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The Beast Among Us

Matt Scanlon A- A A+

The Audi R8 is the first supercar to ever truly blend neck-crac king performance with suburban sensibilities, and we actually got to try one

Let’s face it: the class of supercar intended to mimic low-slung racing styles—Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and Ferraris being most notable in this category—will as often as not have the tragic side effect of making its owner look slightly ridiculous. Time and again, we have run into deep-pocketed associates who bought 500 hp street predators only to find that what came along with that race car pedigree was race car discomfort: a lack of amenities, contortionist interiors, and road gripping but pulverizing suspension. The typical time of possession of these midlife crisis mistakes is something approaching one year before the significant other essentially makes the declaration, “Either get rid of it or get rid of me.”

But what if there was a supercar that felt great: one that a driver could actually happily throw around tight corners without endangering his or her life, yet still use as a day-to-day commuter? Audi has been posing and answering that question since 2006 when it first introduced the R8 street version of its racing car of the same name, and we have just one more year to take in its glory before the entire thing is redesigned from the ground up. This is your last chance at a classic.

The first hint as to the ideological dance at work here can be seen from the exterior; the Audi is low to the ground, fitted with discrete yet discernible air intakes and scoops, yet the entirety still looks essentially like a sports coupe—only one with a score to settle. The core chassis of the R8 is essentially the same as that of the Lamborghini Gallardo, but its softened and highly adaptive suspension makes the German experience wildly more comfortable than the Italian, while retaining the same space age structural rigidity. The 4.0 L twin turbocharged V-8 can be tuned to various horsepower, starting at 480, then 518, and topping out at 600, though we actually prefer the most modest of the three, which still provides plenty of opportunity for near suicidal speed making. The Spyder (seen here) offers a fourth engine adaptation, namely a 525hp V-10, paired to a thrillingly precise “tronic sequential” manual gearbox. All too often, the wonderful chance of being able to control your own gears is offset by how dangerous it is to misapply a shift when you have that many horses behind you, but this transmission somehow understands that the majority of us are uninformed drivers at best, and seems to intuitively apply the power gradually enough so that the rear end (almost) never ends up preceding the front in hard turns.

I am 6’4″, and that means I’m pretty much disqualified from the majority of supercar categories, designed as they are with racing seats and headroom intended for more Tom-Cruise-like frames. Gratifyingly—and in keeping with its supercar-meets-sensibility aesthetic—I folded into the Spyder just fine, and found that the austere yet not-atall-uncomfortable interior focused my attention where it belonged, on the core analog instruments and away from competitors’ typical BattleStar Galactica multimedia array. This is simple stuff—classic interior design—and wouldn’t be at all uncomfortable to take on a trip from the city to parts far-flung north and west.

Ultimately, the problem with the R8 for me has more to do with wallet than frame size. Editors get to borrow these things, but they almost never get to have them, and I certainly can’t, given Audi’s asking price of $120,000. Still, the spirit loves to dream. Only about 100 Spyders are going to be released in America, but those not fortunate enough to sign up now will still have the option of getting the hardtop, and save $5,000 in the bargain.

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