The hottest car of the year, the Audi R8 isn't perfect, but driving it is such a thrilling experience, you won't care
Drive an R8 and you’ll learn what it’s like to be a celebrity. On public roads, crowds followed us. And when we stopped, cameras clicked. Right now, the R8 is the hottest sports car in the world.
As a runner-up finish here proves, it’s one of the best, too. But it’s not only about the driving. Of the 20 models we tested, only the Lamborghini – which costs twice as much – managed to better the R8’s sense of occasion.
Although those side blades break up the flow of the flanks, when combined with the LED headlights and the glass panel – which provides a window on to the V8 engine – they ensure people stop to look.
Open one of the wide doors and another treat awaits: the adventurous, low-slung cabin. The switchgear is familiar Audi fare, but the angled windscreen, cosseting seats and swooping layout set the interior apart from that of a TT. The best detail by far, however, is the open-gate gearlever. As beautiful to use as it is to look at, it’s light and precise, and shifts are accompanied by a metallic ‘clack-clack’.
The rest of the car follows this philosophy: it appears intimidating, but is actually as light and easy to drive as the Mazda MX-5. Being so accessible and unflappable makes the R8 less challenging than some cars here, so ultimately it isn’t as rewarding. But that’s when it’s being driven on a track...
As a road car, however, the mid-engined machine is near-flawless. The gorgeous gearbox hints that this Audi has personality as well as presence and, on the roads of North Wales, the R8 did nothing to dispel that notion. The 4.2-litre V8 proved more tuneful than the guttural flat-six in the Porsche 911, and nearly as loud. It’s great fun to drive at any speed, and the Magnetic Ride dampers (a £1,350 option) are simply one of the discoveries of the year – the ride is absolutely brilliant.
At the track, the R8 delivered another surprise. The quattro 4WD has been set up to make the car behave more like a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and will power oversteer if provoked – no other Audi will let you do that. The brakes were immensely strong, but the few flaws we had detected on the road were thrown into sharp focus on the circuit. There’s a hesitation in the engine response above 3,000rpm and, because the chassis is so pin-sharp, the slightly numb feedback through the steering wheel becomes more noticeable.
Audi appears deliberately to have made the rack slower in order to enhance stability, but the result is that it lacks the tactile nature and precision of our winner. However, it’s still an outstanding machine.
- 1Welcome to Greatest Drives 2007We've gathered together this year's hottest cars to fight it out on road and track for the title of Auto Express's Greatest Drives 2007
- 2Mercedes CL63 AMGThe latest Mercedes AMG is a variant of the Bentley Continental-rivalling CL63. Does a two-tonne sports saloon make sense?
- 3BMW 130i M SportAlthough it's the baby of the BMW range, it bears the M Sport pack, giving it a formidable 261bhp
- 4Vauxhall Corsa VXRIt was our top supermini earlier this year, but does the VXR version of the Vauxhall Corsa cut it in this esteemed company?
- 5Audi S5It might not be the most thrilling to drive, but the Audi S5 is one of the easiest cars to drive quickly
- 6BMW M5 TouringThe estate version of the BMW M5 is no slouch, but it doesn't feel as special as previous M cars from BMW
- 7Lotus 2-ElevenThe Lotus 2-Eleven is an uncompromised trackday car - driveable, if not comfortable, on the road, but unsurpassed on a circuit
- 8Morgan Aero 8 AmericaThe most visually distinctive car here, the Morgan Aero 8 may look old-fashioned but it's a precise and powerful sports car with an engine note to die for
- 9Vauxhall VXR8The Vauxhall from down-under is very much an old-style muscle car - and the VXR8 knows how to let you have fun
- 10Nissan 350ZA previous overall winner, the Nissan 350Z still impresses in its current incarnation, even if it's not quite as fresh three years later
- 11MINI Cooper SNow a more mature drive, the latest MINI is slightly less fun than previous Cooper models - which is why it's outside the top 10
- 12Caterham Sigma Roadsport 125It's a perennial favourite of Greatest Drives, and this year's Caterham Roadsport is no different - brilliant on the track, a little rough on the road
- 13Fiat Panda 100HPAs much fun as cars 10 times its price, the Fiat Panda 100HP won't set any lap records, but will leave a big smile on your face
- 14Mazda MX-5 RCIt's the top-selling two-seater of all time, but does the Mazda MX-5 still have the flair to challenge for the title of Greatest Drive?
- 15Renaultsport Mégane F1 Team R26The latest F1-inspired Renaultsport Megane has learnt from previous models' failings, and is now a brilliant all-round package
- 16Porsche 911 GT3 RSThe hardcore Porsche 911 GT3 RS is an unequivocal supercar. With incredible performance, the only doubt is its real-world usability - and price tag
- 17Renaultsport Clio 197 F1 Team R27If you thought the Megane was impressive, the hot Renaultsport Clio R27 manages to force its way into the top 5 with sheer poise
- 18Lamborghini Gallardo SuperleggeraThe Lamborghini was the most expensive car on test. Luckily the super-light Gallardo was also the most rewarding to drive
- 19Honda Civic Type RThe Type R version of the Honda Civic is not only the best hot hatch, its chassis makes it one of the best drivers' cars, full stop
- 20Audi R8 - currently readingThe hottest car of the year, the Audi R8 isn't perfect, but driving it is such a thrilling experience, you won't care
- 21Porsche Cayman SDespite the presence of serious rivals from Lamborghini and Audi, the amazing Porsche Cayman S retains its title