Saturday 15 November 2008
Top speed: 187 mph 0-60mph 4.5 seconds
CO2 emissions: 326g/km
Best for: life in the fast lane
Also worth considering? Porsche 911; BMW M6; Jaguar XK RS
Years ago Car magazine (still the best read) used to run a section at the back called "the Good, the Bad and the Ugly", or GBU to the cognoscenti, a witty, idiosyncratic way of reviewing every new car on the market. It came to mind as I was trying to get used to our test Audi R8's "R-tronic" gears (pictured).
Hmmnnnn. "R-tronic". Sounds futuristic and efficient, the sort of image suggested by the Audi's sobered-up-supercar styling, like someone had removed the punch-bowl from the Lamborghini designer before they'd quite finished their party. (Lamborghini is actually a sister brand of Audi, so you never know...) But the two-seater's gorgeous looks, luscious V8 tones and grippy handling are badly let down by this frankly awful way of moving from one gear ratio to the next. If you've ever driven a Smart car, the Maserati Quattroporte, Aston Martin Vanquish, the BMW M5, or perhaps a Citroë*now similarly encumbered, you will be familiar with the feeling. It's jerky. And it's a shame. As a "semi automatic" it's a pretty tedious experience and detracts so much from the Audi's purposeful charm that it's hard to believe they let this version into the showrooms. Using it as a clutchless manual, so you move up and down the gears using the paddles behind the steering wheel (but without a clutch), is a bit better, but that's even harder work.
No. This version of the Audi R8 is a bit Emperor's New Clothes: everyone who saw it admired it, came up to me at the refuelling stops (quite a frequent occurrence given its thirst) and generally made a fuss. But where was the little boy saying, "Look, it's got a rubbish gear change. A Golf GTI's loads better..."?
Semi-automatic gearboxes are cheaper than full automatics; they're lighter, take up less space and help fuel economy and performance. So you can see why the R8 and the Smart both have them. But just as I can't quite bring myself to forgive Smart for doing it, so I certainly can't absolve Audi. In "GBU" terms, the "R-tronic" gearbox has turned an interesting supercar into a boring one. And, as Car magazine used to put things, so shall I.
For: Almost everything, and especially the dramatic LED lights.
Against: (mercifully optional) R-tronic gear change.
Sum up: Did we mention that gear change? Go for a manual.
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