I just got back from a trip to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, about as far from L.A. as it gets. Most of the area is made up of temperate rain forest, huge ancient greenery fueled by a dozen feet of annual rain, and all around you, the Olympic Mountains rise from sea level to 7,000 feet in a matter of miles.
What better place to put Audi’s foray into the supercar arena to the test?
The R8 is a departure from Ingolstadt’s traditional uber-sedan line-up, but it crowns well the now-familiar Quattro family tree. Though based on the Le Mans show car of 2003, it is in many ways a throwback to the Avus Quattro, a 1991 concept penned by Jay Mays, of retro Beetle, Thunderbird, Mustang, and GT fame. It only took Audi 17 years to give us something with the engine in the middle, but having won the last eight runnings of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (with the eponymously named R8, among others), and with its S performance sedans already offering a serious fight to the Lexus, M-series and AMG set (all competing for the gimme-gimme me-too coupe segment), it’s high time for an Audi “notch-up” offering.
Just what is so appealing about the new R8? How about that price, for starters? $109,000. That’s dirt cheap in a world of $180,000 Ferrari F430s and $225,000 Lamborghini Gallardos. Even the aforementioned Ford GT—now just a used car—still costs more. To get Audi’s trick R-tronic semi-automatic adds $10,000 to the pricetag, still a bargain.
The R8 offers triple-take looks, precise road presence, serious get-up, big, sticky brakes, and room for two adults plus a few rolls of quarters. Really, do you need much more? I’ll here share a brief story from the Peninsula—telling, I think, of the choices this car gives its driver.
I motored along a twisty two-lane road with Mario, Audi’s Euro-cool and cigarette-infused PR rep by my side, whereby I encountered a semi truck. The whole road carried a double yellow, which matters little when you’re driving the latest, greatest supercar, and even less when your wife’s not there to yell at you.
I had only to wait for a brief straight, and “brief” is the operative word. There is no winding up in this car, no building of momentum, no matter the gear. The straight appeared and as I took off, I caught a brief glimpse of a jogger up ahead on the right-side shoulder. The trucker, of course, saw him plain as day and began to move left to give the runner a wide berth on this narrow road. And why wouldn’t he, in this no-passing zone?
I lifted briefly and was reminded of the scene in “Star Wars” when the walls of the garbage crusher begin to close in on our panicked heroes. Mario, calm as could be, said in his toreador accent, “He seems not to like you very much.”
I found myself exactly halfway alongside the encroaching 60-ft truck and, in my instant deliberation, saw three options: applying that serious get-up, using those big, sticky brakes, or ending up in a foul, and potentially costly, ditch.
The R8 is a real contender, and I didn’t see that truck again.