Halleluiah, an Audi with soul...
Turns heads, too, as I found when trying to leave the city; everyone stared at the little silver wedge sitting under their elbows. An office I visited briefly emptied as young males gathered slavering around the car. And people pulled over to let me past with the sort of alacrity normally reserved for harder-core conveyances. Interesting, for they don't for Porsches - presumably because of the number of buyers driving one purely for badge appeal.
Ironic really, for this R8 is arguably softer than those Porsches and will sell as much on snobbery as driving ability.
But driving ability there is, in spades. For starters there's that mid-mounted 90-degree V8 spark ignition engine visible under the glass rear hatch. The 4.2-litre unit puts out 430Nm of torque from 4500-6000rpm and 309kW at 7800rpm, peaking with a hair-raising banshee wail that eventually becomes wearing if you keep thrashing it.
But most of the time you don't need to. The thing's a pussy-cat round town, and happy to cruise at 100 in top at 2500rpm. Yet rev it and you'll take a walk on the wild side. For that 7800 power peak's a nudge under the red-line.
In third, you're sitting at 100kph and 5100rpm, in the peak of the torque band. In that gear you'll reach over 140kph; in fourth, over 170 - closed roads permitting, of course.
Given the spread of torque that means second and third-gear screaming will see off nearly every road we've got. Especially since the R8 puts its power to all four wheels, which meant trying to find its limit took some fairly lurid driving.
The standard traction and stability control (ASR) makes for extremely predictable handling, with perhaps the lightest whiff of understeer when cornering hard. The ASR allows some body movement; switch it off for more, with power oversteer on tap if required - though even on a wet road, slip remained predictable if much more readily available.
I shouldn't be surprised this R8's so good. After all, you could argue the largely aluminium-bodied car is a re-engineered Lamborghini Gallardo with an RS4 engine. Albeit one converted to dry sump operation, the exhaust reconfigured to suit the unit's mid-mounted position.
Nice touches include that open-gate gear lever, milled from solid aluminium. It looks the part but takes some getting used to and is always accompanied by metal-clash. Like it or loathe it, it's eye-catching, though emphatic rather than wrist-flicking action is needed to work it.
Meanwhile the suspension - double unequal-length wishbones at each corner, with the magnetic suspension that alters the viscosity of the damper fluid according to how hard you're driving - does an impressive job. Sport offers firmer response and you will feel the car move round more on the bigger hits, the standard setting proving the best all-round compromise for bumpy b-roads. It's more compliant than expected, if still more than capable.
Yet for all this car's sporting talents - and it'll give most Porsche drivers a run for their money - it's easy to live with.
The engine's tractable round town, and the torque spread means you don't have to clash your way through the gate that often. Some extensive city motoring at home-from-school time proved all-round view out is much better than expected from a supercar, and it's augmented by the rather well thought-out rear vision camera.
Those leather seats are sufficiently supportive; the interior feels special; there's a Bang and Olufsen sounds system with its 12 speakers; the four airbags and even isofix fittings for a child seat. There's an MMI driver interface, the auto air con and six-CD stacker. No wonder this car weighs 1660kg!
Only the boot's a let-down, the under-bonnet space somewhat restrictive and the behind-the-seat shelf much appreciated.
Still, it looks fantastic - from the 210 LED lights front, rear and in the engine bay to that carbon fibre side panel, its $5200 cost taking the total tally to $265,200. Is it worth it? If you have to ask, possibly not.
Otherwise this R8 is aimed squarely at Porsche's 911 Carrera S. Its acceleration is similar, but it's easier to live with. The engine's quieter at round-town speeds or while cruising, the cosseting fitments - heated seats! - appreciated, and the suspension impressively compliant for a car so focussed. Only the brakes are not quite as expected, proving a tad grabby and hard to modulate at gentle input levels.
This car may not be as hard core as the Porsche at the limit. But few drivers will ever see that limit - and certainly not at our open road speeds. All will enjoy the R8's ability to make a decent fist of everyday driving, while offering more performance than most can dream of when required.
Specifications Audi R8
Dimensions L/W/H/WB: 4431/1904 (excluding mirrors)/1252/2650mm
Engine: 4.2-litre V8 spark ignition, dry sump engine, 309kW at 7800rpm, 430Nm at 4500-6000rpm
Gearbox and driven wheels: Six-speed manual drives all four wheels
Performance, 0-100kph/ 0-200kph: 4.6/14.9 seconds
Fuel economy (overall): 14.6/100km (claimed)