September 2, 2008
Niagara, Ontario – Wallflowers need not apply. If you have an aversion to attention, interrogation or crowds, I would strike “Driving the Audi R8” from your to-do list. If, however, you appreciate rolling sculpture, visceral V8s and sublime driving experiences, do what you can to secure some seat time in this hand-built aluminum wonder from Neckarsulm, Germany.
Problem is, these things are scarce as chicken lips â€“ only 59 were delivered in Canada for 2008 and about 120 are slated for 2009, which are all sold. There’s currently a two-year wait, so unless you presently own an R8, or are a damn lucky journalist (guilty as charged), you’re pretty much beat.
Not ones to shy away from fawning attention, wine enthusiast/drummer buddy Gary Craig and I took this $179,060 Ibis White, six-speed manual equipped R8 on a tour of Niagara Wine Country. As per usual, he was the Designated Sipper, and I was the Designated Dipper (the throttle, of course).
I’m here to tell you, dipping the throttle in this car is far more intoxicating than any of the fine elixirs being produced here in the Niagara region (although Craig may beg to differ).
The compact 4.2-litre FSI direct injection V8 I loved so much in the Audi RS4 is the star of the show here, on display like a work of fine art under the rear glass. It makes 420 hp @ 7800 r.p.m. and 317 lb.-ft. from 4500 to 6000 r.p.m., and belts out a NASCARâ€“like howl that’ll have the hair standing up on the back of your knees faster that my uninitiated passenger was able to string together a staccato series of unprintable expletives.
This truly is one of the greatest voices in autodom, and while singing to the Gods, it propels the 1635 kg mid-engined R8 with unbridled ferocity.
Then we reached the end of my driveway.
The R8 is not all about license-busting heroics, however. On the motorway, it settles onto a surprisingly comfortable and compliant cruiser â€“ all the better for us to appreciate this tester’s $25,000 (yes, you read that right) bespoke Sand Beige interior treatment that had almost every square millimeter swathed in various shades of finely stitched Nappa leather, plus an alcantara headliner, sand beige stitching on the steering wheel and matching black/sand beige “Audi Exclusive Floor Mats”. Treating our ears was the terrific $2300 Bang and Olufsen 465-watt 12-speaker audio system.
In fact, with the abundance of leg, shoulder and head room, my co-pilot was quick to note that flowing along with the 120 km/h weekend traffic, it was all too easy to forget what this car was all about. Okay, the flat-bottomed steering wheel gives the game away, as does the beautifully machined hunk of aluminum that functions as the sexiest shift-gate extant.
And yes, all the smiles, waves, thumbs-up, honks and faces-pressed-against-glass were a constant reminder that the R8 is indeed a rare and beautiful beast. Like I said, if you crave attention…
We jumped off the QEW at Bartlette Avenue. The shifter click-clicked through the gate and the V8 barked as I ran down through the gears. Deeper into wine country, there are some fine roads that thread their way through the vineyards and hamlets, and it was here that the R8, admittedly not even breathing hard, showed its exceptional poise and dynamics.
The dry-sump V8 (no oil pan) sits low in its magnesium cradle, keeping the R8’s centre of gravity low, while the Quattro all-wheel-drive is rear-biased, only delivering 10-35% of the torque to the front wheels. Nineteen-inch Pirelli P Zeros (235/35 front, 295/30 rear) glue the R8 to the tarmac.
Turn-in is cat-like quick, and steering feel sensational. Power through a tight second-gear turn and the R8 will wag its tail like a rear-driver, yet there’s enough juice coming through the front tires to vector you past the apex like a guided missile.
This adventure was not all about me heel-and-toeing my way through wine country, however. The Designated Sipper needed to practice his swirling, sniffing and swilling, and his favourite wines on this day were found at 30 Bench and Coyote Run.
At every stop, the R8 was the centre of attention, with me acting as publicist to the star. I must confess, I thoroughly enjoyed educating the curious onlookers on our flying wedge. It was almost like being an old-time barnstormer â€“ blowing into town and wowing the locals with our fabulous flying machine. If I’d thought of charging for rides, I could have procured several cases of wine (and had them delivered). “Step right up folks and sit in an honest-to-gawd $25,000 interior upgrade! Feel the mighty 420 hp V8 rattle your fillings! Only five bucks!”
Hindsight is always 20/20.
While driving by the Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, we spotted a couple of vintage cars and a throng of people. Hmmmm… more attention. We pulled in and inadvertently disrupted a wedding photo shoot. Well okay, I did park the R8 a garter’s throw from the bride and groom.
All of a sudden the guests were upon us like a flock of buzzards on a squashed ‘possum. Cell phone cameras were redirected from the betrothed to the Audi and the questioning began. I asked the bride if she wanted a ride. She scowled.
One quite attractive woman insisted on having her picture taken in the car, and seemed surprisingly interested in this whole auto journalist thing.
The groom was evidently looking out for her well being â€“ and not hip to the sad fact I didn’t own the car. Between posing for shots, he yelled over, “She’s single!”
Then a couple of bride’s maids abandoned the shoot and draped themselves over the hood of the R8. It was definitely time for us to leave.
Our apologies to the lovely bride.
Pricing: 2008 Audi R8
|(Audi Navigation System Plus $2900, Premium Package $4500, Bang and Olufsen Sound System $2300, Enhanced Leather Package $6900, Special Order Package $19,460, Gold Side Blade $1300)|
|Price as tested:||$||
Manufacturerâ€™s web site