2011 Audi R8

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
February 14, 2011

Buying tip

Audi's prepping a V-8-powered Spyder for a late model-year arrival, for penny-pinchers of an extremely narrow type.

features & specs

2-Door Conv Automatic quattro Spyder 4.2L
2-Door Conv Automatic quattro Spyder 5.2L
2-Door Conv Manual quattro Spyder 4.2L
13 city / 21 hwy
13 city / 19 hwy
11 city / 20 hwy

Teutonic handling perfection meets its dream match in the 2011 Audi R8's lusty, Italian-engineered V-10 heart.

Audi doesn't have the track record of Ferrari, Lamborghini or even the Corvette, but with the R8 it's rapidly building its own reputation.

The R8 is nothing less than a supercar with a pure, clear German spirit. The ballsy, blatty Corvette and the sensual, rippling Italia have met their match in the Audi's swelling fenders and roofline, in those spot-on styling parentheses down the Coupe's sides, in its nearly faultless handling. Even if the V-10 option has roots in Italy, it's a perfect fit for the R8's subtle, suave demeanor.

The R8 pleases drivers in lots of small ways, too. It's amply big inside, so tall drivers who get cramped in a Maserati will fit with ease. The controls feel light and accurate, like those on the way-back machine of all time, the Acura NSX. Fuel economy, by supercar standards, is excellent.

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Whether you opt for the R8 hardtop and its engine-under-glass voyeurism, or the Spyder's sunny demeanor, you'll get incredible handling and real supercar authority. it didn't exist five years ago at Audi, and we doubt any other brand in history has gone from zero to amazing quite so fast.


2011 Audi R8


Although its low silhouette and angular sideblades give the 2010 Audi R8 a bit of a stealth appearance, this isn't the kind of car that you can drive without attracting some serious attention.

The 2011 Audi R8 looks every bit the exotic, from its audacious silhouette, to the dramatic sideblades that have become its boomerang-like calling card.

The R8 is a low-flying wedge, with its own tailor-made style. It's not derivative of anything we can think of in the exotic-car past, but it's strikingly ready for high-speed runs on camera. It's that good-looking. Typical for a German car, the most playful styling cues still play a part in the R8's staggering performance. Those sideblades on coupes aren't just a fabulous piece of high-tech imagery: they cover channels for engine cooling and brake venting. Some frippery exists, but not to the levels of one of the more shameless micro-brand exotics. The nose's LED light bar is as showy as it gets; engine sits under a glass cover and LED illumination like a museum piece--or something to be purloined, a Mission: Impossible for moneyed drivers.

The cabin strikes a note like the old Acura NSX, functional to the highest level with a low instrument cowl and easily-found controls surrounded by no-nonsense finishes, fitted expertly. Plenty of buttons and controls dot the R8's dash but it's not chaotic, like it could be.

Spotters can tell V-10 cars from the V-8 versions by the details. The V-10 wears more black and chrome trim, wider side sills, gloss-black sideblades, oval exhaust pipes and a distinct set of gauges, gear shift knob and door handles.

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2011 Audi R8


Whether it's powered by a V-8 or a V-10, the 2011 Audi R8's stellar dynamics make it easy to drive like a hero.

As a V-8 coupe, the $115,000 2011 Audi R8 has to rely on its stunning looks to compete with the likes of the much faster $105,000 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, not to mention the $80,000 Nissan GT-R--but it's still a blazing-fast sportscar that only gets better with a V-10 transplant.

The R8 4.2 (that's Audi's badgework for the V-8) isn't particularly torquey, but its rev-friendly 4.2-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 puts supercar performance on Audi's map, whether the six-speed manual or the R-tronic automated manual shifter are installed. With either gearbox, the V-8 whooshes to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, tops out at 187 mph and does it with a backing track of lush mechanical whirs.

It's enough to outpace the Aston Vantage and Jaguar XKR, while keeping up with the Porsche 911--but the R8 V-10 engine is the only way to erase all doubt about the R8's supercar credentials. The 5.2-liter, 525-hp ten-cylinder is derived from the engine in the Lamborghini Gallardo. No surprise, then, that the R8 rips the pavement off to the tune of a 0-60 mph run in about 3.7 seconds (4.0 in the Spyder), and toys with a near-200-mph top end. The V-10 has that Italian essence at full roll--it's a throaty chill-worthy roar, making the R8 just as expressive to the ears as any 'Vette or XK. 

The automated R-tronic transmission suits the R8 better than the manual gearbox, though the standard shifter changes gears quickly, though with a long throw. The R-tronic removes the clutch pedal from the equation and bangs off shifts at the click of a paddle, more quickly but maybe with a touch more harshness than a good driver can manage. On the track, the R-tronic is simply brilliant: it nails shifts and blips the throttle expertly, which leaves more mental bandwidth to devote to the next tight corner.

Audi directs power through its all-wheel-drive system and sets aside a special "launch control" mode that ensures repeatable 0-60 mph runs. The all-wheel drive is biased to send more power to the rear, though it can push up to 35 percent to the fronts, and the car's slim 3400-pound curb weight also favors the rear end. On all cars, the independent suspension gets magnetically-controlled shocks with Normal and Sport setting, which soften up the ride off the performance venues. It's one of the most successful installations we know: the R8 feels hefty and stable at triple-digit speeds, fairly light and nimble down low, and with more than reasonable ride comfort.

The R8's brakes are strapping and powerful, but for racing, the available carbon-ceramic brake package is the way to spend more upfront in exchange for spending less in rotors, pumps and pads down the road. It's also touchy in daily driving, so order it only if you have real motorsports activity in mind.

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2011 Audi R8

Comfort & Quality

We're always pleasantly surprised at the R8's fairly roomy cabin; getting in and out is a little less easy.

For something so soulful and fast, the Audi R8 also comports itself like a gentleman when it needs to. It's not the easiest car to exit and enter--count that against its super-low ride height and low doors--but once you're inside, it's supremely comfortable for its kind.

The R8 benefits from being a half-size larger than some of its competition. It's nearly five inches longer than the Lamborghini Gallardo, which has some of the same drivetrain bits underneath (they're both part of the massive Volkswagen Group). It also has a few more inches of leg room and seat travel than the Italian stallion, and feels more spacious than a Chevrolet Corvette or even a Jaguar XKR. Even taller people will fit under the R8's low roofline, with good knee and shoulder room, and that's an achievement in something with stellar track capability. 

Once you're inside, behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the R8's racy control layout is low enough to give decent visibility straight ahead. To the sides, thick pillars intrude just beyond the 180-degree view. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, putting the critical pedals and paddle-shift controls at hand.

There's not much storage for small personal items, and the R8's limited cargo space means planning and packing with care. A small area under the front hood will hold a couple of soft-sided bags, and a netted cargo shelf behind the seats holds a laptop bag...and not much else.

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2011 Audi R8


The 2011 Audi R8 leans on its safety reputation, since neither crash-test agency wants to throw one into a wall.

The problem with expensive exotic cars is that you're never really sure how well they perform in a crash.

That said, the Audi R8 gets our nod for safety because of Audi's long history of excellent crash-test performance and its strong, aluminum space frame.

The R8 hasn't been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)--and it's not likely to be tested, because of its high price tag and exclusivity.

Each R8 comes with all-wheel drive; dual front, side and knee airbags (no curtain airbags, not even on coupes); and anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. The stability control can be dialed down to a performance mode that allows more wheelspin, a.k.a., more entertainment.

Two option packages for the V-8 cars come highly recommended. The parking sensors and rearview camera that come standard on the V-10 cars help immensely with backing up and parking the low-slung R8; putting it in reverse without those aids will end one day in heartache, we assure you. LED headlamps are another option we'd choose: they light more brightly, and oncoming drivers know you're in something distinctive.


2011 Audi R8


Audi's MMI controller takes a while to learn, but the R8's fantastic Bang & Olufsen audio system and integrated music features make those lessons worthwhile.

The Audi R8 is richly outfitted, whether it's powered by a V-8 or a V-10, whether it's a coupe or a Spyder.

Every R8 comes with standard leather and Alcantara seats; power windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; automatic climate control; an audio system with a music interface for portable players, two SD slots for music storage, and Sirius satellite radio; Bluetooth with a seatbelt-mounted microphone; and a USB port.

On the V-8 coupes and convertibles, there are option packages for a navigation system; rear parking sensors and a rearview camera; more extensive leather upholstery; carbon-ceramic brakes; different 19-inch wheels; a Bang & Olufsen sound system, which comes highly recommended by our editors; and carbon-fiber trim on the R8's unique side-blade styling elements and inside.

V-10 cars get most of those features as standard equipment. Major options on these two models are limited to the all-leather upholstery; wheels; carbon-fiber trim; and the carbon-ceramic brakes.

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The 5.2 Spyder has a power-operated top that's made of fabric for light weight. Unfortunately, the lovely view of the engine bay goes away to make room for the folding top stack.

2011 Audi R8

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Audi R8's gas mileage could be termed dismal--if it weren't balanced against its stupendous performance.

You would expect a screamingly quick, near-exotic sports car to turn in poor fuel economy, and the 2011 Audi R8 lives up to the advance billing.

Somewhat strangely, the base V-8-powered, manual-transmission R8 coupe and Spyder convertible get the worst EPA ratings of the lineup. They're tagged at 11/20 mpg. Adding the automated-manual R-tronic transmission option to this engine raises gas mileage to the best of the lineup, at 13/21 mpg.

The R8 V-10 coupe and Spyder aren't far off the V-8 mark, either. The manual earns an EPA rating of 12/19 mpg; with the R-tronic, it's rated at 13/19 mpg.

Audi has teased the concept-car circuit with a V-12 turbodiesel R8, but an actual production run of oil-burner sportscars isn't expected.

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