Passers-by in Los Angeles are as automotively jaded as they come, thanks to the endless stream of exotic sports cars roaring down the city's numerous boulevards. The 2009 Audi R8, however, is the perfect antidote to their indifference. Maybe it's the relative scarcity of these midengine all-wheel-drive supercars, or maybe the distinctive low-slung design is just that sexy. Whatever the case, the R8 attracts more stares from Angelenos than Al Gore at an OPEC meeting.
That kind of curb appeal is exactly what many buyers in this rarefied segment are looking for -- but they'd better be prepared to pay dearly. With a base price well over $100,000, the R8 is tens of thousands of dollars more expensive than such high-performance luminaries as the BMW M3, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911. What's more, while the Audi's sonorous V8 makes it thrillingly quick, the GT-R and Z06 are quicker still, as is the competitively priced 911 GT3. Only when one considers that the R8 is based on the exclusive Lamborghini Gallardo does its price tag seem somewhat reasonable.
Considered on its own merits, though, the R8 is an awesome car. It all starts with that 4.2-liter 420-horsepower V8, which is one of our favorite engines currently in production. Power is sent to all four wheels in typical Audi fashion, and it's supported by communicative steering and brilliant handling. Inside, the R8 is impressively roomy for such a squat car, and the nicely shaped seats afford ride-all-day comfort. Along with its tolerable ride quality, this makes the R8 an exotic sports car you can genuinely live with every day. In fact, we'd venture to say that the R8 is one of the most accommodating supercars ever produced.
The 2009 Audi R8's shortcomings are few. Most glaringly, the optional automated manual R tronic transmission sucks too much joy out of the driving experience, delivering delayed, clunky upshifts. Also, there's an engine under the hatch and not much space in the nose-mounted trunk, so good luck carrying any cargo. And finally, there's that price tag -- for the same price as an R8, you could buy a GT-R or a Z06 and an Audi S5 coupe, which is powered by a lesser version of the R8's V8. But this doesn't change the fact that the R8 is one of the world's most desirable cars. We turn our heads, too, whenever we hear one purring past.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Audi R8 is a two-door midengine AWD exotic sports car. Standard equipment includes 19-inch wheels, a retractable rear spoiler, xenon headlights, LED brake lights and turn signals, leather and Alcantara upholstery, power-adjustable sport seats, aluminum trim, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a seven-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer.
Optional are carbon-fiber "sideblade" exterior styling panels, a Bang & Olufsen premium stereo, a navigation system and upgraded Napa leather upholstery. There's also the Convenience Package, which contains parking sensors, auto-dimming rearview mirrors and a "hill-holder" feature for models equipped with the conventional manual transmission.
Powertrains and Performance
The R8 sports a midmounted 4.2-liter V8 -- clearly visible through the R8's distinctive transparent engine cover -- that churns out 420 hp and 317 pound-feet of torque. Power flows to all four wheels (56 percent to the rears by default) through either a traditional six-speed manual transmission or Audi's six-speed R tronic automated manual. The latter features a computer-controlled clutch and can be shifted using either the console-mounted shift lever or steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The R tronic also offers a fully automatic mode.
In performance testing, we hustled a manual-shift R8 from zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, dispatching the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds at nearly 111 mph. In the R tronic model, our times increased to 4.6 seconds and 12.8 seconds at 108.4 mph. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 13 mpg city/20 highway and 15 combined for cars equipped with the conventional manual transmission, while the R tronic lowers the highway estimate to 19 mpg.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability control, seat-mounted side airbags and knee-protecting airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Audi R8 features an attractive interior with high-quality materials, although there are a few cheap-feeling bits, such as the hard plastic on the center console and the substandard emergency brake handle. The center stack swoops elegantly toward the windshield; however, this design requires the driver to lean forward in order to adjust certain controls. Also awkward is the race-inspired flat-bottomed steering wheel -- it may not telescope out far enough for those with long legs. The seats are superbly contoured for both hard driving and long-distance cruising.
Unlike in most newer Audis, the R8's Multi Media Interface (MMI) controls are mounted below the LCD screen on the center stack, which is less convenient than their typical location on the center console. Audi claims there's room behind the seats for two golf bags -- your results may vary. There are also 3.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk; in practice, however, this less-than-optimally shaped cargo hold can't swallow much more than a duffel bag and some odds and ends.
The 2009 Audi R8 won't let you forget that it's an exotic sports car -- you'll feel every bump, and road noise is pronounced relative to most other Audis. But the ride quality is certainly livable, and there's surprisingly good visibility in all directions. On back roads, the R8's prodigious power, razor-sharp reflexes and heroic grip make this AWD exotic feel almost as tossable as a lightweight roadster, albeit one with handling limits beyond the reach of all but the most skilled (or foolhardy) drivers.
We can't recommend the outdated single-clutch R tronic gearbox, though, because its automatic throttle blips on downshifts can't compensate for its cranky upshifts, which manage to be at once sluggish and neck-snapping. The conventional manual transmission, on the other hand, is a joy to operate, featuring an excellent mechanical feel augmented by an audible clink-clink as you row through the exposed metal gates.