What's New for 2008
The 2008 Audi R8 debuts as the brand's first midengine exotic sports car. Highlights include aggressive styling, an aluminum body structure, a 420-horsepower V8 and all-wheel drive.
High horsepower and low quarter-mile times are great and all, but in an era when speed comes cheaper than ever, any manufacturer that expects to launch a successful six-figure sports car out of the blue had better bring something unique to the table. The midengine 2008 Audi R8 could be just the thing.
Certain design aspects of the R8 might bring to mind a Porsche, a Corvette or the late Acura NSX, but because the R8 carries a 4.2-liter V8 in its midsection, sends 420 hp to all four wheels, offers two transmissions and wraps it all in an aluminum space frame, this Audi clearly has its own attitude. The only car coming close to that description wears the name Lamborghini Gallardo -- no surprise, as that midengine exotic provided the basic blueprints for this one. Audi's $70-grand-lower price tag ensures the competition will be minimal, as does the R8's two fewer cylinders and 100 fewer horsepower.
Yet the R8 is undoubtedly fast. Sixty miles per hour comes up in 4.4 seconds, a quoted top speed of 187 mph arrives not much later, and tire grip approaches a full g -- all par for this potent class. Among the bigger differences: the R8 lets its driver exploit that speed through a six-speed manual or "R tronic" transmission (Audi's newest take on the clutchless manual); Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive allows hard driving with an extra degree of confidence; and perhaps above all, the R8 incorporates Audi's usual concessions to comfort rather than raw performance. Consider its advanced, ride-friendly electromagnetic shock absorbers, for instance.
When one looks at what Audi has done with its R8 and the focus on performance and everyday comfort, it's pretty obvious that the intended target is Porsche's 911. Impressively, the 2008 Audi R8 stands tall in just about every possible measure, and it's more controllable at the limit than the rear-engined Porsche. However, pricing is such that the R8 competes against some true exotics, such as the 911 Turbo, the Aston Martin V8 and the new Maserati GranTurismo. Among this group, the R8's drawbacks include less steering feel and a lack of possible customization through the factory. Still, to those who prefer the "middle ground" of driving sports cars, appreciate all-wheel drive and have an eye for Audi's innovative interiors, the R8 stands as the obvious choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Audi R8 comes as a two-door, midengine, all-wheel-drive coupe. Standard equipment includes 19-inch wheels, a retractable rear spoiler (operates automatically or manually), xenon headlights, LED brake lights and turn signals, leather-and-Alcantara suede power-adjustable sport seats, aluminum trim, automatic climate control and a seven-speaker CD stereo.
Major extra options are limited to carbon-fiber "sideblade" exterior styling panels, a Bang & Olufsen premium stereo, a navigation system and upgraded napa leather upholstery. There's also the Convenience Package, which contains parking sensors, a six-disc CD changer, hill holder assist, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a HomeLink transceiver and auto-dimming rearview mirrors.
Powertrains and Performance
The Audi R8 uses a midmounted 4.2-liter V8 making 420 hp and 317 pound-feet of torque, thanks in part to direct fuel injection and a high compression ratio. Power gets sent to all four wheels (56 percent to the rears in normal conditions) through one of two transmissions: a traditional six-speed manual or Audi's six-speed R tronic -- essentially a manual transmission with a single computer-controlled clutch that allows shifting via the lever or steering wheel-mounted paddles. R tronic offers a fully automatic mode as well. In testing, we've found that the manual-shift R8 accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and passes the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds.
The 2008 Audi R8 protects both occupants with seat-mounted side airbags and knee-protecting airbags. Antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control are all standard.
Interior Design and Special Features
The R8 continues Audi's tradition of originality in interior design, employing a cockpit-style theme that the company calls monoposto, an arc of controls that wraps around the driver in the style of a single-seat racing car. Aluminum is a prominent element of the R8's creative surface treatments, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel is certainly unique. The car's long wheelbase and roomy cabin allow room for tall drivers, and long doors ease access. Unusual for a high-end sports car, the R8 offers plenty of storage spaces and useful cupholders. Audi says there's space behind the seats to store two golf bags. There's also a small capacity (3.5-cubic-foot) front trunk.
Everyday drivability is the foundation for the 2008 Audi R8. The R8 is almost as quiet and easygoing as Audi's own sedans, partly thanks to electromechanical steering, plus shock absorbers whose electromagnetically controlled fluid adapts to the road surface. All-wheel drive and monstrous tires give the R8 a stuck-to-the-ground feel, yet the car is also lively and willing when driven on twisty roads. Only in terms of steering feel does the R8 seem to be a little less visceral than the 911, and when driven at the limit, the midengine Audi is easier to control than the rear-engined Porsche. We recommend choosing the traditional manual transmission, as Audi's R tronic can occasionally be a bit fussy in day-to-day driving situations due to its delayed shifting reactions.
Read our Audi R8 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test