Sunday, July 12, 2009

I drive another whale

In a trip to CA earlier this year, I got to drive my "white whale", a water-cooled 911. Well, a year or so ago I got an excited text message from a coworker telling me about the Audi R8 we'd just gotten at the office. How long would we have it, I asked. Turns out, only a week, and I was stuck in Detroit. Crushed.

Well, the car clearly became "the one that got away". My new white whale is actually an Aston Martin DB9, but the R8 was definitely a large, sea-borne mammal. Until now. Last week, my friend Chris got an R8 to review for Left Lane News. He let me jump behind the wheel for a brief stint, and we took it to the area around GM's Milford Proving Grounds, which has some great roads. I've decided I'm okay with being forever in Chris' debt. I got to drive an R8.

The first impression was great, as rather than offer a horn blare to signal his arrival, Chris greeted me with a lovely chorus of revs. The second impression was just as good, with the car's looks doing a lot of talking. The third impression was a bit of a letdown, however, with the car's R tronic gearbox marring the initial interface with the car.

You may have read about this transmission. It's been getting a lot of negative feedback from reviewers, and I've gotta say, it almost ruins the car. R tronic is very similar to Lamborghini's e-gear sequential manual, and some say it's the same gearbox. I'd love to drive it in the Lambo, though, and see if it's just as jerky as it is in the Audi. As John McElroy says in his Autoline video, "every time this thing shifts, it feels like somebody's pressing on the brake." It actually feels pretty similar to the smart fortwo's jerky trans, and in both cars the only way to drive it smoothly is to trail off the gas just before a shift--but not too much. I guess maybe I'll have to leave the R8 on my whale list until I get to drive the supposedly phenomenal 6-speed manual.

The good news is VW has developed a new 7-speed DSG for Audi that will bear the brand's S tronic name, but will now be able to handle up to 406 lb-ft of torque, rather than the 6-speed's 258-lb-ft limit. No word yet on it's installation in the R8, but it seems like a perfect application, so I can't imagine it'll be too long.

Transmission issues aside, the R8 is a joy. The engine note is addictive, and cornering is a study in drama-free mastery of physics. I didn't get too far above the rule of law on the speedo, and I of course didn't get to work it out at the track, but Chris did get to do that, so I'll keep you updated on his post(s). He's in the planning stages now.

1 comment:

Brandon James said...

Wow, seeing the R8 besides the VW really puts into perspective how small it is.