If you're like me and can't afford a supercar, but you would like to drive one like a madman anyway, this might be the right option for you. This is my review of the Audi R8 V10 Driving Experience.
Audi wanted me to drive an R8 V10 so badly that when I offered them anything they wanted in exchange for the chance to drive an RS6 or RS4 wagon around the Alps, they told me that all they had to offer was an R8 V10. So I paid them a bunch of money and they gave it to me for a few days along with a reservation at a very nice hotel in St. Walburg, Italy.
I came for a V8 wagon, I left with a V10 coupe and a 72-hour smile plastered on my face.
Making a reservation for one of these trips is easy. Send an email to the Audi people and tell them what you want to do, and they’ll shoot back 400 PDFs of forms to fill out. One annoying thing was that you have to pay by bank transfer, which is a pain in the ass. But you get to drive an insane car, so whatever.
Renting An R8 Is Easier Than Getting Avis To Give You A Horrible Chevy Malibu
Check-in was easy. Georg, a very nice man in a suit, came out to greet me right after I checked in. We both had delicious complementary cappuccinos while we did the necessary paperwork. They want your passport and driver’s license when you rent an R8, believe it or not. And I had to sign some kind of disclosure document that they gave me to put in the car. This paper says something to the effect that “No, really, this guy is allowed to drive this car – he didn’t steal it from anyone.” Georg said I might need it if the cops stop me and demand proof of ownership. I wasn’t wearing white Lacoste jeans and shiny pink sunglasses that would make it immediately clear that I was just a supercar-driving fellow out for an ordinary spin.
It took about 2 minutes for him to make copies of stuff and for me to sign what I had to sign. Definitely easier than what I experience 99% of the time when I rent a terrible Chrysler 200 or whatever at O’Hare.
The best question Georg asked me at check-in was whether or not I’d ever driven a sports car before. Does a Go-Cart count? I have an Audi A4 Avant. It’s pretty fast compared to any other car I’ve ever owned. I love it very much. I said yes. I was worried that if I said no that they’d give me my money back and tell me to leave.
UNEXPECTED BONUS: If you pay Audi a lot of money to rent an R8, you can have all you want to eat and drink in their very nice restaurant. Value!
After paperwork and breakfast, Georg took me on a 2-hour private tour of the A3/A4/A5/Q5 production lines. This was great and I got a little misty-eyed when I saw the place where my Avant rolled off the end of the line in 2011. Georg did not understand my wagon passion. Considering that 75% of the cars in Germany seem to be wagons, I can see why they would appear to be fairly blah to him.
Jesus Christ This Thing Is Fast
After shocking the hell out of the ogling bystanders on the Audi Forum piazza by opening the door to the car, I tossed my little duffel bag and backpack into the Frunk, which would probably hold a 19 inch carry-on bag and one relatively fat baby. (sidenote – the best thing ever would be if someone would cut a hole in the hood and you could sit in the Frunk with your head popping out while someone speeds around like a crazyperson) I settled into the leather/alcantara seat and spent a fair bit of time making sure I was comfortable, could see well with the mirrors, and I got the navigation system working (more on that later) before I set off.
I was exceedingly careful at first – fully aware that this car is worth most of my house and that it’d be bad if my daughter grew up without her dad because he wanted to be an idiot for a few days in Europe. The steering felt heavy at first (also really don’t like the flat steering wheel in practice – looks cool, doesn’t work well in twisty stuff in my opinion) compared to most cars I’ve driven, but it maneuvered very easily in normal traffic around Ingolstadt. Even in the heart of Audi country, random bystanders were staring at the car.
I eased on to the Autobahn from Ingolstadt and got up to a decent cruising speed in the middle lane. I sat back and just watched folks blur past me in the hammer lane on the left, before I saw a nice gap and decided to go for it. Up until this point my impression was that the car was fairly quiet considering that a 5.2 liter 525hp V10 was a foot behind my head. That changed when I punched the throttle. Something amazing happened, and as the kind of loser who listens closely to every video of some lucky dude hooning a supercar to savor the exhaust note, this experience was really special for me. It sounds goddamned awesome and feels even better. This first little moment was already worth the price of admission. The acceleration this car can produce is hard to overhype.
Since I drive a normal (albeit very nice) car all the time, everything about the R8 is exceptional to me. I know car people frequently find numbness in the steering or slight understeer when they push a vehicle like this, but no normal human will be thinking about anything except OHMYGODLISTENTOTHAT and IAMFLYINGONTHEGROUND. If you get to drive something like this and you come away complaining, then I feel sorry for you. I guess you’ll need to do more exotic and exciting things, like parachuting onto a biohazard waste dump while eating Foie Gras covered in gold.
The R8 is the first car I’ve driven that came with a full-time fan club. Everywhere you go, people want to talk about it, take a picture with it, sit in the driver’s seat, you name it. This is cool sometimes, and kind of weird other times. Since the car isn’t mine, and I could never afford one, I felt like I needed a sign that said, “JUST KIDDING - THIS IS A RENTAL!” One fun thing is that many people smile and wave and are clearly enthused to see and hear this car. And if you are a friendly person, the outside audience really likes that since most people who drive cars like these are complete assholes. Another thing that is sometimes fun is that everyone in normal cars and fast cars alike will want to race you. This was fun while I was on a driving vacation (OK, dude in Volkswagen CC riding me too closely – challenge ACCEPTED). It would not be that fun if you were trying to get to work every day. On my trip I encountered a Lamborghini Aventador, Aston Martin DB9, and Porsche Panamera Turbo that each wanted to do high-speed runs on the Autobahn.
I’ve only seen a few of these in person in my life, so it was nice to spend some quality time with one up close for a few days. Despite the fact that this is now a rather old basic design, I think it has aged gracefully, and in Suzuka Gray with carbon fiber blades, it looked appropriately bold and fast in person. Suzuka is a weird paint color that looks very different depending on what sort of light you’ve got. I think that’s a good thing.
This car had black leather with Alcantara diamond inserts. It smelled kind of weird, which I attributed to the Alcantara since I’ve never sat in anything that had that stuff in it. Automatic climate control, heated seats, folding mirrors, and all of that other stuff is pretty standard Audi fare here. Which is to say that it all works very well and the switches feel nice to use. The cupholders are typical Audi fare in that they’re awful and poorly positioned. They’re really shallow on the R8, so a water bottle flops right out of that thing every time you make a sharp turn.
On the second day I finally gathered the courage to see what happens if you actually try to make this car even more insane. When you push the Sport Mode button, you’re rewarded with instant and unbelievable feedback. The exhaust opens up and downshifts sound absolutely titanic (they already sounded amazing). The car then goes only one way – goddamned fast. So fast, that you will easily reach your personal fear threshold unless you are actively seeking a firey death. I drove in a lot of tunnels, and every time I found one, I hit this button because the sound and feeling was absolutely unbelievable. I also scared the crap out of a little kid walking with his mom in some little Italian town. I downshifted and I saw him jump off the ground. I like that button. I will need a button like that on my next car.
The R8 is a little touchy when braking around town, but it stops very easily (even in heavy rain) from high speed. You can drive for hours on twisties with no fade. This car didn’t have the optional carbon ceramic brakes, and that didn’t matter because I don’t think I ever came anywhere near the limit of the normal ones.
The R8 V10 offers a pretty firm ride. You feel just about every bump, but they’re not terribly jarring. I saw a guy on my trip driving a Lotus Exige who was driving around every single manhole cover in Bolzano and appeared to be losing most of his teeth every time he hit a seam in the pavement. When you put the car in Sport mode it gets even firmer, but you’d never notice this because the transformation that happens to the acceleration and engine noise is way more tangible.
This car defies physics and just hangs on way after it seems like it should let go. It’s like the worst ex-girlfriend ever. It rained like hell for most of my trip, including all of my 6 hours of driving on tiny mountain switchback roads, and I was only able to get the traction control to kick in after pushing it ridiculously hard. To be honest, I got to my threshold of risk way before the car would ever begin to let go. Steering is direct and flawless – you can change direction in this car extremely fast and accurately. I felt like I was a way better driver when driving this car.
This R8 came off the assembly line in April, 2013, so it has the new (for the R8) S-Tronic 7-speed automatic transmission. For most of the first day I left it in fully-automatic mode. It’s good. When you’re cruising along slowly, it’s very smooth and it shifts very easily for the most aprt. I was able to fake it out a handful of times which resulted in some jerkiness. When you want to scare people for miles around, it does that just fine too. It adapts very well to your driving style and conditions. I was too chickenshit the first day to touch the Sport Mode. I figured I’d save that for day two. When I did go for it, the shifts felt harder and happened instantly. I’m sure driving a manual version would be fun, but the S-Tronic makes this R8 much more usable in most circumstances.
The sound that really matters here is the one generated by 10 cylinders of awesome. It’s sublime.
This car has all sorts of hookups and Bluetooth and whatnot. I was bummed when I realized that I hadn’t asked them to loan me an iPod connector cable. So I had to listen to a stunning V10 instead. And German radio (they love Eye of the Tiger, man – I heard that 5 times the first day). The MMI system has two SD card slots, so later on I dumped a bunch of MP3s onto a spare I had for my camera and had some tunes for the rest of the trip. This car has Bang & Olufsen speakers, which sounded good to me, although the default EQ settings was way too hyped when it came to the subwoofer (the target market for this car probably loves that, though).
The Navigation system leaves a lot to be desired. On one hand, it got me to where I needed to go. On the other hand, I have a PhD in Geography and I am more specifically a Cartographer, so I’m as well equipped as anyone to deal with a GPS device and this one thoroughly confused me on multiple occasions. It’s not their latest tech that’s in the A8 with Google Maps. Hopefully they make that change soon, because this thing was really hard to figure out. It also takes about 3 minutes to calculate a route, during which time you may start to think that you didn’t do things correctly with the interface, leading to an endless loop of futile activity. I’m not sure what usability testing they did, but they need to fire those people and hire me. I would be really good at designing these things for high-end cars. Why would you show bus station icons by default on the map shown in a supercar? It should instead emphasize nearby tunnels where you can make glorious noise.
It’s 1250 Euro, or 26,789 U.S. American Yuan to do the Audi Tour Experience that I did. They “give” you a full tank of gas to start. It cost me $125 to put ¾ of a tankful in this car after I got to St. Walburg, and I needed another $100 worth to top it off enough to get back to Ingolstadt. The nice guy at Audi told me I could bring it back on fumes, so all you need to do is get it there with a little remaining.
If you care about gas prices, you don’t buy an R8, or even rent one for that matter. It was worth every penny. The rating gets a * because I didn’t buy one. I can’t conceive of having the money to buy one of these, so making a value rating on that level is beyond my capability.
Should I do this? I could probably convince my wife/girlfriend that Northern Italy is beautiful and that she will love this trip.
Yes, you should do this. No, you should not bring your wife/girlfriend/manpartner. Parts of it would be great to share (when you stop driving to look at amazing scenery, or the super posh hotel & great food that Audi arranges for you). But I think being a passenger on this trip would really suck.
The roads here are ridiculous in the best possible way. I’m talking about hours of fast switchbacks up and down mountains. This is not 20 minutes of spirited driving, it’s as long as you can possibly stand it. Audi’s suggested routes take 6 hours if you don’t really stop at all and if you drive at the insanely high speeds that Italy suggests for its miniscule mountain roads. So unless your man or ladyperson loves to have their neck snapped every 14 seconds, it’s not an ideal couples trip.
What you should do is book this experience with a bunch of your buddies. Make a (Wo)Mancation out of it. Five of you can each rent an R8 and caravan from Germany down to Italy and back. A group of 10 folks were doing exactly that when I arrived in St. Walburg. I had just finished parking my car in the garage and was astonished to see Ten R8s come in and park right after me. They roared away in unison the next morning. Every one of them downshifted multiple times while coming out of the parking garage for no reason at all except to turn gasoline into song.
I don’t like Audis at all. Does BMW/Porsche/Mercedes do this too?
I looked into that. All of these companies offer some sort of driving experience, but I wasn’t able to easily find anything comparable to this where you get the car to yourself for a few days. I would love to be proven otherwise, so have at it, Internet People. I found this option after looking high and low for some way to rent an RS4 or RS6 to thrash around Europe. I still haven’t found that option from anyone. I’m hoping Audi will somehow arrange for this to happen if I keep begging.