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Audi R8: First Drive

Date: 02 February 2007

Audi R8
Prices: £76,725-£81,925
Category: Sports car
Key Rival: Porsche 911

Okay, let's face facts - you're not about to see fleets of Audi R8s in the car parks of motorway service stations up and down the country.

In fact, with just 1150 arriving in the UK between now and the end of 2008 - 450 in the second half of 2007 and 700 in 2008 - you'll be lucky to see one anywhere at all.


That means residual values will be high, if not demand a premium, in the car's initial days, during which time Porsche will be disappointed if at least 5000 911s haven't left UK showrooms.

While we don't pretend the R8 will be a common sight on the user-chooser lists of most fleets, Audi's gorgeous new flagship rightly deserves a place in these pages. Product manager James Millett estimates that around 20% of sales will go to customers putting the car through their own business, which compares to Porsche claims that one in five of its 911 customers are company directors working for a firm they own themselves. Jaguar estimates that around 50% of new XKs go through a company as a business sale.

The R8 looks the part, too, but then so it should with a starting price of £76,480. It's a shame not to find the Lamborghini Gallardo-sourced V10 engine in the illuminated engine bay (as used in the 2003 Le Mans quattro concept car on which the R8 is based), but the 420PS from the RS4's 4.2-litre V8 powerplant is no slouch. Zero to 60mph in 4.6 seconds and a 187mph top speed aren't to be sniffed at, while a faster V10-engined is likely in two years, as is a convertible.

Audi isn't renowned for providing overly involving driving experiences even on its sports cars, so it's good to find that the R8 bucks that trend. There's a firm but not harsh ride and grip levels are phenomenal from the Audi's all-wheel drive quattro system and huge 295/30 rear tyres.

It's not perfect, though, as the steering lacks the finesse of a 911 and neither gearbox is ideal. The six-speed gearbox with its Lamborghini-style exposed gate looks nice but could have a faster change, while the R-tronic semi-automatic is great when pressing on but infuriatingly jerky in low-speed traffic and certainly not worth the extra £5800.

As well as the Porsche 911 and Jaguar's XK, rivals include BMW's 6-series, the Mercedes SL and the Jag XKR. However, the 6-series doesn't stand a chance, and while the XKR and Merc's SL are both talented and more practical for everyday use, the Audi provides a more sporting experience than both. The 911, though, is a tougher nut to crack as the Porsche is ultimately sharper and arguably more practical. But it's a very fine balance and Porsche should watch out - when the V10 R8 arrives, those tables could easily be turned.