Driving Audi's R8


There’s probably no greater thrill for an automotive journalist than getting to take one of the hottest new sports cars out on a track. I’m not even going to pretend here — there just isn’t. Sure, writing useful reviews, recall alerts and car-buying news is a greater service to our readers, but when it comes to perks about this job, taking the Audi R8 around a track has got to be tops.

That’s how I spent my Tuesday.

As part of Audi’s new Driving Experience school, Audi fans can sign up for a half-day course that includes track time in the R8 and RS4, as well as an autocross course in the TT coupe and various driving skills that are also part of a more scaled-down, free-to-the-public two-hour course that I’ll blog about soon, but driving the R8 is taking precedence right now.

Everything during the first part of the day — I piloted the TT, A4, A6, A8 and Q7 through safety skills — led up to the track and the two fastest cars on hand, the RS4 and the R8. The R8 was why everyone was there, but my group had to settle for the RS4 first. It was a fortunate car to learn the track with, however. We played follow the leader with an instructor in front of us showing the proper lines and places to speed up and brake. There was also one other car, so that made three of us in a tight group circling the track.

The RS4 was a blast on the track and was utterly effortless to pilot. It also accelerated like a monster and featured a loud roar from the exhaust when you got to go “full throttle,” as the instructor said via the walkie-talkie in our car. I had been on this track before, but doing about 10 laps in the RS4 quickly got me reacquainted with its short straightaways and sharp corners. 

Then it was time for the R8. Readers may remember all my ogling of the R8 since it was rolled out in Paris last year. Then I got to see it in person in L.A., and then ride shotgun in one around Road America in May. Finally, I got to drive one for myself, on a track no less.

Sure, the follow-the-leader setup didn’t allow me to go all-out, but the instructor certainly knew the threshold of showing off the car’s performance while assuring that invitees didn’t fly off the road in the $109,000 machines.

Our R8s were equipped with an automatic transmission with manual shift paddles, so no right-hand shifting like in the RS4. That was a good thing, because the R8 demanded much more attention than the RS4. While the RS4 was easy to steer, the R8’s wheel was much heavier, and my fingers gripped it tight as I brought it out of the “pits” and into the first turn. Then we were off.

The most astounding thing about the R8 is that the engine didn’t seem as monstrously loud as the RS4’s, even though it’s placed right behind the driver’s head. Actually, the ride was also astonishingly civil considering we had the suspension settings set to Sport mode. Even with that cushy ride, the R8 gripped like a beast. During those infrequent instances when I didn’t leave a corner perfectly — that only happened once, I swear — the wheels barely lost grip and there was even less body lean. Yes, the R8 makes even drivers like myself feel like professionals. That’s why you would pay $109,000 for one, I assume.

The R8 does feel heavy, and the acceleration wasn’t as breakneck as the RS4, but it was the entire package that sold it, including the gorgeous cabin and stunning exterior design. Plus, did I mention how it handled?

The track isn’t about top speed – the other drivers and I compared notes, and 110 was the consensus top speed we all managed – and if you looked down at the speedometer you were going to miss the line or braking from the leader and get a bark on the walkie of “eyes up”. In the end, the handling was the thing. Every guy there — yes, the fairer sex was completely absent in the group of about 20 — had huge smiles on their faces as they removed their helmets.

So, does the R8 get my stamp of approval? Uh…yeah. Weren’t you paying attention?

Audi R8 Coverage (KickingTires)

Audi Car Reviews

Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David