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The Audi R8 Is a Charming Relic of a Mid-Engine Supercar



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Photo: Brett Berk

While we were stopped at a light in rural New Hampshire in a $187,000 Vegas Yellow Audi R8, a middle-aged woman stepped from the sidewalk to holler at us. She could have simply been shaking her fist for the ruckus we were making, the $3,600 sport exhaust package and the pioneering Detroit Techno sounds of Carl Craig popping off along Main Street. Then we worried that she was making some lame Iron Man comment, referencing the 2008 Audi/Marvel collab featuring the first-generation R8, a quip we’d encountered more than a few times since leaving New York. But as it turned out, her query was far more insightful.

“Is that the V8 or the V10?”

I called back that it was the V10 (of course.) But the question lingered, because it fit into a larger thesis I’d developed during a week driving Audi’s mid-engine GT. That it is, in many ways, a brand new, factory-produced vintage car. An anachronism. And I love it for this.

The theory requires a brief history lesson: Following Audi’s acquisition of Lamborghini in the late 1990s, the first generation R8 became the premiere product from the four-ring brand, sharing DNA and underpinnings with its charging bull cousin. The R8 utilized the same platform and mid-mounted V10 engine (albeit in different states of tune) as the then-new Gallardo. But the Audi distinguished itself by also offering a lower-test powerplant: the brand’s own 4.2-liter V8. The same deal held true when the second generation R8 was released in 2016 with apportioned cross-pollination between it and the then-new Huracán. However, the Gen-2 R8 did not offer a V8. It came only with the V10.

Both the Gen-2 R8 and the Huracán were evolutionary designs. But while no one with an iota of automotive sense would mistake one Lambo for another, our street-side New Hampshirite friend thought it was possible that our brand new R8 was, at newest, from eight model years ago, and could have been as much as 16 years old.

It’s not just the styling, which, while aging well, has gone nearly two decades without notable change. And it’s not just its delicious-sounding, naturally-aspirated V10 engine, which (aside from its aforementioned Lambo stable-mate) is an outlier across the industry. In its center console, today’s R8 not only features one of the industry’s last remaining click-wheel controllers for its in-dash multimedia interface, but also a pair of USB outlets — old-school rectangular ones, not USB-C like nearly every other German luxury competitor. Finally, and perhaps most notably, between and behind the seats, on the firewall, the Audi sports that pinnacle of 1980s technology, a multi-disc CD player.

We didn’t pack our compact disc wallet this trip, and couldn’t find any at the local gas station, so we can’t report on that particular component. Thanks to its age, the Audi R8 represents a peak era of technology, when we could simply cede in-vehicle infotainment to the comfortingly familiar realm of our phones, before cars began acting as boardroom, concert hall, office assistant, home shopping network, meteorological station, and primary locus of surveillance capitalism. Moreover, the R8 — nearly unique within the contemporary automotive landscape — has just one screen, in the dash binnacle, directly in front of the driver.

The particular model we tested included the $13,000 dynamic package, which seemed like a frivolous addition since the R8 isn’t a hardcore sports car and doesn’t need carbon ceramic brakes. Worse, this pricey add-on also swapped out the excellent, supportive, comfortable and eminently adjustable standard seats with a pair of hard-shell “sport” chairs, the only power feature for which moved the seat up and down. I had a hard time finding a comfortable seating position. But then again, I am old and plagued with sciatica, so perhaps one of the reasons I so enjoyed the R8 is because I am an anachronism as well.

Audi has announced that this is the final year of production for the R8. It remains everything a fancy grand tourer should be: quick, luxurious, handsome, athletic, attention-garnering, and comfortable. Despite concerns about its meager cargo space, the front trunk and behind-the-seat storage area swallowed bags, backpacks, and groceries for a long weekend (I had to put the firewood on my passenger’s lap, though). When it vanishes, it will likely be replaced by something lovely and electric-powered.

We will celebrate this. But perhaps one day, I’ll find a used second-generation R8, and when I fill up with $60-per-gallon premium, people at gast stations will ask if it’s the V10 or the V8. And I’ll smile and be happy that they didn’t make some dumb Tony Stark joke.

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