Audi has come a long way since the days of the original Quattro. That all-wheel-drive original changed minds about which wheels should drive a performance car.
But the Quattro wasn't quite a sports car, and it would take Audi another two decades before it would field an actual rival for cars like the Porsche 911 and the Chevy Corvette.
That car arrived in 2008 in the form of the Audi R8. After a fantastic first generation, the R8 is new again this year. Faster and even more sure-footed, it’s set to hammer away at those challengers and new ones, such as the Mercedes-AMG GT, and the revived Acura NSX.
It looks great on paper, with V-10 power to go with its luxury trim and its tech-rich cockpit. But there’s a better way to prove how good the R8 is at balancing performance and luxury.
That way, is a trip to the most hallowed ground in NASCAR, by way of some of the best backroads in America.
MORE: Read our 2017 Audi R8 first drive
Just as spring broke across Appalachia this year, I had the good luck to climb on a high-speed gravy train, to slide down the geological spine of the Eastern Seaboard in that car.
Over the course of three days, our speeding skunkworks drilled through rural North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, then did a hop-skip-jump to Florida's Daytona speedway, for a very special drive of the 2017 Audi R8.
Old money, new generation
Audis are nothing new in the hipster capital of North Carolina. Part college retreat, part retirement villa, the mountain haven is a bit of ski-slope Vermont tucked away in the boonies. That's no slur. There's actually a nearby town called Boone.
Still, Audis stand out. Rotting Subarus bang around here like they haven't received their death warrants in the mail. There aren't as many pickup trucks per capita as other places in the Deep Woods Off slice of the Carolinas, but the balance still tilts toward vehicles that suffer plain neglect.
There couldn’t be a car less Asheville than the R8—its hardcore V-10 growl echoes loudly in the heart of this progressive college town.
MORE: Read our 2017 Audi R8 review
Asheville knows what luxury is all about, though. It’s the home to Biltmore, the largest home in America, built in the 1890s for the Vanderbilt family.
The Biltmore house is a postcard-perfect picture of old money. All that limestone makes for a high-contrast backdrop for the R8, with its crisp, technical lines and bullet-like silhouette.
It’s a stunning shape, with a low-slung stance, two-piece side blades, and a roofline that pulls the shape taut all the way to the tail. This new version’s wider and more menacing in its stance than before.
Inside, the R8’s cockpit practically begs for high-speed driving. Gunmetal trim outlines a spare black dash and big, high-resolution screens—including the one that sits where the gauges would normally be.
Audi calls this the virtual cockpit. The display can morph from navigation maps to computer-generated gauges at the touch of a button. It’s a calling card for a new generation of Audis, and frankly, it’s dazzling.