Car Review: Audi - R8  Series 07 (5 stars)

Simply astonishing - how did Audi manage to beat Porsche at its first attempt?

We're used to seeing classy saloons, accomplished hatchbacks and the occasional sporting foray like the TT from Audi, but it's some leap for the oft-conservative German manufacturer to take on the likes of Lamborghini, Ferrari and Lotus by diving headlong into the mid-engined supercar market. The R8 is the quickest and priciest car Audi makes, but this is no brand-building exercise, this is a full-on performance machine with proper dynamic credentials.

There are two power plants on offer: a 414bhp, 4.2-litre V8, and the £110k-plus V10 that produces 518bhp from 5.2 litres. Both are encased under viewing glass amidships, and are fantastically free revving, with peak power coming at 7800rpm in the smaller engine and a lofty 8000rpm in the larger. Paddle shifters offer a manual override with the optional automatic six-speed gearbox, and a classic Ferrari-style exposed metal H-gate and milled aluminium gearstick provide the interface on the standard manual setup. A slight rear bias in weight is designed to increase the car's agility, complemented by a low centre of gravity, complex suspension, a stiff chassis and refined aerodynamics.

One commonality with other Audis is the aluminium body shell that tips the scales at an incredibly miserly 210kg. The attention to detail in the R8's engineering is space-age stuff. Though hand built, each body is tested by laser in 220 places to ensure tolerances of just one-tenth of one millimetre.

The relatively high drag coefficient of 0.35 is misleading - the bodywork has been created to increase grip-yielding downforce, which pushes that metric up. Less performance-oriented cars such as executive saloons can produce a significantly lower measurement, but they won't need to endure the kind of extremes the R8 is designed to handle. Indeed, when compared to other downforce-creating road cars, the R8 is relatively slippery, but additional pressure is available from the electrically operated boot spoiler that rises out of the bodywork at 62mph.

Although the R8 is four-wheel drive, there is a definite rear-drive character to its handling, as just 10 to 35 per cent of torque is delivered to the front axle. There's traction-seeking ESP, which can be deactivated manually, and a limited-slip differential at the rear. Suspension is provided by double wishbones all-round, and there's also the option of magnetically adjustable shock absorbers, as seen on the TT.

The high-tech theme continues with the brake discs, which are made of highly effective composite as standard, but buyers can specify ceramic replacements, which are said to last up to 186,000 miles, saving 20kg in ballast.

The semi-automatic gearbox in our test car has been cribbed from the Lamborghini Gallardo, and the 4.2-litre V8 uses a dry sump, allowing the lump to be lower set. Oily gubbins also include variable-profile quad cams and variable valve timing. Such is the high-revving nature of the engine that extra-powerful microprocessors are used in the ECU.

There's standard Audi security on offer from the handling, and it's a very comfortable, secure experience, especially with that effective ESP system, but there's also a most un-Audi like delicacy and responsiveness in its manners that is especially satisfying to explore. A mild criticism is that the steering could be a bit more feelsome and seems to lack linearity at times.

Drivers will find plenty of adjustment from the seats and steering wheel in the luxurious and elegant interior, where engine noise is evident but not intrusive. In fact, some performance-hungry drivers might like to enjoy a little more bark. A modest front boot will take a weekend's worth of compact luggage, and you can actually squeeze a couple of golf bags into the supplementary space behind the seats.

Considering the engineering and attention to detail that goes into a R8, the price tag could even be seen as good value, although fuel costs will sting at around 12mpg. That's an expected niggle in a car with such colossal ability, though, which will deter few potential buyers from parting with their cash for this amazingly complete first supercar from Audi.

Audi R8 Series 07 StatisticsCar Reviews

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