Audi left its sober-suited image behind when it released the R8, but does it drive as good as it looks?
And will it beat the Porsche Carrera S to the hearts and wallets of potential buyers?
Certainly, as Yvonne Bennetti has already pointed out, it looks the part. It turns heads, attracts waving cameras, pointing fingers and avaricious envy where the Porsche is too familiar for notice.
Perhaps they’d spotted that 90-degree V8 spark ignition engine beneath the rear hatch glass. Filched from the RS4 hottie, it’s been converted to dry sump operation and is mid-mounted for better balance, with its exhaust reconfigured to suit. The result is 309kW at 7800rpm, and 430Nm of torque anywhere from 4500 to 6000rpm. Feather the throttle for relaxing performance. Thrash it, and it screams like a scalded stallion and goes like a cut cat.
Excuse the similes, but they're the best way to get the message across short of providing a sound track. For that 7800rpm power peak is just beneath the red line. Access 100kph in third at 5100rpm, in the meat of the torque, then play with the throttle from there to petrolhead nirvana.
Given a tangled snarl of swervery, keen drivers will sit in the second and third gears, glorying in the sound track and seeking a limit that's hard to find in a four-paw car.
Combine quattro all-wheel-drive with the standard traction and stability control and you get predictable handling, with a whiff of understeer near the limit. Switch it off for more body language and power oversteer if required – slip is predictable enough to control. Especially in a car that handles this well. That magnetic suspension alters the damper fluid's viscosity according to how hard you're driving, proving impressively compliant yet more than capable.
Mind you, it's when feeling the car wriggle on a demanding stretch of tarmac that you notice the few ergonomic compromises. There’s the beautiful gear lever in its milled aluminium open gate, where only emphatic action will work it and there's always a dissonant metallic clash from second to third. The square-bottomed steering wheel that looks the part, but feels momentarily awkward round extreme corners.
But you can live with that, for what really impresses isn't so much this car's many sporting talents. It's that it's also so easy to live with. The specification list includes some truly cosseting goodies, like heated leather seats, and the 12-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system. Like the rear vision camera augmenting an already impressively clear (for a sports car) view out. No wonder that at 1660kg the R8 is a bit porky.
Still, it trumps the Porsche by offering similar performance, far more exclusivity and eye-candy – look at the way the 210 LED lights sharpen those edgy lines – and a lot more look-at-me appeal, especially with the optional $5200 carbon fibre side panel and $5700 interior embellishments that take the price to $279,000.
Both brands will sell as much on snobbery as driving ability. The Audi may fall short at the far edge of the performance envelope, where the air is so rare that few will ever breathe it. But most will prefer to enjoy more performance than they'll ever really use, combined with these looks, this comfort – and the shock of the new.