When the Audi R8 first hit the scene, all the established supercar manufacturers were forced to take note.
Here was a super-sports car with performance and looks that could put many exotics costing twice as much to shame.
It was also a car that was easy to live with, being equally at home at a race track or the shopping mall parking lot.
That was more than half a decade ago. The Audi R8 soldiers onto into the 2012 model year, now offering three different performance flavors and two bodystyles. The powertrains start with the base 4.2-liter V-8, which manages a respectable 430 horsepower. Next in line is the first V-10 powered R8, which develops a healthy 525 horsepower from its 5.2-liter V-10 engine. Topping out the range is a new addition for 2012, the Audi R8 GT, which also features a 5.2-liter V-10 but an power rating of 560 horsepower.
All three models also offer the choice of coupe or convertible bodystyles, the latter dubbed the Spyder. All three models are also impressive performers but it’s the R8 GT that gets our pick. Not only does it have the most power, but it’s the lightest too. Around 220 pounds lighter than the comparable V-10 model, in fact. Weight-saving features include thinner glass, carbon fiber and aluminum construction, a fixed rear wing, thinner sheet metal, and lightweight carpeting.
One thing that stands out about the R8 is the fact that it’s one of the few exotic cars where the regular gated manual transmission is better than the more sophisticated automatic. It provides smooth shifts, manageable clutch action, and is a joy to use. The same can’t be said for the R tronic sequential manual, which provides very clunky shifts at times.
A facelifted version rumored to be unveiled later this year is expected to remedy the gearbox issue by replacing the R tronic with a much better S tronic dual-clutch unit.
Gearbox issues aside, the R8 handles very well, owing to their rear-biased quattro all-wheel drive, mid-engine weight distribution, and finely tuned magnetic-ride suspension settings. In any guise, the R8 is just a wonderfully well-balanced car.
It also offers plenty of luxury and a surprisingly roomy--for a mid-engine sports car--cabin. Materials are high-quality, the design is modern and appealing, and all of the Audi technology and convenience options you'd expect are available, including MMI navigation with real-time traffic, Bluetooth, and a premium sound system.
For a closer look at the 2012 Audi R8’s quality, safety, performance, and styling, check out the full review on our sister site The Car Connection.