2008 Audi R8: Sports Car for Girly Men?
November 14, 2008
One of the great things about having our own 2008 Audi R8 to drive around as much as we want is the chance to let our friends take a turn. So we forced it on a friend who happens to be a development engineer for a rival car company, figuring he'd give us an outsider's perspective on the way the R8 compares to other cars.
From the start, our guy was really impressed with the R8's quiet, composed ride quality. "Obviously this is the Buick of sports cars, if you like that sort of thing," he said. "No wonder Oldham likes it." He went on to make a few disparaging remarks about "girly men," and noted that the R8 probably gets some added ride compliance because it doesn't have run-flat tires.
He was impressed with the big change in the R8's character that came from engaging the sport setting for the dampers. We were driving a section of CA Hwy 110 in Los Angeles that all manufacturers use to evaluate freeway hop, and the R8 was utterly calm on the regular suspension setting and then porpoised madly on the sport setting. He said this is a difference you really want since it suggests the suspension really has been calibrated for speed. "Of course you can also feel that the suspension bushings are pretty aggressive for autobahn speed, and you really pick up a lot of vibration on coarse pavement," he said.
One thing our guy couldn't get along with proved to be the single-clutch automated manual transmission. "When it shifts, it just drops the engine torque to zero then makes the gear-change, just like a computer would," he said. "It's really just a first-gen system and it can't take advantage of what a dual-clutch can do. And it also makes the car surge in low-speed traffic just like the Smart that I drove last week -- worse than a Smart, in fact. The GT-R dual-clutch is way better. Not even close." He did allow that the Audi's transmission is quiet, although maybe that's because it's all the way at the back of the car where you can't hear it.
He really disliked the lack of coordination from the pedals at low speed. The tip-in for the throttle is too aggressive, and since the clutch comes in all at once, the car kind of surges forward. And while the brakes have a lot of bite for top-speed work, you find yourself varying pedal pressure to compensate for the transmission as it downshifts through the gears.
All this relates to driving the Audi R8 through town, of course. But since comfort and utility are what sets the Audi R8 apart from its competition, this is worth talking about. We probably have some reason to be skeptical, however, because a lapse in judgment led him to turn the R8 into a driveway at the wrong angle and the car got hung up with two wheels as if it were off-roading in Moab. "This is what you get with a 104.3-inch wheelbase and no suspension travel," our man said.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Inside Line @ 24,200 miles