Matt Davis, European Correspondent
The Audi R8 provides some of the finest raw material ever for a German tuner company to show off what its technicians really want to do for a living, so it's no surprise that the 2009 Audi R8 Abt Sportsline is destined to go down as one of the shining moments in premium tweaks from this German aftermarket operation. Sadly, we can't look forward to driving the supercharged Audi R8 Abt Sportsline in the U.S., as even the cosmetic and suspension tricks are hard to come by here.
Although the 2009 Audi R8 MTM Supercharged beat everyone to the punch with its high-strung, 553-horsepower interpretation of the midengine Audi, the supercharged 523-hp 2009 Audi R8 Sportsline is a sports car that you can drive every day.
Great Car Begging for More Power As luck would have it, this journey to Kempten, Germany, to drive the Abt-modified R8 was immediately preceded by a trip to Wettstetten to see our friends at MTM. The supercharged MTM R8 produces 553 hp and 427 pound-feet of torque, while the supercharged Abt R8 delivers 523 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque.
On the test track, this means that both the MTM- and Abt-modified R8s accelerate to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, hit 124 mph in just over 12 seconds and reach their maximum speed at 197 mph. This compares with the standard R8 with its 414-hp 4.2-liter V8, which reaches 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and then attains a top speed of 187 mph.
When asked about the R8, MTM development boss Michael Weber tells us, "It's a great car, but it just needs more power and torque. I mean, 414 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque just isn't enough. The capabilities of the chassis go way beyond that."
Meanwhile over at Abt Sportsline, technical leader Andreas Zeilbeck echoes Weber, telling us, "Audi has done such a good job on the chassis that we are somewhat free to explore the limits. We chose a supercharger because of the more immediate throttle response and sustained torque delivery. We could readily go beyond the 523 hp."
Think of the fun coming our way when the forthcoming R8 V10 hits the market next year. Abt, which fields an Audi in Germany's DTM racing series, is known to be already hammering away at Audi's future GT3-class racecar, which features the very same V10.
Supercharged Throttle Thrills At the heart of the 2009 Audi R8 Abt Sportsline is the twin-screw supercharger strapped on top of the V8 intakes like the creepy, tentacled zygote on John Hurt's face in Alien. Abt acquires its superchargers from Opcon-Lysholm in Sweden, just as MTM does for its Audi V8 engine and Koenigsegg and Ford have done for the Ford V8. Abt specifies maximum boost at a seemingly modest 7.3 psi.
For this Phase I version of the R8, Abt did not yet want to get into the complexities of changing engine parts, not even with new pistons to lower the 12.5:1 compression ratio. That's why the boost is so low. "In Germany," engineer Zeilbeck says, "When you start reconfiguring engine architecture, it becomes quite expensive to re-homologate the changes with TÜV certification." The objectives have been to pump up power and torque within the safe limits of the 4.2-liter V8 and within the stress limits of the standard six-speed manual transmission.
On the autobahn, we explored the car's cruising habits from a 50-mph speed limit through construction zones all the way up to 185 mph in those sections of the highway where there was no limit.
While initial throttle kick from lower revs is very good, the real excitement happens between 3,000 and 6,000 revs as power climbs faster to meet the already high torque output. When our back is pressed hard into the soft seat leather for more than 5 seconds and the exhaust is echoing over the countryside, we know we're getting into awesomeness territory.
We noticed a slight hesitation on the throttle while wanting to blip it fast for downshifts as we thundered toward various traffic circles. Zeilbeck answers our criticism by saying, "The standard car delivers around 80 percent of throttle with just 30 percent of pedal travel, but I wanted a less abrupt kick-in of our added power and torque for this first Abt R8, so there's a little more pedal travel."
An R8 with Audi's R tronic automated manual transmission will be available soon from Abt, and this should help make even those sporting downshifts absolutely stellar.
A Solid Ride but Not Rude Audi tuners are so enamored with both the R8's architecture and its use of Delphi's magnetic ride control suspension that they typically massage the first by avoiding the second. Since it would cost a fortune to reprogram the R8's stock magnetorheological dampers, the answer has been to stick with an old-school switch-out of pieces for standard dampers and springs.
Abt doesn't even touch the R8 suspension's wheel camber and doesn't add any toe-in to the steering alignment — two fairly standard alterations for quicker response from the steering wheel. With a combo of slightly firmer springs and adjustable dampers from H&R, the gap between a standard setup and the marvels of AMR (automatic magnetic ride control) has been nicely bridged. With this new suspension, the front end of the R8 rides lower by 0.6 inch, while the rear is 1 inch lower.
The ride over any road at any speed feels very sophisticated, and there's no bottoming out at the worst moments, while we found even less body roll through fast curves than with the stock AMR setup in Sport mode.
The Abt R8 wore Dunlop Sport Maxx XL tires for our drive, 245/30ZR20 front and 305/25ZR20 rear. Abt's BR20 diamond-machined cast-alloy wheels caught the eye, measuring 20-by-9 inches front and 20-by-11 inches rear. The offset is 1.6 inches at each front wheel and 1.8 inches at each rear wheel, so the front and rear tracks are wider than the standard R8 with its 18-inch wheels. This gives the car more responsiveness, plus that low, down-and-dirty feeling of a serious chassis.
Carbon-Fiber Airflow The total Abt package here is priced at $48,000, and a large part of it is gobbled up by the crash-certified carbon-fiber aero bits all around. The front spoiler, rocker-sill side skirts, fender-mounted air intakes, fixed rear wing and rear aero diffuser are fabricated of pure carbon fiber.
Given the added stress of supercharging on the V8 engine, these aero add-ons are not only good-looking but also they increase airflow, keeping things quite a bit cooler. These ducts lead to the big front radiator, the brake assemblies, and straight to the engine intakes. Surprisingly, the brakes used here are the R8's standard units, so the additional cooling makes a big difference in resisting fade every time we late-brake into a turn.
Poking through the rear carbon-fiber skirt are Abt's thoroughly unique double-double stainless-steel sport exhaust tips. On throttle, the sound opens up and it's as showboaty as that on any Lamborghini Gallardo V10.
Abt Goes a Little Pimpy Normally we can expect a little pimpin' action from other German tuners like Hamann or Gemballa or even MTM, but Abt Sportsline generally sticks to a strictly businesslike approach that has made it the sober authority for this niche of tuners.
Well, take one look at the engine compartment of the 2009 Audi R8 Abt Sportsline. Yes, that is the same fine napa leather from the interior now lining the entire glass-covered engine bay. Our immediate thought is that the sheer heat from the supercharged engine at its redline of 7,200 rpm could easily turn the napa leather into Nebraska beef jerky.
An Abt communicator reassures us: "It would take 284 degrees F to cause trouble there, and the highest we've detected is 230 degrees F."
Then there are those six-pack abs of the supercharger in a gleaming presentation of polished chrome designed by Abt. Engineer Zeilbeck tells us, "I just felt that it was time for us to show off a little bit, as people generally don't expect that from us."
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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