The back of the big rig drops open, slamming against the running pavement. I put the R8 into reverse and roll down the ramp. At the bottom of the ramp, I snick the lever into neutral just as the tires meet the speeding asphalt. A sudden jerk, throw it in gear and I'm off.
I'm here to stop a stolen Russian warhead being transported by a street racing terrorist gang. In a completely unforeseen and dastardly move, they've kidnapped the smoking-hot daughter of the Swedish ambassador. I have but one hour, less four evenly spaced three-minute breaks, to save her and the world from total annihilation.
As I speed through the canyons my trusty sidekick, a highly advanced artificial intelligence computer built into the car, warns me that I'm pushing too hard, the speeds are too high. If this was a normal car, like something with a front-mounted V8, he might be right. I am, however, in a mid-engine, all-wheel-drive supercar modified by OEMplus.
It may sound ridiculous, but all this goes through my head in the first 30 seconds of setting eyes on this R8. The car is all black, as black as Spinal Tap's vinyl album cover. In fact, there are none more black than this. The modifications are subtle and cunningly chosen to maximize effect. Most will mistake this car for being completely stock. Its special nature will go largely unnoticed. That's the point of a superhero.
Start with the wheels. Built by Dymag, they may be one of the best performance modifications a car owner can currently purchase. They aren't cheap, but weighing in at 16 pounds front and a mere 19 pounds rear, they remove not only unsprung weight but rotational mass as well. The rolling works of art are of two-piece construction. The outer barrel is built from carbon fiber. This isn't a chopped fiber reinforced plastic either. The barrels are pressure molded using continuous woven fibers for a true aerospace-quality piece. The wheel inners are cast magnesium. Long the first choice of racers, Dymag has taken this technology to the streets to make what is possibly the highest strength-to-weight ratio wheel in existence. Without putting this particular car on a dyno we can guess that the wheels alone are worth 10-15 hp at the wheels. Adding even more power to the wheels is a custom exhaust system that can best be described as earthshaking. The 4.2-liter V8 breathes unhindered by mufflers or any sort of sound absorption. Straight pipes from the cats to the tips. The exhaust gives the car a crackly wail, sounding something like chucking glass blocks into a tree shredder. It's loud; the sound echoing off the canyon walls makes me nervous as it seems it may bring down boulders like a 5.0 quake. On downshifts, the throttle blips sound like a big jet engine right at the point it hits the afterburners. On deceleration it burbles like an angry European soccer riot working its way into the town square. The sound is intoxicating from behind the wheel during hard driving. On city streets it frightens pedestrians and angers authorities. On the freeway, the exhaust is ever present and entertaining, for five minutes at the most. At 120 mph, the R8 actually quiets a bit and at 140 mph is almost civil. Apparently this is exactly the system the owner wanted for the car. If it were us, we would opt for something with a butterfly valve. A car this stealthy deserves to sneak around sometimes.
Inside the car, occupants are treated to carbon fiber trim pieces everywhere. The center console, door trim, even the steering wheel has been treated with the woven wonder fabric. The look is classy and while it may not be as functional as the wheels, it certainly keeps the car's high-tech racing heritage always at the front of your mind.
On the exterior, the first thing people will notice is the big stanchion-mounted wing. It and the carbon front splitter are both from European tuner PPI and both have been wind-tunnel tested. Besides adding downforce, the rear wing has also been proven to actually increase the car's top speed. As slippery as the R8 looks, it must experience separation over the rear glass that causes excessive turbulence behind the car. The big wing causes air to tumble along at the rear and lessen any parasitic drag. The front splitter decreases the amount of airflow underneath, creating a low-pressure area and pulling the chassis toward the pavement. The factory rear spoiler still functions and raises at speeds. It would have probably been easier for PPI just to disconnect it when they installed theirs. They couldn't though, because not only does the stock spoiler work as an aerodynamic aid, it also works to funnel air into the rear engine compartment for cooling. Seen in photographs, the spoiler can look enormous depending on the viewing angle. In person, it's actually rather handsome, the fact that it is functional all the more reason to want one.
Suspension modifications are still being debated. The factory setup is near ideal for anything but hardcore track-day exploits. In the future, it may be lowered with a set of sport springs that will leave the factory magnetic dampers able to function as designed. The front splitter is already threatened by every driveway and speed bump it sees. Given the R8's adequately low center of gravity, it would be painful to sacrifice driveability for the sake of aesthetics. But given the owner's taste and tolerance in exhaust systems, maybe a limitation of driveways will not be an issue.
At first sight, this R8 made me want to grab my Members Only jacket and my Ray-Ban Aviators and relive the glory days of The Hoff. It makes you realize just how good a modern car is, especially with slight modifications. A car like the R8 doesn't need to be completely reengineered. It just needs a few well-placed, well-planned components to take it to the next level. Crank up the German techno-pop, put some extra mousse in the hair, and we're off to save the world.
2008 Audi R8
Longitudinal mid-engine, all-wheel drive
4.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Cat-back open exhaust
Six-speed R tronic
Four-link independent suspension with adjustable Magnetic Ride damping
Eight-piston calipers, 15-inch rotors (f), four-piston calipers, 14-inch rotors (r)
*Wheels And Tires
Dymag two-piece, 8.5x19 (f), 11x19 (r)Pirelli P Zero, 235/35 (f), 295/30 (r)
PPI carbon-fiber front splitter, PPI rear stanchion wing, carbon side blades