We look into our Audi R8’s menacing eyes and think, where did you come from? Your competitors were born from direct predecessors, but what about you? There’s no doubt that Audi has had a motorsports presence for some time now in everything from endurance racing to rallycross, but Audi’s road-going bloodline has truly never taken the supercar form until the R8. But, although the R8 is seemingly lacking in this sense, it may actually be a blessing rather than a curse. It is fresh, fast & born directly from motorsports; few rules held back the R8’s manifestation in the marketplace. Even though a supercar did not exist in Audi’s lineup previously, there were still some cars with fast intentions, and of course the development of the modern S & RS lines. Let’s take a look.
As many know, Audi’s sporting heritage is planted firmly to the ground with its Quattro all-wheel drive system. Appropriately labeled the “Quattro,” the fastback coupe was a clean, fast, and sexy design that was able to portray the uniqueness of the powertrain that lie beneath its sheetmetal. In fact, the idea to develop the car sprouted from the merits of a VW all-terrain vehicle that routinely outperformed the often higher output of its competition. During its production run in the U.S. from 1983 to 1991 the Quattro’s victory would not necessarily shine in sales figures, but would definitely shine in motorsports events like that of the WRC where it achieved dozens of victories.
It wasn’t until Audi bolted a turbo onto its widely used five-cylinder motor and dropped it into otherwise mundane offerings that its modern high-performance image would come to fruition. Audi’s “S” line, arguably the spirit behind the R8, started with the S2 & S4 which were essentially turbocharged versions of the Coupe and 100 models. It was in 1994 that the brand began to break from its ugly unintended acceleration recalls (sound familiar, Lexus?) and introduce a modern set of Audi’s that we are most familiar with today.
Throughout the mid- and late 1990’s Audi would give the “S” treatment to most of its lineup, offering consumers its high-powered intentions in all forms from small (S4) to large (S8). Fast and fun, sure, but supercars? No. Powertrain options did graduate, though, as a potent V8 and forced-induced sixes made their way into the engine bays. The bar was raised as RS models began to trickle in, first exclusive to the A4 Avant then onto the A6 platform; now these were serious fire-breathers. The RS6 packed 450 horsepower from a bi-turbo V8 that launched it to 60 in only 4.2 seconds. Now, our R8 doesn’t have any forced induction bolted on, but the original RS6 is only about .1 seconds behind it; starting to see the origins now? In addition, the RS6 was legitimately exotic with only about 1,000 examples making it stateside. By the way, the RS6 was Motor Trend’s pick against the Mercedes E55 AMG back in 2003. Audi had the ball rolling, quickly, and production of an authentic supercar was easily on the horizon.
It was only a few years later in 2006 that we were blessed with sights of the R8. It was not only the build-up of Audi’s high-performance sedans years previous that led to the R8, but it was a tightened relationship with VW and Lamborghini that equipped it with the tools to break out of the four-door mold and into supercar territory; the R8 is based on the Gallardo. When all is said and done, we can now see where Audi’s halo vehicle really came from. An 80’s rallycross superstar morphed into a fledgling line of high-performance sedans & wagons in the early 1990’s, which then matured alongside a new, modern lineup in the late 1990’s, ultimately taking the new millennium as an opportunity to play with fire in its RS models and forge new relationships with established supercars like the Gallardo. So, if the R8 was at all mysterious to you perhaps it is a bit less now. But then again, as we continue to gaze into those eyes we’re sure there is more to find out each and every day in the driver’s seat. Find out for yourself by renting our R8 for your next outing, special occasion or just treating yourself to a healthy dose of adrenaline.