Speed Dating: We Get Behind the Wheel of Six 2014 Audi R8 Supercars
I don't have an image of the 2014 Audi R8 on my screensaver; the picture I have is a 2012 R8, one that I uploaded early in summer 2011. For more than two years, the R8 has been the first image I saw in the morning, and as I often stay in the office late, one of the last screens to reflect its supercar halo over a dozen recently vacated nearby cubicles. And the thing is, unlike the six-figure price tags of most supercars, screensavers are free. It could have been any Lamborghini I suppose, but there is something almost vulgar--like the early Picasso femmes--about the in-your-face beauty and performance of those cars. The Audi R8 takes a different approach, one of finesse and enduring allure; one of mythical appeal and a wanton desirability. It also goes like hell and sticks like glue. So when Audi asked us if we wanted to pilot every variant--all three engines, two transmissions, coupe and spyder--naturally, we flipped a coin. This was well after we immediately said yes, and mostly just because there was a quarter nearby… New Kid on the Block The 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus model is the newest addition to the R8 range, and wears the performance crown--one made of ultra-lightweight precious metals, we would assume. While an entry level 2014 Audi R8 employs an impressive 4.2-liter 430-hp V-8 engine, the larger 5.2-liter V-10 adds an astounding 95-hp, bringing the total figure to a mighty 525 horses. So, what does the Plus model do? Luckily, perched atop the Malibu bluffs at a villa overlooking the California idyll, I was handed the keys to a 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus to kick the morning off. Audi offers both the six-speed manual transmission and the new seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic with steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters on all three models, and I was able to sample both. But the 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus I started with had the race-inspired, ultra-fast shifting seven-speed S-Tronic. Audi's newest transmission shifts through the gears so efficiently, it was able to shave 0.3 seconds off its 0-60 mph time on all models, and succeeded in bringing the V10 Plus time down to a very quick, nearly unparalleled 3.3 seconds. After a quick walk around to see the redesigned full-LED lights, and to internally coo with delight at the still striking design, I take to the driver's seat to fire up the car. Immediately I'm greeted by the addicting, satisfying exhaust groan that would become the theme song for the next couple of days. With miles of canyon roads, the V10 Plus--and its 550-hp enhanced 5.2-liter V-10--are tasked with tackling narrow lanes and jutting boulders. But with power always at the ready and exceptional grip afforded by the Audi quattro all-wheel-drive system, the R8 blasts through blind corners like a train securely latched in track. You can push the 2014 Audi R8 harder and faster, and the growl and force in return become a compulsion, each upcoming corner an itch you quickly scratch. But a strange thing occurs too: later on Pacific Coast highway, in the V10 Spyder, I almost completely forget I was in a supercar. No longer using paddles, I'm cruising in the thick of afternoon traffic in automatic at low speeds. The sonorous exhaust seems to be napping, the R8 opting for high gears that keep things relatively quiet. It's only looking down at the honeycombed, available diamond stitched seats that I remember I'm in a high-performance luxury sports car. It's after every passing car seems to have one or all occupants craning their necks to take long, good glances. The ride and comfort in town is so pleasant and smooth, that you forget this was the same machine that had you barreling across the mountain roaring at ultra high-speed. As far as exotic sports cars go, the Audi R8 distinguishes itself by way of its excellent road manners. The R8, for all its performance prowess, is an extremely capable daily driver, too. Notable Enthusiasts will delight in the six-speed manual transmission. The shifter is locked into a gate, and throws are delightfully notchy as they click into place. The manual transmission is a delight to drive, with a well-weighted clutch, but it does give up bragging rights to the ultra-quick-shifting S-Tronic transmission. But if are willing to take a 2-3 mpg fuel economy rating ding, and shave off 0.4 seconds from rest to 60 mph, you can also pocket $9k-10,000, the not too shabby price savings over the paddle-shifting, automatic variant. Car collectors can also bet that the manual-transmission models will likely be your best bet for a future collectible. Buyers will also face the difficult decision, coupe or Spyder? While on some cars, like the philosophically similar--but much less expensive--Porsche Cayman and Boxster, I prefer the aesthetic of the coupe, but with the R8 things get a little more tricky. Ultimately your preference may depend on your access to good, top-down weather, and your willingness to pony up and extra $13,500 for the convertible. Prices on the 2014 Audi R8 vary greatly. The entry level R8 V8 coupe with a six-speed manual transmission, starts at $119,150 after delivery and a $3,000 gas guzzler tax. The top of the line Audi R8 V10 Plus coupe outfitted with the S-Tronic automatic transmission starts considerably higher at $183,895 after delivery and the gas guzzler tax. A top of the line Spyder model with a few gratuitous options added, and you'll be scratching the $200k mark. Five years after it was first introduced, the 2014 Audi R8 remains the automaker's halo sports car, and one of the most alluring vehicles on the road today. With both supercar performance and civilized road manners when called upon, the R8 is also a versatile daily driver. The plush interior is crafted to impress, and doesn't disappoint. If you're in the market for an ultra-high performance sports car, the 2014 Audi R8 warrants absolute consideration.
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