Review: 2009 Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10, An Everyday Supercar
Not so many years ago, driving a exotic supercar while clearly demonstrating the owner's financial wherewithal to own such a vehicle was not always such a pleasant experience. Such cars were typically built by small financially shaky companies that didn't have the resources necessary to properly develop the vehicles to be reliable and robust. The interiors were often poorly built and outfitted and were afflicted by assorted mechanical and electrical glitches.
Then in 1990 things suddenly changed when Honda rolled out the NSX. Instantly people realized that there was no reason why a high performance, mid-engine exotic sports car couldn't be just as a reliable and hospitable as an Accord. By the end of the 1990s exotic car builders like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin had all come under the wing of major automakers like Fiat, Volkswagen Group and Ford and the engineers began tapping into the parents resources to improve their cars.
Lamborghini in particular took advantage of its relationship with Audi to help develop the Gallardo, the best selling Lambo ever. Audi in turn decided to reverse the process with a supercar of its own to celebrate its decade long dominance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and used the Gallardo as the jumping off point for the R8. We recently got to spend some quality time with the fastest R8, the 5.2 FSI V10 and you can read about it after the jump.
Gallery: 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Max Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
What eventually became the R8, was originally shown by Audi as the Le Mans Quattro concept at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show. Three years later, Audi introduced the production R8 in Paris. From a design perspective the R8 will never be mistaken for an Italian exotic or anything but an Audi. While the R8 shares some of its mechanical underpinnings with the Gallardo, you would never guess it by looking at the car. It's not classically beautiful from all angles but it does look purposeful with a shape draws some inspiration from Audi's heritage including the legendary Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930s.
In profile the body has a decidedly cab forward look with a drop away tail and very short rear overhang similar to the TT and those old race cars. That tail in particular is one of the more distinctive elements of the design, curving downward rather than the more aggressive upturned look of many cars of this type. Of course the reason for that kick up is to generate down-force to keep the tail planted at speed. The first generation Audi TT had a problem with this early on that caused the company to add a rear spoiler that observers thought ruined the design purity. The R8 and the second generation TT resolved this with a spoiler that raises automatically at speed.
Without doubt however, the most controversial aspect of the R8's design is the side "blades." Looking much like an access panel behind the doors, the blades help break up the expanse of body work. However, the aesthetic benefits seem to depend on the color combination with some working better than others. In the default setup the blades are made of the same aluminum as the rest of the body work with carbon fiber versions being optional. The black carbon fiber blades on our brilliant red R8 looked absolutely stunning. Those blades by the way provide the most obvious visual distinction between the original V8 and this V10 model. The need for increased air-flow for the bigger engine is resolved by bulging out the side scoops in the blades. The other less obvious distinction is the headlights which for the first time on a production car are comprised of a full LED array.
One of the biggest lessons learned by automakers from the NSX was that exotics needed and deserved interiors that were on a par with the best cars out there. Mediocre materials and more importantly ergonomics were no longer acceptable in the highest performance cars on the road. Over the past 15 years Audi has earned a solid reputation for building some of the best interiors in the business. Every Audi interior is beautifully executed with excellent materials and outstanding fit and finish.
If you could squeeze yourself through the small door openings into a Ferrari or Lamborghini of the 60s, 70s or 80s, you would often find yourself in an environment that was not particularly conducive to actual driving. The mid-engine layout often meant the pedal box was offset toward the center of the car and the steering wheel was typically tilted too far toward horizontal. The R8 on the other hand features portals that almost make getting in and out no worse than in the A4 that stands seven inches taller.
Once you slip into the supportive leather seat, you'll find that the pedals and steering wheel are all perfectly aligned with the driver's seat. Speaking of pedals our test car had the 6-speed manual gearbox with a clutch pedal that the driver is responsible for actuating and we'll explain later why this is the prime option for the R8. All of the controls in the R8 fall readily to hand including the gorgeous knurled aluminum shift knob. In true exotic car fashion the R8 forgoes a boot around the shift lever, instead featuring a gated aluminum plate. Surfaces that aren't covered in black leather are finished in either aluminum or carbon fiber except for the roof which is finished in alcantara suede.
The gauges are large, round and legible with the tachometer not hitting the red-marks until 8,500 rpm! Like the TT, the bottom of steering wheel is cut flat like in a race car to easy entry and exit. Another of the issues with many mid-engine cars is visibility or lack thereof. The R8's relatively low belt-line by current standards and the low tail mean that this car has surprisingly good visibility in almost all directions, particularly to the rear. The long doors and side windows mean that visibility over the left shoulder for lane changes is easy although the side blades and wide rear buttresses make visibility over the right shoulder more limited.
For the first two and a half years of its production run, the R8 was only available with the same 420 hp 4.2-liter V8 found in the now discontinued RS4. At this year's Detroit Auto Show, Audi officially announced the new R8 5.2 FSI V10. This is the same engine found in its sibling the Gallardo although the Audi tuning leaves it with 525 hp and 391 pound-feet of torque compared to the 550 hp in the latest Gallardo. Still anytime you top 500 hp things can't be all bad and this is no exception.
Since the early 1980s one word has been synonymous with Audi, Quattro. That's Audi's term for their all-wheel-drive and like all of the brand's other high performance models, all R8s send power to all four wheels. That means smoky burn-outs are nearly impossible, but the R8 has surefooted traction in just about any weather conditions. except for snow more than a couple of inches deep. Speaking of which the white stuff hasn't arrived in southeast Michigan yet, but our test R8 was riding on 19 inch Pirelli snow tires which should be capable of driving the car through at least a modicum of flakes.
R8s are available with two transmission choices, a conventional manual unit or one that the company calls R-Tronic. The R-Tronic uses the same internals as the manual but adds a bunch of electro-hydraulic actuators to manage the clutch and shifting for an extra $9,000. If you are thinking of buying an R8, either save the cash or put it towards some other interior customizations like special leather colors. The R-Tronic has by the far worst shift quality of any transmission we've experienced including the dreaded Smart ForTwo. It apparently works well on the track when driven hard, but at part throttle around town it will make you look as though you don't know how to drive a clutch.
The manual on the other hand is an absolute joy to operate. The lever slides from gate to gate with precision and wonderful mechanical clicking sound as it engages. We never missed a gear with this unit and it never hung up on the gates.
The V10 engine was originally co-developed between the Audi and Lamborghini engineers and is derived from the 4.2-liter V8. This engine loves to rev and is amazingly responsive at any speed. One thing to watch out for, is the apparently lightweight flywheel. While this let's the engine rev quickly, it also means the engine speed drops more rapidly than you might expect when you lift off for a shift. This isn't really a problem, it just means you have to keep a closer eye on the tach to ensure smooth engagement when you take your left foot off the clutch. It's a small price to pay for such an exquisite powertrain.
When you turn the key to fire up the engine it has a relatively subdued sound that won't draw excessive attention from your neighbors. However, when you get the R8 V10 out on the open road, it's whole different story. Stab the throttle, and as the revs build, a deep throaty roar emanates from over your shoulder. Motoring down a twisty rural road is a joy as the revs build and fall. Audi quotes the R8's 0-62 mph time as 3.9 seconds which seems utterly plausible although we didn't instrument the R8. When you are talking about a car this fast a tenth of second here or there may impact your bragging rights but it doesn't amount to a hill beans in terms of real world enjoyment of the car, and that's what the R8 is really all about.
In the tradition started by the NSX and to a lesser extent a string of Porsche 911s before it, this truly is an everyday supercar. This is among the fastest cars in the world both in a straight line and around corners as the car goes precisely where you point it with the steering wheel and gives you feedback about what it is doing. It does all of this without beating you up as it traverses life's little imperfections (or in the case of Michigan roads, craters). The magnetic ride dampers use the same technology as some Ferraris and the Corvette ZR1 to almost instantaneously adjust the ride comfort based on what you are doing and what is happening at the road surface.
Getting through life is typically about more than just bombing down twisty roads. Cruising on the highway, the R8 is as quiet and free of wind noise as any high end luxury car and the engine doesn't intrude on the serenity until you ask it too. Around town, the excellent visibility makes it easy to maneuver among the lesser vehicles and the fully functional climate control allows you to do it comfort no matter what is going on outside the car. The luggage compartment in the nose is even big enough to hold 2-3 bags of groceries or a couple of soft sided bags for a weekend road trip.
The R8 V10 starts at $146,000 which is a good $50,000 less than a Gallardo. While an Audi may not have the reputation of a Lamborghini, the R8 will certainly not get lost in the crowd and will likely draw nearly as much attention. Even if it doesn't, the driver of an R8 V10 will certainly have just as much fun at the wheel. Our test example stickered out at $163,400 including destination and gas guzzler tax and frankly we think its worth every penny. Now if only the real estate market would recover enough so that our house was worth more than this car we'd be all set.
Gallery: 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Max Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.