Climbing into the Audi, it's obvious that Porsche needs to move with the times. The R8's cockpit is an exercise in proper sports car ergonomics. It's airy, well laid out and everything's nice to the touch. The open gate for the manual stick shift is so Lambo, but it works. I feel like I'm in a truly special car and the 911's cabin architecture is hopelessly bland by comparison.
Outside too, the look of the R8 is completely modern-futuristic. It's as though a spacecraft has landed. Not a single head fails to be turned by it, whereas the 911 is so ubiquitous that it's now almost (dare I say it?) a bit boring. Firing up the mid-mounted V8 results in a deep, delicious rumble. As I edge out onto the empty road, I'm immediately at ease. I can push this car much harder, much sooner than the 911. The grip on turn-in is tenacious and the steering, while not quite as communicative as the Porsche's, is still scalpel-sharp. There's none of the 911's twitchiness. The twists and turns of these fantastic stretches of tarmac can be enjoyed to the max. As the R8 devours mile after glorious mile, I'm convinced: this is the car that bloodies the 911's previously unbroken nose.
For a first attempt at building a road-going supercar, the R8 shows how accomplished Audi has become over the past 20 years or so. While the 911 has seen a steady refinement over the decades, resulting in an extremely competent machine, the R8 is all new, unhampered by compromises with engine layouts and enthusiast nostalgia. Audi started with a clean sheet of paper and Porsche needs to do that too.
The next generation of 911 will be even better than this one, with a new DSG-style sequential transmission that should be revelatory. But after that, Porsche should junk the whole rear-engined flat-six thing, confine it to the history books and show the world a truly groundbreaking new car. Audi might soon be building R8s with V10 engines. And if it brings its turbocharging know-how into the mix, it'll be all over. Game, set and match.
For now, the Porsche 911 is still a brilliant car. But it's time to face facts: the R8 is better. Over to you, Stuttgart.
2008 Audi R8
Mid engine, all-wheel drive
4.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve
Peak Power: 414 hp @ 7800 rpm
Peak Torque: 317 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
0-60mph: 4.5 sec.
Top speed: 187 mph