19
Sep
08

White Nights

Let’s talk about the dream garage for a moment. This is the vast warehouse of the mind where enthusiasts park their fantasy collection of cars. Some have a top ten, while others have it cut off at 50. I try not to limit myself. It’s all very tangible too, well furnished with mechanic equipment, memorabilia, fire extinguishers, stereo system and an office. There’s a place to sit, just by a large screen tv and the whole place is lit by the ambient sunlight coming from opaque skylights. I had an actual dream about it just last night, which showed me it’s access ramp to a basement level, and a workspace with tan hardwood floors and brushed steel surfaces.

Sounds crowded, no? Well it’s certainly not empty. Hell, I always have room for more. But upon taking a quick look around, I don’t seem to have a single Audi in here. Hmmm.

You think there would be at least one, like an S8 for dreaming up Ronin fantasies, or one to accommodate my desire to channel DCI Gene Hunt and “Fire up the Quattro.” (the verdict is in, I watch too much TV). But no, there’s not a one.

Strange, then, that the R8 would floor me such as it did.

The Audi R8 Is an exceptional, and exceptionally interesting car, on many levels. I remember when it first came out, I was on the fence about the styling. I felt that it looked good, but almost disproportionate. The back looked too small for the front, similar to my feelings towards the Nissan 350 Z. As time went on, thought, and the R8 was cementing its presence in the world, I grew to like it more, especially after finally seeing it in person. Incidentally, there’s something about seeing a supercar in person for the first time, it’s like a high school crush. You may or may not have heard about her, or seen her across the cafeteria, but the first time you bumped into her and she said “hi”, that’s all you thought of for the rest of the day.

So I had R8 on the mind, and I finally mustered up the courage to ask her out. Wouldn’t you know it, she said yes. The car is stunning, and I mean this in the most literal sense. You can’t take the R8 anywhere without having your picture taken by a million cell phone cameras, nor can you leave it parked outside a restaurant without attracting a gaggle of onlookers. The R8 attracted all the supercars to come out of the woodwork, like it emitted an unseen pheromone. Never have I seen so many sports cars in one week. I swear this happened and it has never happened before, or will probably happen again, but I was simply driving (my mom to work) and a white Lamborghini Superleggera pulled up and matched speed to the left of me. A minute later, a black Corvette Z06 did the same on the right, and the three of us travelled down the turnpike in formation. Better still, I pulled off the road and in two blocks, a Viper SRT/10 rounded the corner and gave me a thumbs up.

Really, if its privacy you want, avoid this car. Traffic jams make you subject to a slow parade of rubberneckers looking to catch a glimpse or to snap a picture, as I watched a jeep driver do, desperately while driving with his knee. I was at one point stuck behind a packed school bus for 30 minutes. That should say it all. Never did I miss my sunglasses more.

If it’s such a sight to behold, actually driving it is heavenly. The 4.2 V8 puts out a damn impressive 420hp, and it’s there, not hidden away in computers or bogged by hulking weight. While available in S-tronic, it mercifully comes in a proper 6-speed manual. This led to one of the quirks I come upon while testing out cars, the going back to my actual car. Whenever I do, there’s always that period of readjustment, as I conformed to a different vehicle and for a while. In this case, the thing was that the R8 had a very light clutch, but stiff shifter (giggle), where as my Mustang has a heavy clutch, and extremely light shifter, so my feet and hands were comically doing all the wrong things when I switched.

I had to put this car through its paces. Victor and I have a friend who’s brother is an aspiring pro driver. He’s a regular at skip barber and knows his way around a car. So we take the R8 and his brand new BMW M3 and see if an amateur in a 4WD R8 can keep up with a tire smoking RWD M3 piloted by a trained driver. we were on the verge of rain, but this didn’t hold our young driver back as he went down and up hills sideways, with the tires squealing. I, not being nearly as aggressive, kept up with him, gripping through the corners he had just smoked. Both cars flew on the straights, and when the road bent once again, the M3 took it with a Hollywood flair. I took the lead and tried to outpace him in the more curvy back roads, trying to use all the Quattro that I could, but his car control was an even match. After an hour, we ran out of roads, and we were both impressed. We looked at each other at an intersection with satisfaction, and decided to go home, but not before he, from a standstill on my right side, spun the tires and drifted a circle around the R8 and parked perfectly to the left of me. I might look into this Skip Barber thing.

We sat in the rain for a while, spouting our opinions while watching the heat wafting from the R8’s engine bay distorted the air above it. It was a good test. I wanted more.

One of the things about this car was that it was so incredibly satisfying to drive, just for the pure enjoyment of it. The cabin itself didn’t really compel me to stay, not that it was horrible or anything. The gauge styling and overall layout was attractive, but the navi was a nuisance, and a pain to operate, much like any of the audio settings. The Bang & Olgufsen sound system was good not great. There was no Bluetooth or Auxiliary connection for ipods, although, in the armrest, there was a slot with copper connecting pins that looked designed for a phone that was 5 years older than the car. All this would add up to significant thorn in the side of the typical Audi owner, but in this car, it’s mostly inconsequential. You don’t want to live or work in this car; you just want to drive in this car. And drive we did.

Melissa and I took the R8 on a late night romp through the city, and the car came alive in a whole different way. I found myself excitedly anticipating driving through Manhattan, an experience I usually loathe. Tonight was different though. The cruise on the highway was chill and almost like driving a stylish magazine spread. The nighttime drivers either paid no heed to the car, or gave it knowledgeable thumbs up as they passed by.

Entering Manhattan was just the driving nightmare I thought it would be, only now I need Melissa’s help to navigate 2nd avenue (which is like swimming upstream with salmon, only the salmon are big metal taxis) since the R8 has a massive blind spot on the right. It’s all engine and pillar. The rear view mirrors are useless too, by the way. Well, that’s a bit harsh, the car has quite decent visibility for a supercar, and for parking you get the rear camera and sensors, so take my bitching with a grain of salt.

The car’s sex appeal is perfect for a Manhattan evening as drivers engage you in conversation, restaurant patrons leap out of their seats to stare, and pedestrians stop you in traffic for a picture. In this setting, the R8 becomes an event in its own, something the driver needs to be aware of and embrace. You are now driving a party, a party that all you pass want to join, even for a little bit, and you should let them. To shoo away picture snappers and ignore the adulation the car garners would just be obnoxious and selfish. Sharing the Audi with all those people in a little way was so incredibly fun and rewarding, Mel and I did it again the same weekend.

I personally enjoyed the late nights on the highway, when everyone has gone to bed, and it was just me and the R8 cutting through the quiet with nothing to take you away from your thoughts and the sensation of the drive. You’ll see similar creatures do the same as well, who all greet you in their own way, be it an engine rev, or a motorcycle wheelie.

I really was sad to see this car go, but I’ll see it again soon. Congratulations, Audi R8, you just got a reserved spot in the dream garage.
-Alex-

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