It’s hard to imagine any car that has had a greater impact on the way its maker is perceived than Audi’s R8 coupe.
A car that single-handedly transformed the reputation of the German marque from “nice but boring” to “sporty and sexy” in the blink of an eye.
Up to that point, Audi was a fairly distant third wheel in the German prestige market, with BMW and Mercedes-Benz virtually splitting the “brand aware” buyers between them.
Audi was seen as being good, but not necessarily as good.
Then came the R8, and everything changed.
That a brand accustomed to building all-wheel-drive luxury sedans and wagons could craft a machine so striking, so athletic and so desirable was transformational for Audi.
It was not a massive seller, but it didn’t have to be. As with most cars costing north of $300,000, its sales were relatively modest, with about 40,000 sold globally in 15 years on the market.
Even in its best year, 2008, the R8 only found about 5600 buyers worldwide.
But that by no means fully explains the importance of the car to Audi.
Consider that, since the launch of the R8, Audi’s total global sales rose from about 920,000 in 2006 to 1.9 million global sales a decade later.
Of course that coincided with the “Vorsprung Durch Technik” (advancement through technology) mantra that has transformed the Audi range.
But having this car surely can’t hurt.
I’ll never forget the first time we test-drove an R8, barely a couple of months after its Australian release in 2006, when we took it for a lazy Sunday lunch around Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
People turned to look as it rumbled by, and gathered to gasp when it was parked. Yes, in Noosa’s Hastings Street, where most pedestrians are more interested in gazing at their own reflection in the shop-front windows than anything else.
And the R8 is still stopping traffic.
Now in its second iteration (launched in 2015) the R8 is unmistakably cast from the original – but as has been Audi’s habit in recent years, with a more aggressive, sharp-edged aesthetic than the sleek and swoopy previous models.
The biggest transformation in R8, though, was the introduction of a Lamborghini-sourced V10 engine that replaced the silky V8 of the original. In this model, that glorious engine is offered in two different levels.
It’s quite an intoxicating set of numbers: two doors, two seats, 5.2 litres, 10 cylinders, 397 kilowatts (wouldn’t you have thought they’d push above the 400 mark?).
It will reach the speed limit in a brisk 3.7 seconds, and use an average of 12 litres per 100km. Actually, ignore that, you’ll be far more energetic on the throttle.
There’s now the option of the R8 5.2 Performance variant, which ups the ante to 449kW (again annoyingly short of the 450 mark) – and adds Quattro all-wheel-drive instead of the rear-drive of our test model.
And it can be had for the bargain price of $395,000. Yep, about $2000 for each additional kilowatt. That car, if you’re interested, will reach the speed limit in 3.2 seconds.
Take my advice – the “ordinary” 5.2 TFSI is plenty quick enough. And driving through the rear wheels only, it’s probably wise to forego the additional 50Kw.
With 10 angry cylinders peeping over your left shoulder the cockpit is remarkably snug, yet comfortable. Visible (and audible) through a glass hatch and through the rear window, the normally-aspirated V10 looks and sounds superb.
The cockpit is completely driver focused and devoid of many things you might expect in a $300,000 machine. There’s no central touch-screen, for instance, just the three bare-bones switches to adjust climate control format, temperature and fan.
There’s another small bank of switches on the centre console to disable the dynamic stability control (not recommended) and the stop-start system, as well as manually raise the rear wing.
Other mod-cons, such as satellite navigation, audio settings and telephone are displayed in vivid form in the driver’s instrument panel, ensuring all eyes remain on the road.
It’s surprisingly compliant in everyday use, even though you’ll be constantly tempted to flaunt the rules.
It feels quite unique to drive, too, because of your proximity to the asphalt, and because its mid-engined design puts the driver very close to the front bumper, with an uninterrupted view of the road ahead. It’s a bit surreal, particularly at speed.
But if you’re considering buying a car like this one you should be under no illusions. As brilliant as the R8 is, it can be a handful to live with.
Simply getting in and out of the vehicle – which sits impossibly low – is an issue for anyone over 30, particularly in tight parking spaces.
The V10 is unmistakably and unashamedly noisy and likely to irritate the neighbours if you’re out early every morning.
The suspension is firm. You’ll get acquainted with all manner of bumps in the road. And you had also better check it will get into, and out of, your driveway before you put down your $295,000, plus on-road costs.
But with all those disclaimers on the table, one factor remains unarguable. This is a life-changing motor vehicle, for owners and for Audi.
AUDI R8 5.2 COUPE
* HOW BIG: It’s surprisingly wide, and low-slung in the flesh and its dimensions are bigger than you might imagine. Yet inside it’s strictly two people only.
* HOW FAST: Blindingly. With a 0-100km/h time of just 3.7 seconds. Because of its stance and lack of elevation, that feels even quicker.
* HOW THIRSTY? If you have to ask, you’re looking at the wrong car. Officially it will sip just 12.3L/100km. Don’t expect to get remotely close that that, though.
* HOW MUCH? $295,000 plus on road costs. And that’s a bargain.