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“Police frequently hide here,” chimed my iPhone repeatedly as I hummed in my bloodnail red Audi R8 5.2 along the 101, just minutes before crossing south over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. I’d just downloaded an app called Trapster that informs habitual speeders like myself of speed traps, red light cameras, radar and other law enforcement snares, and my phone was warning me ad nauseum like a clichéd Italian grandmother, Police frequently hide here. “I’m gonna take it real easy,” I told my driving partner Jeff, conscious of the screaming red flag (literally) we were driving. “Yeah, it’s basically begging to get pulled over,” he answered, waving his arms wildly. “Look at me, coppers, I’m over here!”

There’s simply no way to be subtle in any R8, it’s just not physically possible, but this particular car — its maraschino cherry finish gleaming like a flashing warhead button in the noon sun — could not be more of a sanguine vehicular middle finger to police worldwide. “There’s just no way I’m speeding here,” I repeated to myself in an almost trance-like state — half convincing myself, half visualizing my civic dutifulness. Imagine my surprise then, when just finishing my mantra, two of California’s finest motorcycle units sped up behind me, lights flashing. I will spare you from the string of epithets that followed, fists pounding on the leather wrapped steering wheel. “Are you really gonna give me a ticket for going 75 on a 65?” I asked incredulously when the officer rapt on my window. “Do you realize I could’ve been going 175 in this car?”

Continue reading Nicolas Stecher’s review of the new V10 Audi R8 5.2 — plus exclusive photo galleries — after the Jump…

AudiR8c

(all photos by Kikuchiyo for LostInaSupermarket.com)

Not to be a dick — speeding is speeding in the eyes of the law — but when you’re going slower than the pace of traffic (I was in the second lane, being passed by several cars to my left) then don’t pull me over just because my car is shinier than the nondescript Camry passing me. It’s just not right. He explained to me I was no longer on a 65 mph portion of the 101, but a 55 mph portion, which doesn’t change the fact that I was being passed left and right. Considering this is something like my 6th speeding ticket on my record (including my 95 on a 35 in my last R8 testdrive), I was praying for some leniency.

Heaven wasn’t listening.

Actually, nevermind 175 — I could’ve been going 196 mph in this car…or so Audi claims. I cannot confirm that speed, but I can confirm the car hits 142 mph, as I achieved that mark the day before on a barren stretch of Napa Valley asphalt. It was a beautiful sight: the back country road had been winding through the surrounding vineyards, the tin foil used to scare birds transforming the golden hills into a shimmering ocean of sparkling merlot and cabernet grapevines. And the path before me opened up into a 2-mile stretch of clear road, and well, the R8 5.2 demanded I dropped the pedal. And so I did.

The initial iteration of the R8 was a spectacular machine, garnering Car of the Year awards from everyone from Top Gear to Automobile to Playboy to Cat Fancy. The car was brilliant, handled as if on a magnetic field and had looks to empty out strip malls with cell phone cameras out and jaws agape. And that was with the Audi RS4’s V8 engine, generating a healthy 420 hps. Powerful, but not exceptional. But this 2010 Audi R8 5.2 comes with a 5.2 liter V10 lifted straight from the beating chest of the Lamborghini Gallardo, which ups its power by 25% to 525 hps (including a jump in torque from 317 to 391 lb-fts). Imagine upping any supercar’s power by 25% and you have an idea of the results: pure chaos. The bottom end torque when I pushed the throttle was instant, and we took off down that Napa straightaway with craniums sucked against our headrests.

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“God it just keeps going!” yelled the frightened navigator to my right. “The rev range is endless — just when you think it’s gonna stop it keeps going!” And its true: whereas the last R8 quit at 8000 rpms, the V10 redlines at 8700. Chances are, your heart (and huevos) will give in before your R8 does. This heightened rev range provides 0-60 acceleration in a dizzying 3.7 seconds. Aesthetically, the 5.2 gets flared sideblades and rocker panels, an enlarged rear diffuser, 19” Y-spoke wheels and a grill with chrome slats. It’s also the first car in the world with fully-LED headlamps, which didn’t appear to add much to photo-performance but certainly looked cool.

Of course, all this added power doesn’t come free, as the base price for the R8 5.2 jumps about $40K to a base of $150,000. And the version we tested was over $170K, so features add up quick (many features, however, like the 465 watt 12 speaker Bang & Olufsen soundsystem, come standard on the 5.2). Still, that’s $30K less than its Italian twin sister, the Lambo Gallardo (and $130K less than the comparably performing Mercedes Benz SL65).

“The path before me opened up into a 2-mile stretch of clear road, and the R8 5.2 demanded I dropped the pedal…And so I did.”

Disappointingly, the only thing Audi was unable to upgrade was the original R8’s R-tronic automatic transmission. When in normal automatic it is surprisingly mushy — I can’t give you the fractions of a second you lose, but when shifting there’s a noticeable soft lag before it hits the next gear. I didn’t notice it so much in the original R8, but that may have had something to do with the tamer engine. With the V10 the lag is apparent and aggravating. Luckily there is an anecdote to this: a Sport mode that shifts at higher rpms, firmer and more abrupt, and when used with the paddle is much crisper. The solution for me was to keep it in Sport mode permanently; I never found a reason nor desire to revert to Normal mode. Still, it’s disappointing that Audi wasn’t able to develop a DSG twin clutch for the R8 5.2, as it has in its lower S4 and S5 models. “We’re continuously developing our dual clutch systems, and the S4 and S5 cabriolet are our very first dual clutch systems that can handle the high torque of their supercharged V6,” explains Carter Balkham, Product Manager for Audi of America. “Now if you look at the R8, which now has the 5.2 V10, that has even more torque, so the development cycle of the S-tronic just isn’t there yet in order to be able to handle those forces.” But what about the Nissan GT-R (read our GT-R review HERE), I ask. That car has a dual clutch and it costs half as much as 5.2 R8. “That’s a good question. I don’t know off the top of my head.”

To be fair, the GT-R only has 485 hps, considerably less than the R8. Also, there is another obvious solution to this dilemma: get the manual transmission, dummy. With its gated shifter the enjoyment is endless. Or just keep it in Sport mode, which provides comfortable shifts anyway. For really, to find fault in the R8 5.2 is tantamount to criticizing From Dusk Til Dawn-era Salma Hayek for talking funny. If you do, you just don’t get it.

The R8 R-tronic automic shifter (left) versus the gated manual (right). I’d go with the right, but if you have to go auto (love those paddle shifters!) then do yourself a favor and keep it in Sport mode.

AudiShifters

But to really get it, you need to ditch the public roads altogether and get the R8 5.2 on a closed track, as we did at the Infineon Raceway. There what you experience is a genetically engineered vehicle that it is so perfected it is nearly impossible to overwhelm on a controlled track. Whereas fear, anxiety and caution may strike you on winding public roads, balls-out glee is all you will feel charging towards the yellow and black-striped rumblestrips lining the track. Your fear will kick in way before you hit a speed that the ceramic composite disc brakes cannot save you from. Don’t get me wrong — the All Wheel Drive may keep you sober, but the power is so great you can still make the R8’s ass swing out. But release the throttle and tap the brakes and you’re in complete control within milliseconds.

And that’s the elusive trick Audi has pulled off, creating a ride that balances the joy from power unleashed with the security of knowing you’re always in control…even on the edge of chaos. That’s what makes the new 5.2 R8 so unforgettable.

Funny enough, the only true flaw of the whole weekend was when Audi enlisted James Lipton (yes, the real James Lipton) to moderate an Inside the Actors Studio-like interview session between a handful of Audi execs on a lifted stage. It was a painfully awkward affair for everyone involved, with Lipton clearly phoning in his efforts — best underscored when he mispronounced the word “Audi”. Ouch. James, I think you best heed your own advice and actually read your lines before going onstage. I bet the execs wish they could retract that casting decision.

Which only added to the weekend’s entertainment — a weekend spent ripping through the cow-dotted golden hills of Napa with arguably the baddest car under $250K. Not too shabby. Too bad my entire paycheck for this article is now going directly to the CHP… I guess I’m just not meant to own a car like this…

Check out the exclusive pics below, and keep an eye out for the 220 mph speedometer, the fully-LED headlamp close-up, and enough stunning R8 ass shots to make Kim Kardashian throw a tantrum…

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