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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Inside Line Audi R8 Long Term update.

Pardon us if our Web site goes untended for the next three months. We've already made arrangements to have someone come by to feed our pets. We've kissed our loved ones good-bye.

You see, we've just signed the paperwork for a new long-term test car and the lines are already forming. Bribery and backstabbing are soon to follow.

We know you, our loyal readers, will understand. After all, you get it; you voted for it thrice on the Inside Line 2008 Readers' Most Wanted Awards, once for "Speed Over $30,000," once again for "Luxury Over $30,000," and again for "Instant Classic Over $30,000." Apparently the 2008 Audi R8 Quattro has already made quite an impression in the few months that it's been available.

That's right, Audi's new R8 supercar — rocking a 420-horsepower V8, Quattro all-wheel drive and Audi's R tronic automatic transmission — has just joined our long-term test fleet. Forgive us if we seem a little distracted.

What We Borrowed
When Audi agreed to supply us with a 2008 Audi R8 for long-term testing, there were two conditions. First, Audi stipulated that the term of the test would last for only three months instead of the customary year over which we evaluate long-term test cars. And two, we had to take a car already in Audi's media fleet.

We hesitated. Usually we lay down the law: "Bring us a brand-new car for 12 months or you can stuff it where the sun don't shine."

But rules are meant to be broken, especially when an Audi R8 is on the line. So when Audi called and said there's an R8 in Atlanta, Georgia, with 7,000 miles on its odometer and the R tronic automatic transmission (we would have preferred the six-speed manual), we said, "We'll take it."

Besides its Daytona Gray Pearl paint — a $650 option — our test car is equipped very much like the R8 in our recent supercar test entitled "Ultimate Performance Car Test: 2009 Nissan GT-R vs. the World." That means it's comprehensively equipped with convenience features, including a package of enhanced leather upholstery (in Tuscan Brown), which adds a few more swatches of high-quality hide to the tune of $5,500.

Also included is the $3,500 Premium package, which includes a hill-hold feature for the transmission, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a six-disc CD changer, auto-dimming side mirrors and Audi's system of parking sensors. Audi's navigation system adds another $2 grand to the sticker.

MSRP of our 2008 Audi R8 test vehicle is $132,745, which is nearly four-times the cost of our outgoing supercar, the 1984 Ferrari 308 GTSi. Still, it's not even twice the price of our soon-to-be long-term test car, the 2008 Nissan GT-R, and it can be considered a bargain when cross-shopped with a Lamborghini Gallardo or Porsche 911 Turbo.

Why We Borrowed It
When Audi AG (itself a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG) bought Lamborghini S.p.A. in 1998, the Germanification of the Raging Bull was expected to follow. We figured the ability to share the engineering and production of parts would allow Lamborghini to build cars that could be a usable means of conveyance rather than just outlandish status symbols that made loud noises.

What we didn't anticipate, however, was the parts could be shared in the other direction. Despite Audi's famed racing lineage, the thought of any Lambo bits falling into the Audi bins seemed out of the question. But then, Audi pulled the sheet off of the Le Mans Quattro concept at the 2003 Frankfurt Auto Show. It was built on a Lamborghini Gallardo chassis and looked like the future itself. The Italians must have slipped some grappa into the coffee at an all-company meeting and suggested that the Audi geeks put down the T-square and have some fun.

And unlike so many other show-cars-turned-production, the R8 (as it was henceforth to be known) wasn't visually neutered in the process. It still had the gaping maw, the overstated side-blade and the poised, athletic stance.

What the R8 did not have, though, was a billion horsepower 18-cylinder engine fueled by whale oil. The normally aspirated version of its corporate 420-hp 4.2-liter V8 didn't even feature rocket boosters, much less a turbocharger. And the combination of an all-wheel-drive system and a ride height that could easily clear speed bumps seemed entirely too practical. We began to suspect that this was perhaps not the supercar we expected. That it was a sheep in wolf's clothing.

Once we had a turn at the wheel, however, we learned the truth. The 2008 Audi R8 is a proper rival for the untouchable Porsche 911, at once extraordinary and yet useful. As the Acura NSX forced the hand of Ferrari in the 1990s, the Audi R8 has called out the 911. The Audi is a supercar that's designed to be driven every day.

And we intend to do just that.

The Mileage Mission
Our traditional mission in a long-term test is to hit 20,000 miles in 12 months. For you math majors out there (we had to get a calculator), this works out to 1,667 miles per month. Now multiply that number by the three months we have the car and that works out to a total of 5,001 miles in our short-term long-term test.

Well, our calculator can go to hell. We're still shooting for 20,000 miles, and we've begun our three-month test with a cross-country jaunt from Atlanta, Georgia, to Santa Monica, California.

What else should we do with Audi's new supercar? Comment on the R8's long-term road test blog and tell us. You've got a 2008 Audi R8 for three months in Southern California; what would you do?