Audi comes of age

It would seem that, as time goes by, the chances of my getting excited about experiencing a new car become less likely. This is not the case and I frequently come across models that I particularly look forward to driving and which I genuinely enjoy. I must admit I am looking forward to getting to terms with the revolutionary IQ from Toyota, driving the new award-winning Fiesta and seeing what the new Mercedes E Class has to offer.

In the supercar category, where new models are not so forthcoming, my anti­cipation is always great. However, in the case of the Audi R8 that has been receiving rave reviews from all quarters, I was particularly looking forward. When preparing for Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina, it was always my intention to bring over a truly special car as the star attraction and when Continental Cars confirmed that Audi had agreed to make this car available for us, I was thrilled.

The R8 I was testing came from the dealership in Palermo but since it was a brand new, ‘zero mileage’ vehicle, we decided to put it on a trailer and tow it down rather than drive it to avoid putting too much mileage on it, which was some­what disappointing. On the other hand, by the time we returned the car back to its rightful owners, I had clocked 600km, enough to give me a good inkling of what Audi’s first foray into the supercar market was all about. With competitors of the calibre of the Porsche 911 Carrera 4s, the BMW M6 and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, it was no mean feat to impress, but impress it did, and not only myself but also numerous car buffs that are actually putting their money where their mouth is.

Seventy trained workers fit 5,000 unique parts by hand to construct 15 cars per day and this is the only car that undergoes a CT Scan, whereby 95 lasers check some 210 measurements in a matter of 5 seconds, ensuring consistent perfection. Although built by the same owners of the Lamborghini Gallardo and sharing 15% of the underpinnings, this is a different car intended to compete, rather than complement.

The R8 takes the shape of a mid-engined exotic sports car. The power plant is mounted ahead of the rear axle and it boasts a unique mechanical layout and a highly sophisticated suspension system.

It comes with a Quattro all-wheel drive system which however only shifts up to a maximum of 30% of the power available to the front wheels, giving the car a constant rear-wheel bias and at the same time, considerably reducing understeer.

The strength of the styling of the Audi R8 is its simplicity, elegant yet aggressive. Taking hints from the lines popularised by the TT but evolving these into a timeless design that will be just as relevant in 20 or 30 years time as it is today. Trademark features of the model are the carbon fibre side blades that can be colour-coded but my favourite combination is the white body and carbon blade combination. Also typical are the LED daytime running lights underlining the headlights that make the car look rather menacing, particularly in the rear-view mirror of a preceding car.

Other characteristics include the glass engine cover with optional ambient lighting in the engine bay, the pop-up spoiler, LED rear indicators and brake lights, and nicely wide tyres on 19 inch wheels. The Audi space-frame light aluminium body structure weighs in at a mere 1560kg that, for a car measuring 4.3 metres, gives an impressive power-to-weight ratio.

The 4.2 litre FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection) engine is being hailed as one of the best ever built. It has been successfully used in the RS4 and seems to be capable of doing anything, brilliantly. The V8 power plant develops 414bhp and 430Nm of torque reaching a maximum speed of 187mph and sprinting to 62mph in 4.4 seconds whilst covering the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds.

he CO2 emissions are set at 349g/km and under normal driving con­ditions, the R8 should return 19mpg how­ever if pushed, or rather when pushed, this figure will reduce drastically. The car works optimally on super unleaded fuel but will work perfectly well on the local grade petrol.

Inside, the Audi R8 is spot-on. Sporty, impeccable quality, perfect ergonomics and loads of options including a B&O sound system and Sat Nav, whilst most other luxuries are standard.

It comes with a 6-speed manual trans­mission utilising a Ferrari-style gated box however the model tested was fitted with an automatic ex­change incor­por­ating a computer-controlled clutch and the possibility of shifting either using the steering-mounted paddles or sequentially via the gear stick.

An interesting option fitted on the test car was the electromagnetically controlled suspension whereby the shocks are filled with a suspension of metal particles that vary their positioning according to elec­trical impulses that change the magnetic field, making them harder or softer depending on whether one selects the Sport or Normal mode.

Audi’s greatest feat is the balance they managed to achieve between two opposing considerations. The R8 is effort­less to drive, offering high levels of
com­fort whilst in contrast delivering supercar performance manifested pri­marily through its acceleration and handling, flowing delicately and precisely through bends, at any speed.

This is possibly one of the finest sports cars I have had the privilege of driving and I honestly feel that the fuss that has been made about the attributes of this car are more than justified. It takes Audi into the supercar arena with honours and en­dor­ses the excellent period this brand is passing through.

I wish to thank Continental Cars for their involvement in bringing over the Audi R8, Express Trailers for delivering the car from and to Palermo, MiddleSea Insurance for covering the insurance risks involved and Virtu Ferries for the crossing to and from Pozzallo.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on February 9, 2009

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