Hand-built in Neckarsulm, Germany, the Audi R8 is the marque's flagship sports car, named after the race cars that dominated endurance racing from 2000-2005. After driving the Audi R8 Spyder and Audi R8 coupe, we can say they drive as good as they look.
The R8 offers a high-revving 430-hp V8 or a V10 with 525 or 560 hp. The engine is mounted amidships and can be seen on display beneath a clear engine cover on the coupe or nestled beneath the Spyder's stowed soft top. The R8 comes with quattro all-wheel drive, massive multi-piston brakes, aluminum suspension components, and a nearly flat floor to help keep it on the ground at speed.
Inside is a finished cabin with controls very much like any Audi. The R8 is stylish but not gaudy, luxurious without forsaking efficiency, roomy enough to avoid feet squeezed off to one side or your skull stuck in the headliner. Seats are contoured to fit a variety of sizes without reshaping them, and you can hold a conversation without an intercom. As one indicator of how far Audi's gone to make the R8 useable as a daily driver, consider the Bluetooth microphones in the driver's seatbelt on the Spyder.
Audi launched the R8 Coupe as a 2008 model and the R8 Spyder was added for 2011. For 2012, an Audi R8 GT Spyder is available, a limited-edition of 333 cars with only 50 destined for the U.S. The R8 GT is designed for track-day events, much like the Porsche GT3 and Ferrari Challenge cars. Lightened by 220 pounds, the R8 GT can accelerate from 0-62 mph in 3.6 seconds and can top 198 mph, according to Audi. Otherwise, there are no significant changes for 2012.
A V8-powered R8 coupe is the lightest of the batch and runs from $114,000. There are plenty of options but only the ceramic brakes used on a track or desert-storming would improve the drive. At the other extreme, a 10-cylinder Spyder fully loaded could cost nearly twice that V8 coupe.
Audi was able to exploit some engineering development from sister-company Lamborghini in the form of the Gallardo V10 engine, transmissions and chassis, but any notion of the two being the same car wearing different badges should be banished. If the Lamborghini is Lucifer in outlandish Milan-runway garb, the R8 has been to finishing school and is donning a classic Navy blazer. The Gallardo drives with more passion, but the R8 costs a lot less.
Exotics and high-performance sports cars vary greatly in style and concept compared to more plebian cars so there is no precise class in which the Audi R8 competes. Cars that might interest potential R8 buyers include the Aston Martin DB9 and Vantage, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz SL AMG, Porsche 911, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 and Z06, and Nissan GT-R.