The original concept of the Audi R8, designed by Frank Lamberty and Julian Hoenig, bowed at the 2003 Geneva and Frankfurt Motor Shows. Immediately identifiable by the bold flash down the C-pillar, the R8 was Audi’s first mid-engine supercar, but it wasn’t an entirely new design. Under the skin, the R8 borrowed much from the Lamborghini Gallardo, and was the first major collaboration between the two carmakers after Audi absorbed Lamborghini in 1998 for a mere $110M.
Audi intended the Audi R8 was intended to provide the thrill of a supercar in a sensible package that could be driven in all conditions and all seasons. Conceptually, its nearest competitor was the Porsche 911, although the Acura NSX was another competitor.
The Audi R8’s construction was based on an alloy spaceframe and an aluminum monocoque. It was powered by the 414-bhp 4.2-liter DOHC V-8 shared with the RS4 and mounted in a carbon-fiber cradle under glass – as all exotic units should be displayed.
Naturally, the R8 featured Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive but the company also added “magnetic ride” suspension, in which an electrical charge is applied to the shock absorbers to stiffen them. The R8 carries 44 percent of the car’s 3,580 lbs weight up front, while the Quattro system was biased to the rear, sending 70 percent of the power there and 30 percent to the front.
The naturally aspirated V-8-powered Audi R8 could manage 0-60 mph in 4 seconds with the 6-speed manual gearbox and it was also quiet and sophisticated, unless it was being thrashed. Some testers said it didn’t actually feel fast, thanks to lack of wind noise or tire roar. Nonetheless, 0-100 mph took only 10.1 seconds, a quarter-mile came up in 12.5 seconds at 113.2 mph, and 150 mph followed smoothly on the way to the 187 mph top speed.
Road testers generally preferred the V8 engine over the optional 5.2-liter Audi R8 V10, which was 130 lbs heavier and cost a whopping $30,000 more than the $110,000 MSRP of the base car with a 6-speed manual gearbox.
The sequential R-tronic transmission cost an additional $9000 and was criticized as being neither as fast as Ferrari’s unit nor as smooth as a DSG. Complaints included juddering in traffic and the paddle shifters being too small. In addition, it restricted the engine to 5,000 rpm at launch, instead of the 8,250 rpm redline. The manual gearbox, meanwhile, garnered praise for its precise gated shifting, light clutch pressure and excellent pedal spacing, which enabled quick heel-toe shifting.
Unlike the angular, harsher Gallardo, the Audi R8 is more civilized and almost a daily driver. Visibility is excellent, and Audi claimed room for two sets of golf clubs in the rear. The front luggage compartment is also a single space, unlike the Gallardo.
An update in 2008 came in the form of the Audi R8 Spyder, and the Audi R8 GT arrived to market in 2011. Later versions of the R8 were based on Lamborghini’s Huracan (the Gallardo’s replacement) and an all-electronic E-Tron version arrived with the second generation Audi R8 in 2015. Motorsports variants were available from 2008 and the R8 received a facelift in 2012 when a new model called the V10 plus was added.
The first generation Audi R8 held its value well and a number have come to market with more than 50,000 miles, so they are being driven. The lowest-mile, best preserved cars are still the most desirable, and in terms of long-term collectability the cars equipped with a manual gearbox will likely be the most coveted.