View Full Version : R8 in SF Chronicle

07-01-2007, 08:07 AM
Michael Taylor, Chronicle Auto Editor

Saturday, June 30, 2007

If you ever had doubts about the Bay Area being a hotbed of car freaks, there is one sure way to dispel all that.

Get yourself into Audi's new supercar, a low-slung speedster (sorry, Porsche) that sports a daring flash of color on its flanks, much like the arresting slash of bright red lipstick that can enhance an intriguing face.

Head out any street. It doesn't take long before a guy in a red Audi A4 pulls alongside, toots the horn, smiles, gives a thumbs-up; ditto the mom in the Honda minivan; or the two guys who did a double-take, then veered their hopped-up Mercedes off the street to have a closer look at the Audi, which sat quietly (and thirstily) by the gas pumps. (Less than 14 mpg was the best we could muster.)

The object of all this fuss? The new Audi R8, which, at the time of our test, had not yet been introduced to the U.S. market but was clearly familiar to anyone who has even remotely heard of Audi and its quattro all-wheel-drive system.

Speaking of which, all-wheel drive is standard on this mid-engined car, as are such things as heart-stopping performance and sultry looks that draw the faithful and the merely curious to this thing like, well, audiences to Le Mans. That's the French racetrack where Audi has taken the last seven out of eight races in a car not dissimilar to the one we drove around the Bay Area for a week.

The car provides a myriad of impressions, depending on who's looking -- it's stone-cold German conservative to some, it's red-hot racecar to others. Some say the side flare is a mistake. Others say the side flare is a brilliant design stroke. Some think the showcase window over the engine is great. Others think it's a bit too showy.

One thing is sure, however. Once you have dealt with the fact that people will gawk, once the cell phone photos have been taken, you will then find out how this beast drives.

Five minutes after shifting through the first couple of gears, the uninhibited side of me said, "Wow." Heading down a mundane city street, I could hear the somewhat muffled sounds of the 4.2-liter 420-horsepower V8 thrumming away about a foot behind my head. This is a go-fast, blood-boiling, tear-up-the-mountain, forget-about-caution car. It stays flat on the road. Floor it and that all-wheel drive just lays down a carpet of super glue. There's no wiggling back and forth, no torque steer. It just goes. Audi says the R8 does zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds, top speed of 187 mph. Only a few cars I've driven have this kind of performance -- the limited edition Ford GT, the Z06 Corvette, the Ferrari F430. The R8 is up in that class.

But there is more than that.

"Audi is one of the few cars with character, sensory character," is the way Joshua Partridge, a photographic printer, felt about the R8 as he stopped to gaze at it sitting in a parking space in Berkeley. "It's like they're still real cars. They haven't taken the experience of driving out of the automobile."

Again there's a multiplicity of impressions. We had the six-speed manual (a six-speed automatic called "R tronic," with paddle shifters and console shift, will also be offered).

The clutch in our test car was light to the touch, more like something on a VW Passat than a full-out performance car; shifting through the initially intimidating shift gate was a breeze.

The car is powerful -- that's a given -- but it's also docile. It has the hill-holding brake that allows you to start up in first gear, while pointed uphill, and not look like a complete fool as you burn up the clutch trying to make your new toy move off the line.

The seats are extraordinarily comfortable. They have the usual all-directional and lumbar adjustment buttons, but they're also padded enough to make long trips more than just tolerable. The car comes with all mod cons -- super stereo, seat warmers and the like -- and Audi says you can put two golf bags behind the seats in a space that looks like it might accommodate one golf club and not a very big one at that.

The trunk (or trunkette) up front will hold about 3.5 cubic feet of squashable weekend bags and that's it. But you didn't think this was going to be a long haul touring machine with space for your suits and dresses, did you? By the way, whatever you do put in the trunk will arrive at its destination very warm -- the warm ducts of the cooling system are not far from your luggage.

Audi says it is only building about 20 cars per day and these will be distributed worldwide.

The car we drove was a preproduction unit, with European heating/air conditioning controls (how 22 degrees centigrade translates into Fahrenheit was a dominant question).

The R8 is scheduled to arrive in U.S. showrooms in September and the first year's allotment is said to be only 300 cars. Base price for the stick shift is $109,000; the automatic starts at $118,000.

With the typical kinds of extras installed on delivered cars, Audi expects them to run from $120,000 to about $140,000.

In its July issue, Car and Driver magazine did a comparison test between the Aston Martin V8 Vantage ($129,110, as tested), the Porsche 911 Turbo ($141,510) and the Audi R8 ($120,970.) The R8 was clearly the newcomer to this august gathering. It cleaned its competitors' clocks, taking top spot in the three-way comparo. (The Porsche was second, the Aston Martin third.)

"The verdict," Car and Driver said of the R8, "(is) sports-car perfection from an unexpected source."

Back on the street, we're at a Union 76 station in Marin County. Two guys in a Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG pull in.

"I took a look at the side profile (of the R8)," said the Benz driver, Mark Garay, of Tiburon. "It was unfamiliar and I thought it was a little like the Nissan 350Z. Then I saw the cross-drilled brakes and thought, that's no Nissan."

Garay said he wasn't sure about the looks, that maybe "the silver trim takes away from the lines." But he did say that he liked "the rear of the car."

The other man, Ozzie Katz of Laguna Beach, said he owns Audi's Q7, an SUV.

"People are always looking at it," he said.

"Audi's hot. They're the ones with the mojo."

E-mail Michael Taylor at mtaylor@sfchronicle.com.


This article appeared on page H - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle