Audi R8 Is the True Everyday Supercar
Clark Kent on the commute, superhero in flight.
Crystal blue paint gleaming like Paul Newman’s peepers, a V-10 brewing up 610 horses of Le Mans thunder, the 2017 Audi R8 made the most of its first New York appearance with The Drive.
I’d already driven the R8 V10 Plus to 180 mph at Daytona Speedway, and tested its all-seeing laser high beams on nighttime laps of the Algarve circuit in Portugal. The epic-adventure stuff might have seemed exhausted, until I realized that even a commute in Brooklyn feels epic in this $199,925 Audi.
Somewhere between loading groceries into the R8 at the Fairway Market, and a fall hiking weekend in the Catskills, it hit me: Every supercar maker – McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini – has been headlining press conferences with unusual boasts that have nothing to do with horsepower. Instead, automakers insist that these rare $250,000 baubles were expressly designed as daily drivers. Naturally, that’s all relative to how impractical, intimidating, uncomfortable or unreliable their exotic wares used to be. Yet compared with every one of those supercar rivals, it's the R8 that comes closest to being a practical Toyota Camry. Some people say that as an insult. I say it’s a compliment.
The Audi is content playing Clark Kent en route to the Daily Planet, should you choose. But pop into its booth for a quick change of settings, and this Nietzschean Superman will leap to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds. That's quicker than a McLaren 570S, Ferrari 488 or a Lamborghini Huracan. Motor Trend, in its history, has never tested a faster naturally-aspirated production car. The Audi’s grenade-blasting V-10, freed from turbocharged shackles in both sound and an 8,500-rpm redline, easily overwhelms the wimpy-voiced hybrid V6 in the new Acura NSX, the one new supercar that can challenge the Audi’s daily-driving bona fides. (The Acura takes the supercar fuel-economy trophy). And please, don’t bring up the Porsche 911, because no one else will. The Porsche is a brilliant car, a historic car, and its own blend of performance and livability was a clear inspiration for Audi. But a Porsche 911 is not a supercar, even if a 911 Turbo acts like one.
If you don’t believe me, ask the people in Woodstock, New York. These folks could have ogled their choice of 911s in the tourist-clogged town, but flocked around the Audi as though Tony Stark was driving and Dylan riding shotgun. It’s the same story wherever you go in the R8: Prepare talking points, because you’re going to need them. Top speed, 205 mph. Base price, a touch over $192,000 for this V10 Plus, or $163,000 for the 560-horsepower V10 model. And, for striver’s sake, a coming starter version — we figure around $130,000 — will replace the canceled R8 V8. The R8 junior would likely be powered by the 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V6 that’s also bound for the new Porsche Panamera.
The car isn't perfect. Audi designers might have gone bolder with this more-angular R8, but at least they didn’t screw up a good thing. The (far-pricier) Ferrari brings even sharper handling and more la dolce vitato the driving experience; the all-wheel-drive Audi's road manners are icier, its steering more distant. But the second-generation Audi, with its improved handling and toughened chassis and suspension, is no slouch in looks or performance. Running reconnaissance along the Ashokan Reservoir in upstate New York, bolted to pavement and storming through selections of its dual-clutch 7-speed automated gearbox, the Audi feels pretty damn legit.
Now, spend an hour or three in the Audi’s competitors, then jump back into the R8. Your body and brain will thank you. The Audi’s gorgeously wrought cabin—Mission Control by way of Ingolstadt—is on luxury par with anything from Italy. Comfort and ergonomics are another win. Sightlines are superior, along with room for hips, knees and elbows. The Audi offers the smoothest ride of the adaptive-suspension bunch, and that includes the vaunted McLarens. My girlfriend and I found enough space for two big weekend bags in the frunk, and enough room behind the seats for a purse, backpack and more.
That still leaves the Audi’s biggest edge: infotainment and intuitive technology. Compared with most rivals, it’s like a Jeopardy champion taking on the Kardashians, except that the Audi wins on looks as well. Bang & Olufsen audio fills the relatively small cabin with surprisingly large, weighty sound. There’s a slight learning curve for the Audi’s latest MMI system and Virtual Cockpit, which integrate every vehicle function in a single, efficient high-resolution driver’s display. Once you’ve got the knack, the Audi system slays everything in its path, including Porsche’s newly useful infotainment units. Wall-to-wall Google Maps displays are one example. Presets, phones and connectivity functions are a breeze. Spin quickly through hundreds of available satellite radio stations, instead of dialing your way to carpal tunnel the Audi senses what you’re after and skips past a few dozen stations with every flick of the wrist. (As the R8's sister car, the Lamborghini Huracan can thank Audi for its own quantum leap via hand-me-down Virtual Cockpit electronics).
Today's time-pressed supercar owners don't always have time or patience to deal with a finicky machine that's always in the shop and racking up repair bills. Chalk up another Audi edge in documented reliability and ease-of-service. Drop the R8 at any local Audi dealer, instead of packing it off to the Mediterranean showroom for an exotically priced oil change. Mentally, driving an R8 feels little different from driving an Audi TT or A8: I never worried that this hyper-exclusive sports car might leave me stranded, never scraped the front end over a speed bump or driveway.
It’s also worth mentioning all the baggage the Audi doesn’t carry. Like an Aston Martin, the Audi is a classy, grown-up exotic that seems to defuse jealousy and knee-jerk assumptions. It’s pricier than a 911 and draws attention like a Lamborghini, but doesn’t scream “mid-life crisis” or “entitled A-hole.” Instead, the Audi seems to engender good vibes wherever it goes. In a final weekend demonstration, we pull into the Hudson River town of New Paltz and discover End Cut.
a finely tuned French-Italian bistro on a cozy side street. As our famished table horks down wild mushroom cakes, pan-roasted salmon and a textbook pork chop, chef and NYC expat Jordan Schor pops out to inquire, not about the port wine demiglace, but whether we’re attached to the R8 parked out front.
“Hell, I’ll give you dessert just to look at that thing,” says Schor, a car fan who said he once served as personal chef and chauffeur to an aging mobster who owned a cement factory – what else? – and a vintage Rolls-Royce.
I do him one better, and Schor temporarily abandons his post to jump into the driver’s seat. Dressed in his chef’s whites, a damp towel slung over one shoulder, Schor naturally enthuses over the R8’s shapely bod and burbling V-10. But he might be reading my mind with what comes next:
“This car is absolutely insane. But sometimes you sit in a Ferrari or Porsche and it’s uncomfortable. This is a car I could drive everyday,” he says, caressing the Audi's steering wheel.
N’est-ce pas, Chef Schor? Back inside End Cut, I learn that the R8’s equally abrupt exit had ricocheted around the dining room, loud enough to make diners drop their forks. Within minutes, we’re digging our own into a lovely Tarte Tatin, France’s classic upside-down apple tart. The R8 has carried our bags and stirred our souls. Now it’s filling our stomachs with free dessert. How practical is that?