2012 Audi R8 Review

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Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
January 26, 2012

A marriage of the best of German handling and Italian power, the 2012 Audi R8 is a fantastic all-around supercar.

Unique in Audi's range as a mid-engine supercar, the R8 has built its reputation from scratch in just a few short years. Despite not having the track record of Lamborghini or Ferrari in supercar construction, Audi has put the Italians and everyone else on notice.

For 2012, the R8 is available in three core guises: the Spyder (convertible), Coupe, and R8 GT. The Spyder and Coupe are two takes on the standard R8, while the GT sharpens both looks and performance to the next level. All three share the same basic low-slung, cabin-forward, athletic-haunched stance, however, as well as the same key styling elements, like the aggressive front end, the side "blades," and the brow-like LED daytime running lights.

The Coupe and Spyder are both available with a choice of either a 4.2-liter V-8 rated at 430 horsepower or a 5.2-liter V-10 good for 525 horsepower. Either will provide exhilarating performance, but the big V-10 is the way to go if you're hankering for real speed. Of course, the most focused of the group, the R8 GT, is an even better choice in that regard, generating 560 horsepower from a tuned version of the same V-10, with less weight, a more focused setup, and better overall handling.

Review continues below

All R8s handle very well, however, owing to their rear-biased quattro all-wheel drive, mid-engine weight distribution, and finely tuned magnetic-ride suspension settings.

Inside, the R8 is surprisingly roomy, with tall drivers finding no fault in space available. Materials are high-quality, the design is modern and appealing, and all of the Audi technology and convenience options you'd expect are available, including MMI navigation with real-time traffic, Bluetooth, and a high-end audio system.

As for safety, the 2012 Audi R8 hasn't been tested by the NHTSA or IIHS, but it offers a wide range of standard and optional safety equipment, including driver and passenger dual-stage airbags, side airbags, knee airbags, head and thorax airbags, stability control, parking system with rearview camera, hill hold assist, and a body shell designed to distribute and absorb crash energy.

10

2012 Audi R8

Styling

Stunning from almost every angle, the 2012 Audi R8 has a bit of a stealth appearance.

Exotic looks, audacious design, dramatic details: the 2012 Audi R8 cuts a figure on any curb.

Available in three basic body styles: coupe, spyder, and GT, the R8 ranges from dressy-classic to sporty-aggressive. The standard V-8-powered coupe is sleek, impressive, and understated in a German way, though it retains its mid-engine supercar silhouette and flair. Wide, sculpted fenders, large air intakes at the front and sides, the characteristic "side blades," and the low, sloped roofline come together in design harmony.

The topless Spyder models are likewise attractive, their soft tops not detracting from the look when up, and adding a definite dose of laid-back style when down.

Upgrade to a V-10 model and you'll get sportier details inside and out, and more aggressive wheels to denote the higher performance. The GT model is bonkers, with more aerodynamic winglets, showier paint combos, and a spoiler out back.

Inside, the R8 is at once no-nonsense and luxurious. The low cowl and easily-located controls blend seamlessly, with fine, understated materials giving a sporty, refined finish. As you climb the performance ladder, unique elements like shift knobs, gauges, and door handles get more performance-minded in their design, matching their exteriors.

10

2012 Audi R8

Performance

Stellar dynamics go perfectly with the Audi R8's near-supercar acceleration.

Audi has long had a reputation for building excellent performance cars, but the R8 marked a departure into mid-engine supercar territory. Having been around for several years now, however, it's not so much out of the ordinary as it is the benchmark of the range--and, for some, the very idea of a supercar.

While it doesn't share the track record of Ferrari or Lamborghini, the R8 does borrow from its Italian Volkswagen Group cousin, if only under the skin. In terms of build quality and interior makeup, it's all German.

Whether you want a coupe or a convertible, Audi offers three performance levels for the R8: V-8, V-10, and GT. Even the base model is quick, at 4.4 seconds to 60 mph, 187 mph top speed, and 420 horsepower from the 4.2-liter V-8. The Spyder gets to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and carries on to a top speed of 186 mph.

The 5.2-liter V-10 coupe boosts that to 525 horsepower, 3.7 seconds to 60 mph and a top speed of 196 mph, while the Spyder gets 60 mph done in 4.0 seconds before a top speed of 194 mph.

Stepping up to the top-of-the-line GT model yields 560 horsepower, 3.6-second 0-60 mph times, and 199 mph top speed. An R8 GT Spyder is available in Europe, but hasn't yet made it to the U.S., though a limited run is expected to arrive in the first half of 2012.

But what is the R8 like to drive? In a word, fantastic. All models are available with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed R tronic automatic transmissions, both of which are slick, tight, and performance-focused. The automatic suits the R8's personality a bit better, however, making the most of the R8's daily-driver qualities while not holding it back on track.

In fact, just about the only thing likely to hold the R8 back on track is the driver. Quattro all-wheel drive makes grip under acceleration phenomenal, biasing up to 35 percent of the power to the front wheels, and the relatively low 3,400-pound curb weight (higher in some models) helps stick the car through the corners. Magnetically-controlled dampers help there, too, as much as they help smooth out rough roads on the street. Available carbon-ceramic brakes make fade a vague memory, but can be a bit too grabby on the street.

Steering is light, but not over-boosted, and gives a natural, connected feel of what the car is doing and what it's capable of doing.

8

2012 Audi R8

Comfort & Quality

The Audi R8's cabin is always a pleasant surprise: it's actually easy to get in and out.

From very quick to blindingly fast at the GT end of the spectrum, the R8 nevertheless manages to shed the race suit and don more casual gear with surprising ease.

Entry and exit aren't the easiest, considering its low roof and low ride height, but once inside, the R8 is very comfortable. The seats are supportive, well-bolstered, but not intrusive; leg room very good, even better than the Gallardo it shares a few parts with, thanks to its five-inch greater length. Compared to the likes of the Corvette or Jaguar XKR, it's the roomiest of the bunch, even for taller or wider people.

The flat-bottomed, tilt/telescope steering wheel, low front end, and large windshield allow the driver to get in position for very good forward visibility. Rearward visibility is compromised by thick pillars and a small window. The thick A-pillars impinge somewhat on front/side visibility as well.

Materials, design, and color schemes in the 2012 R8 are all outstanding. Cargo space, on the other hand, requires some planning, as even the small area under the front hood will hold only a couple of smallish soft-sided bags, while the netted cargo shelf behind the seats is best reserved for laptops, briefcases, and purses.

9

2012 Audi R8

Safety

The 2012 Audi R8 gets no official seal of approval for its crash safety, but does offer a good standard set of safety equipment.

Being an expensive, relatively exclusive, luxury sports car, the 2012 Audi R8 hasn't been crash tested by either the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

Lack of official stamp of approval aside, the R8 offers Audi's brand reputation for excellent crash safety, an extremely high-tech aluminum space frame, and a strong suite of standard safety features.

Some of those features include quattro all-wheel drive; dual front, side, and knee airbags (though not even coupes get side curtain airbags); anti-lock brakes; traction control, and stability control. The stability control has a performance mode setting that allows more fun while still reigning in unsafe impulses.

Optional extras that aren't strictly safety-related but which can aid in keeping an eye on things around the low-slung R8 include parking sensors and a rearview camera. They're standard on V-10 models, but are a definite desired feature for the V-8s, too, as they make backing up and positioning the car much easier. The optional LED headlights are also a nice extra, providing brighter, whiter light improving both visibility out of the R8 and toward it.

9

2012 Audi R8

Features

Audi's MMI interface isn't the most straightforward, but the Bang & Olufsen audio system and other entertainment features make the learning worth the investment.

There's no need to mince words here: the R8 is richly outfitted in all forms, from V-8 to V-10, from Coupe to Spyder to GT.

All non-GT models share a standard spec, including leather and Alcantara seats; power windows, locks, and mirrors; keyless entry; automatic climate control; portable music player interface for the audio system; SD storage slots; Bluetooth with a seatbelt-mounted microphone; a USB port; and SiriusXM satellite radio.

Option packages on V-8 models offer a navigation system; rear parking sensors and a rearview camera; more extensive and luxurious leather upholstery; carbon-ceramic brakes; different 19-inch wheels; an editor-recommended Bang & Olufsen sound system; carbon fiber trim on the R8's sideblades; and other unique interior and exterior styling choices.

The V-10s get most of the V-8's optional features as standard equipment, with the main upgrades being all-leather upholstery, different wheels, more carbon fiber trim, and carbon-ceramic brakes.

The R8 GT occupies a different space in the lineup, its higher-performance edge at the forefront, including standard carbon-ceramic brakes, but still offering navigation with MMI, full LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, a fixed carbon fiber wing, and 19-inch alloy wheels with high performance tires as standard equipment. A unique R8 GT Enhanced Leather package offers nappa leather with contrast stitching and more. Most of the optional upgrades to the V-10 model are also available for the GT.

Audi's proprietary MMI infotainment interface offers a lot of rich functionality, but takes some time to learn.

5

2012 Audi R8

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Audi R8 won't win any awards from the Sierra Club, but it trades that efficiency for serious performance.

As much as it offers in terms of style, luxury, quality, and performance, the Audi R8's one downfall is its gas mileage. It's not quite dismal, but it's not far from it.

The standard V-8 coupe and spyder score just 11/20 mpg with the manual, and 13/21 mpg with the R-tronic automatic. Upgrading to the V-10 dents the figures to just 12/19 mpg with the manual and 13/19 with the R-tronic.

The EPA hasn't yet reported the limited-edition R8 GT's fuel economy figures.

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9.2
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Expert Rating
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Styling 10.0
Performance 10.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 5.0
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