2008 Audi R8: Driving in Rock Star Clothes
- June 4, 2008
- Audi, On The Road: Driving Impressions
- Posted by George Peterson
- Comments Off on 2008 Audi R8: Driving in Rock Star Clothes
For almost a week, we’ve had an Audi R8 here at our Detroit office. Not the first time our staff has been behind the wheel (see Dan Hall’s October 2007 review), but the first time for me and in a different setting. Unlike Dan’s time on the track and road trip from San Francisco to San Clemente, California, this week we spent driving southeastern Michigan, from Rochester Hills to Utica to Monroe. The R8 almost had me in the first mile, would have were it equipped with the conventional six-speed manual, but by the first five miles I was hooked. More than 300 miles later, my appreciation is growing. And I still want the real manual transmission!
One might assume from looking at the R8’s lovely shape, low and sleek, clearly with space for only two, would not be a daily driver. I disagree. This is an excellent three-season vehicle. Many sports cars, shod with a good set of Bridgestone Blizzaks, can be driven all winter, but R8’s low ground clearance and more extreme performance limits is best enjoyed without snow. R8 is a reward purchase and likely more often a weekend car. But there is no reason it cannot be your every day car. And if not yours, then MINE.
Of many vehicles that have graced AutoPacific’s drive, none has generated this much anticipation or the buzz. Arriving shortly after its supporting role in Iron Man didn’t hurt, either. This Ibis White R8 was in our keeping for a full week, an unusually lucky stroke, rather than a typical four-day hot-car loan. And we’ve taken just about every opportunity we can to show it off. Err…I mean, to gauge public reaction. We even convinced Katrina’s photographer friend to take pictures for just a photo credit and the chance to get close to the car.
No surprise, this is the hit of the year. It attracts attention with every mile and anywhere it is parked. As huge fuel costs take a bite out of truck and SUV sales, an equally thirsty vehicle like the R8 is in danger of image backlash, of being seen as unnecessarily wasteful. It was heartening to see so much appreciation and enthusiasm everywhere we went. People may joke that the 13/18mpg-rated car requires a third mortgage to keep fed, but unlike trucks, no one seemed to hate the R8 for being a gas guzzler destroying the free world.
Much more gushing after the jump, and even more in Katrina’s blog, too…
Living with R8
I’ve taken the R8 everywhere with me for a couple of days now. While it doesn’t fit in our household budget, the R8 fits nicely into my life. Friend and Detroit Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan said the car fits me like a glove. I tend to agree. It is comfortable, incredibly easy to maneuver, and a near-perfect shadow size. Oh, and the sounds. Everyone notices when the 420HP 4.2L V8 turns over, and the sound signals to your soul that this car is ready to run.
Cargo space is in the nose because the engine is behind you, and ample for my daily baggage (gym and computer-messenger bags). Seats are supportive and comfortable. The extended leather package is the way to go, adds wonderful supple leather in the door trim, dashtop, and nearly every other place ahead of the engine that you’re likely to touch. There’s power at the blip of the throttle if you’re in the mood, gentle acceleration is easy to achieve around town, and the adjustable suspension evens out the ride if you hit a rough patch of pavement. R-Tronic does require you to adjust your driving style to its quirks for maximum fun or comfort. Even adjusted, it still shifts abruptly. R-Tronic does help smooth out stop-and-go traffic, and the automatic hill-holder parking brake feature is handy. The rear parking camera is an absolute godsend for overcoming poor rearward visibility in parking situations, but adapting to the larger-than-usual rearward blind spots in traffic was quite easy. Forward visibility is terrific, and being low to the ground doesn’t come with a sense that you’re about to be crushed by the semi next to you.
I’m sure I would prefer the conventional six-speed manual transmission. Still, aside from having to adjust for too-abrupt R-Tronic shifts, this is the most comfortable sports car I’ve ever been in. The R8 is ready to knock you back in your seat when you ask (especially if the R-Tronic’s “Sport” button is engaged), but compliant when traffic dictates a more sedate driving style. The adjustable suspension, along with being a technological marvel we don’t have space to really detail here, enables you to get relief from poor road surfaces on the fly. I found myself using the softer setup on only a few occasions, but appreciative of the ability to smooth out bad patches so easily.
Introverts Need Not Apply
To drive the R8 is to demand attention. The R8 is new, sensual, rare, and elegant. It draws admiring looks all day and all night. Guys checking out the R8 see only the R8; they look over the sculpted side, short overhangs, large wheels, and huge engine bay behind the passengers. Eyes flit to the driver briefly, but do not rest there. Boys love it, too. Every pre-teen boy we passed loudly and enthusiastically expressed approval. A city park at the end of our street encourages foot traffic, but this weekend the dog-walkers held puppies in check to linger as they passed our driveway. At our office, the tree-cutting crew offered to wash it, if only we’d give up the keys for a few minutes.
Out to dinner with Mom, the R8 wowed her, restaurant wait staff, half the parking lot (the other half wasn’t looking), and downtown Rochester as we took the long way home. Corvette-owner Mom was impressed by the sound, ride, look, and technology. Bypassing complimentary valet parking, I took a well-placed valet parking space. The car was a parking-lot hit, drawing a steady stream of admirers all evening, including restaurant staff eager to take a closer look as we left.
Most cars come and go with little comment from our office community, hardly ever do people linger in front of our house to see a car, and I’m usually anonymous on the road. But simply holding the keys to this car earned offers for free lunch, free car washes, and chances galore to get out of the office. Other drivers slowed up, sped up, or changed lanes to stay close as long as possible. Many angled for the chance to drive it, settling for the opportunity to simply be near the Audi R8 sweetness.
No car is (gasp!) perfect, and we did find a few small things to dislike. The R8 is saddled with the latest TT’s navigation system, which is not particularly good, and it still has the option of connecting a full phone rather than Bluetooth. I used my wired hands-free phone earbuds, but would have preferred a Bluetooth setup. R-Tronic really can make one look like you’ve no idea how to drive a manual-transmissioned car, even when you’re not, and it requires you to adapt to it. That seems a little backward. No iPod connection available, and you can’t turn off the speed-sensitive volume.
There isn’t one of those niggles that would take this car off my consideration list, assuming I was actually considering a vehicle with a base price around $118,000 and as-tested price approaching $134,000.