear
A lot has changed since 2008. Manual transmissions are going the way of the T-Rex, electric cars are roaming the roads en mass, and computers are now very much an integral part of the driving experience. Add to that the insane amount of horsepower car manufacturers have bestowed onto some of their new cars, and you have an automotive landscape that has changed more in the last 10 years than the previouos 20.
And as with any large, progressive change, a countermovement has also begun. Enthusiasts are starting to put significant value on “honest” cars. Cars that tell you exactly whats going on in plain terms. 9/10’s cars…10/10s cars. Cars that let you, the driver, wring them out and push them on your terms and to your skill level. No computer nannies doling out power as they see fit, no automatic brake-applying to help your unskilled ass carve the perfect corner; if you can’t clip an apex correctly, thats on you. What good is having a car with 600hp+ if its entire performance envelope is mostly inaccessible during normal driving?
In short, we want cars that we command…fully. And that communicate back to us in a pure, unfilter way. This is the relationship every enthusiast wants…and that relationship has slowly been eroding in new cars.
This brings us back to the Audi R8 V8.
I recently bought a 2008 R8 with Audi’s monster 4.2L dry-sump V8 under the back glass, thinking it would be way more car than I could handle and that I should in all likelyhood take a Skip Barber refresher course lest I find myself in some ditch off the side of PCH somewhere. I took delivery in downtown San Diego, and after a few white knuckle moments getting it safely out of the city and onto a reasonably traffic-free 5 North I started poking around its performance envelope.
Here’s what I found: The first-gen Audi R8 V8 is not all that fast in a straight line…seriously.
The first time I floored it I fully expected to be shoved into my seat, the R8’s Quattro AWD commanding all four Pirelli P-Zeros to claw violently towards the horizon…Nope. It for sure accelerated with more verve than my Hyundai Genesis V6 sedan (which is surprisingly no slouch) and was light years faster than my 97 Miata, but it wasn’t nearly whiat I had expected. I got home, hung up the keys and was semi-bummed.
Then I drove it up Ortega Hiway…and realized I was in love.
The magic of the V8 R8 (especially with a manual tranny) and why I think this is going to be a future classic is that it’s entirely balanced: you get equal parts, handling, power and brakes. And while it does have traction/stability control, it’s intervention is almost invisible. I have tried to get the system to rear its head in a blatant manner (in the safe confines of an empty parking lot of course) and it just doesn’t happen. It simply goes about its business of keeping you out of trouble without being obvious in any noticeable way. An invisible nanny is a good nanny. And a nanny you can turn off is even better.
The flipside is that when you turn it off, it goes completely off. You wanna rip expensive, Italian-tire-shredding donuts? Have at it? Drifting? No problemo. Because it has a high, but reasonable amount of power, everything is predictable and controllable….by you.
The Audi R8 V8 is simply the perfect sports car: traction for days, brakes that could stop an 18-wheeler dead, perfect balance and enough power to make your mouth sore from smiling, but not so much that you’re always wondering “when is this thing going to kill me?”. In short, it is a 10/10ths car. You can use and enjoy everything this car can offer up. Added bonus: when the tach sweeps past 4800rpm and a second set of exhaust valves open up, it roars like nothing else I’ve experienced. “Pissed off lion” is the best description I can come up with.
Is it the fastest thing out there? Not by a country mile. Is it the cheapest fast car you can buy? No way in hell. But if you’re looking for something that looks like a super car, is fast enough for most and can deliver up to you on a silver platter that feeling of commanding something truly special, then look no further.
In short, the gen-one Audi R8 V8 is a absolute masterpiece and I fully expect manual transmission-equipped versions to be seen as a high water mark for the old guard of truly usable, “10/10ths” performance cars.