The Supercar Club
needed a car relocated to Adelaide on the big AFL Grand Final day, everyone else in Oz was at a bbq to watch a bunch of blokes dressed in pretty colours run around a meadow trying to hug each other, so I got stuck with the job.
Lucky it's not too ugly.
Caught up with James for the handover where he gave me a run-down on the car, most of which revolved around how to look cool and pulling off the Iron Man mystique with intent bad-ass expressions and appearing to always have a purpose.
He also showed me where the optional enormous-pinky
prosthetic is located in case of a no-one-thinks-big-of-you
moment, thankfully anyone dumb enough to be sucked in by that campaign were at home in ugg-boots watching football or writing a letter of complaint about that dreadful BMW Z4
ad, in cursive. I encountered nothing but positive reactions, sadly no shirt-lifting from buxom ladies which was all-but promised.
No matter how you look at it - the Audi R8 is an intimidating and beautiful car. When this vehicle was first trumpeted it was impossible to find an article which didn't reference it as an almost
-Gallardo etc, that's a good thing - but seeing as I have to navigate this monstrosity out of Melbourne around noon on one of the busiest Saturdays of the year - I'm a little nervous. The Lambo G is one of the greatest bits of road-going machinery ever created, however - it's a spaceship inside. You sit very low, the sills are very high, you're enveloped in the car with a few squinting windows smattered around which from inside appear randomly placed to let other people glimpse in rather than for driver visibility, and your situational awareness is dialled up to the cat-on-a-freeway setting as it seems like the extremeties of the car are roughly somewhere between 6 and 150 feet of where you can actually see.
Getting into the R8 is where you realise there's a few fallacies in the previous paragraph... "Intimidating and beautiful" are simply from a passer-by's point-of-view. The interior is - well, almost perfectly functional, ergonomically pleasing, comfortable, and not the least bit spaceship-like - a few odd buttons which appear to be have glyphs from Close Encounters on them, but nothing like the Gallardo. I know a lot of old-school Lamborghini disciples object to the "Audi-ness" of the Gallardo, but apart from a few bits of relatively similar (reliable) switch-gear and an Audi logo on the bottom of the ashtray, even sitting right there in the best Audi cockpit so far there was not a chance I could convince myself I was in a Lamborghini - simply put, inside the R8 couldn't be more German if the dash was woven with saurkraut.
That's the other thing, it's like the car had 4 disparate directions. Firstly instead of hiring a lab-coated German with a glorious moustache to do the design, they found some woman with a passion for the Audi TT, but thought it looked like a cockroach and was only really appreciated by gay accountants and mid-level real estate execs, so developed a sensual shape out of it which is oddly enough aesthetically pleasing to everyone. For the functionality they found an elderly driving enthusiast who wears gloves and cufflinks with several doctorates in ergonomics and usability, he had a vision for a car for the spiritual driver who wanted to focus on the drive, rather than spend the twilight years trying to figure out the huge array of secondary functionality in modern cars. Then the 25yo engineering grad who's been modifying BMWs with ambitions to dominate the DTM championships adds a meaty V8 to the ingredients list, and not just a nice smooth engine for low-down torque and occasional fun with the right foot - this lad has watched the Bathurst 1000 and decided his V8 will rumble windows and cause disorientation in pigeons. Finally, Hans - who used to be an F1 tech - comes along to inspect what these other misfits have put together, with a barely furrowed eyebrow and monotone voice he says "I vill make zis verk."
And it does, absolutely brilliantly. Everything just comes together so well, you can occasionally feel there were many driving forces behind the concept, but the execution is a masterpiece. The worst thing I can say about the Audi R8 - you quickly forget how good it is when you're sitting in it.
In a "regular" mid-engine exotic you sit extremely low and are very aware of it - pulling up next to a Camry at the lights you can see the gunk under the door handles and half-pint MILFs in Range-Rovers look like mobile skyscrapers, tow-balls are right at eye-level, blind spots are often pretty much anywhere behind the nose of your car, and McDonald's drive-thru's require the attendant to be a champion goal shooter. In the R8 you just feel, normal.
Ingress isn't difficult whatsoever, egress you only need to take care if you're parked near something as the doors open quite wide - the only real downside to getting out of the car is that if you've been driving for more than 10 minutes you might have forgotten how sexy it looks, so when you go to leave and cast a furtive backward glance you are gripped by a holy-crap-is-that-what-I-looked-like stunned moment and before you know it you're absently standing there biting your knuckles and circling your nipple.
For mine - the seats are quite frankly, awesome. I adjusted them to suit my diminutive stature after the towering James, and for the next 8 hours never had to adjust them again and never once felt uncomfortable or in need of shuffling. I've done a few 4-10+ hour stints in mid-engined cars and this was by far the best cruiser - even with sport-mode and man-boob-bouncing-shocks enabled basically the whole way. I arrived at my destination feeling as fresh as a tampon commercial.
The sound system is great - I used to be an audiophile in the early 90's with my never-to-be-supplanted techno/electronica LP collection as I figgered you could never replicate that quality of sound digitally, but hey I grew up and so it's more about the best you can get for the most convenience when you're kinda time-poor. The Audi R8 really pumps out the tunes nicely - I mean really most of the music I'll listen to in the car is either off the radio or an MP3 surrounded by road-noise etc., so unless you're looking to appreciate a symphony in silence or win a decibel comp, the audio in the R8 is much more than good enough.
As for the gears the R8 (in this version) offers both paddle-pop and psuedo-sequential gearstick (and an automatic version which I never tried but is allegedly horrible). I used both methods equally trying to figure out which I liked more, or should I say disliked less. The problem with offering two methods is that neither of them are suited to all conditions, so you are left with somewhat conflicting thoughts when you go to shift depending on circumstance. In a straight-line pedal-mash the paddles are great, but they're more like paddle-buttons as in the VW Golf, just a clicky sort of tactile response with a couple mm of movement at best. On the Lambo the paddles are big and weighted, have plenty of travel, and are satisfying to yank the next cog into play, on the R8 they are about as dramatic as clicking a mouse. Plus - they are attached to the wheel, so as soon as you're trying to do some tricky cornering the paddles have gone somewhere else around the wheel which pulls your concentration.
The "sequential" gearshift thingy I just may never get used to - when I reach down my natural reaction is to stomp the clutch and clack into the slot I want, with this it's always just up or down - it works well in theory, but again just doesn't have the satisfying tactility of feeling a gear slot in. The downshit blip is kinda nice, but for mine could be more dramatic, it's a bit too clinical in it's delivery in that it lands at the almost exact RPM needed for the lower gear, I just love the way the Lambo spools a bit higher like a snorting bull before returning to the "proper" RPM as the gear engages - a bit showy, but also more human. Don't get me wrong, the actual shifts and gearbox overall feels fantastic - I just find the mechanism a bit disappointing, like dining at a fine Chinese restaurant and you have to use a fork instead of chopsticks.
I left the car in sport-mode the whole time - Cruising around in 60-zones the <30kph driving is somewhat erratic, the pedal is extremely sensitive - which is nice - but makes it difficult to drive smoothly at low speeds, if you apply zero throttle the car appears to actually brake fairly sharply, and with a light push it leaps forward - it takes a bit of practice to coast to a smooth halt at traffic lights without appearing to be a mental case. Mind you that's only at slow cruising speed - when you're at a full-stop it's simple to just ease forward.
Some folks are a bit worried that too much of the responsibility of driving is being taken away from us, but I like that Audi is taking care of a lot of the small mindless stuff. The wipers for example - I went through about 300 different levels of rain during my journey - and I never had to alter the wiper settings, the car just knew how rainy it was and how fast to wipe, switching them off automatically when the heavens closed up. Also the headlights, there were a lot of times it became quite dim then brightened, but the car took care of operating the lights and it was always exactly what you wanted. On the other hand the auto-volume-adjust on the radio appeared to be operated by someone trying to simulate losing reception randomly, sometimes it would suddenly blare out at high volume as you slowed toward the lights - usually when something like Kylie or Marilyn Manson were playing - and other times it would just go really quiet whilst shifting into 3rd. I was unable to ascertain a logical pattern of behaviour - it reminded me of dating.
There were only two ergonomic drawbacks I found, one was the placement of the cup-holders - I put a water bottle in there and it's positioned just perfectly restrict movement of your arm if you are using the "gearstick", the other is that there is no place to rest your right arm. That's not a problem on <30 min trips through urban sprawl with lots of turns, but pummelling down the open highway it's nice to just put your elbow up and cruise - however there's no comfortable way to do this, so you either resort to balancing on your funny-bone and getting a jolt with the occasional pot-hole, or just resting sometimes by steering with the bottom of the wheel. Otherwise - everything else is right there perfectly located, so easy to get used to.
Oh yeah so how does it drive you ask? Awesome. I was expecting a somewhat heavy ride and lethargic response - more like a GT cruiser - couldn't be more wrong, I don't know the kerb weight but it actually feels really light and nimble, the wheels turn with ease and there's no inertia to speak of when you want the shiny end to point another direction - the throttle response is also fantastic, every whim of your right foot is taken under advisement and dealt with just as you ask, the torque of the engine and flexibility of the gears means unless you're going ten-tenths it doesn't matter if you're a cog or two astray, you'll still have fun.
The noise it makes - blaaaaardy beeeaaauuuutiful maaaaate. That gutteral V8 rumble quickly turns to a sonic-blastwave when laden, it fills the surrounding postcodes with it's symphony, and is more intoxicating than a pint of tequila straight to the artery. The power is sensational, I don't know the 0-100 times but it's surely quick enough to satisfy most adrenalin junkie leadfoots.
This car ticks so many of the right boxes, there are cars which are more exotic, fast, sporty, prestigious, nuts... but they all seem to have glaring compromises which means you need other "more practical" choices in the garage.
If you have the need for a true out-and-out sportscar you can use every day - and back-doors aren't a requirement - the Audi R8 may be the only set of keys you need.