In its first kick at the supercar can, Audi hit the sweet spot in a big way with the 2008 R8.
The R8 menu has expanded somewhat since then, so whether you choose the 420 horsepower 4.2L V-8 or 525 horsepower 5.2L V-10, six-speed manual or six-speed automated R Tronic, coupe or convertible, Audi’s all-wheel-drive, mid-engine exotic delivers an intoxicating cocktail of speed, user-friendly dynamics, soul, sound, high style, and perhaps most surprisingly, comfort.
But when is a supercar not super enough?
If there is any criticism that can be fairly leveled at the R8, one might argue that it’s just not nasty enough. Perhaps a little too soft – too nice. Not a true track weapon like the Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4.
Addressing these "issues", the lads at Audi’s performance arm, quattro GmbH fashioned an R8 with a tad more attitude – the 2012 V-10-powered R8 GT Coupe.
The GT sheds 80 kg, gains 35 horsepower (to 560 hp) and 8 lb-ft of torque (to 398 lb-ft), gets carbon ceramic brakes and a more track-focused suspension setup. Not to mention generous lashings of way cool matt-finish carbon fibre both inside and out.
For the privilege of owning one of these 333 factory specials, you’re paying $228,000, which is $55,000 over the price of the regular R8 5.2 FSI V-10.
Unlike the lightweight Ferrari 430 Scuderia of a few years back, the R8 GT is hardly a stripped-out hard-core version of the road car. In fact, Audi asks very few concessions in the way of comfort and convenience.
Air con? Check. Audio? Bang and Olufsen thank you. Navigation? Yup. We even get comfy powered Nappa sport seats because the Euro-spec racing shells don’t pass legal muster here.
The only absentees are auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, Homelink, rear-view camera and rain and light sensors.
So how do you make the already svelte all-aluminum R8 lighter? In small increments. A thinner windshield and polycarbonate rear window account for 9 kg, as do the carbon ceramic brakes. The carbon fibre rear hatch, rear bumper and side blades save 13 kg.
Turf some sound insulation and powered rear spoiler, add a polycarbonate engine-compartment bulkhead, shave (!) the carpeting, fit 19-inch forged alloy wheels and you’re on your way.
So you might want to forego that Grand Slam breakfast before climbing aboard.
The GT ditches the adaptive magnetorheological dampers for a manually adjustable coil-over suspension that can lower ride height by as much as 10 mm. From the factory, the GT rides 7.5 mm closer to the tarmac and more negative camber is dialed in both front and rear.
A fixed rear spoiler and "lips" on the front wings increase high-speed downforce.
Other visual cues include blacked out taillights, side sill extensions, a carbon fibre rear diffuser, coffee-can sized exhaust outlets and an on-hatch rear central air intake.
In Samoa Orange Metallic,my tester was stunning.
Inside, the GT gets an Alcantara trimmed wheel, body-coloured stitching, white-faced gauges and a metal shift knob engraved with the car’s production number, in this case 90/333. Unfortunately, the carbon-fibre panel atop the instrument panel throws up some wicked reflections in bright sunlight.
The GT only comes fitted with the R Tronic automated six-speed single-clutch transmission, which is both a blessing and a bit of a curse. This transmission works best when driven in Sport mode and in anger.
Any R8 accelerates faster and gets around a racetrack more swiftly with the R Tronic, but in day to day operation there’s a considerable lag between upshifts that requires recalibration of your inputs in order to smooth thing out.
Dare I say this? Just like in a Smart ForTwo, you’ll be doing the head bob until you shift with the paddles and finesse the throttle.
Ferrari’s F1 Superfast single-clutch automated transmission in the 2008 430 Scuderia was worlds better than this, and since then the Italian automaker has moved to twin-clutch technology.
Nonetheless, this tranny is light and tough, and until they engineer a twin clutch for the R8, this is what we get.
Behind the wheel
Behind the wheel the differences from a regular R8 are subtle. The lightweight exhaust system barks with more authority, the ride is a little busier (but still compliant) and the front end has a bit more bite.
This is where I’m supposed to tell of incredible track exploits in this rare Audi. Uh, no!
As most owners will do, I spent my week with the car tooling around, basking in celebrity-grade attention, answering questions, scaring my friends, blasting around on/off ramps, relishing those scintillating high-rev downshifts and burning up premium fuel at an alarming rate.
No question the R8 GT gives more of a really good thing. While a bit more focused, it is still a great daily driver, and one that turns even a run to the corner store into a memorable motoring event.
At this point, I’m sure a few of you have all ready called your broker or are wondering just how important your kid’s secondary education really is. Relax.
Only 23 2012 Audi R8 GTs are coming to Canada, and they are all sold.