The 2007 NFL season had an unceasing flair for the dramatic, with history looming large every week until the fateful February night of Super Bowl XLII.
The New England Patriots had run the table through the entire season, a feat never accomplished since the league went to a 16-game regular season schedule, and their 18-0 record was more perfect than any team had done before. They could have been the second team in NFL history to finish a season completely undefeated, without one blemish, surpassing all expectations from start to finish.
The final expectation was a Super Bowl victory, a seemingly very predictable finale to an otherwise flawless season. This likelihood was backed by a 12-point betting line in the Patriots’ favor over the New York Giants, an unheard-of disparity between two teams competing at the ultimate level.
But, in a movie-like conclusion, the 6-loss Giants stunned the undefeated Patriots with a handful of fortune. Perfection had been spoiled.
At the same time, however, perfection was achieved in an entirely different new way.
It came from one of the famous Super Bowl commercials, a close second to the actual game for what attracts universal viewership. Being both a football fan and a Patriots fan, commercials during this game were of no interest to me. Except for one, and somehow I didn’t miss it.
It came from Audi, and it was rare for premium car brands to have Super Bowl spots. So in order to break ground, it helps to have a groundbreaking product and in 2008, Audi broke into the supercar world with the R8.
The R8 was nothing I had ever seen. Its LED headlights – the first of its kind in a production car – were confusing, hypnotizing but remarkable in that they were different than anything else. The rest of it was all just new, its carbon fiber sideblade being quirky and now being unmistakable and endearing for the car.
Its closest relative, the Lamborghini Gallardo, was the superstar of that brand, making Volkswagen’s decision to base the new supercar off of it all too obvious. The new Audi crossed the Gallardo’s performance and nimbleness with the refinement so well-known among the luxury brand.
It seemed like a dream equation. And boy did you get a lot on the other side.
It was always considered a “budget supercar” which seems like a slight since supercars demand the most and ask a lot in return, even if its starting price of $120,000 seemed like an OK deal. But its 414 horsepower starting out was plenty for thrilling drives; its V8 was yanked from the highly-praised RS4 giving it proper pedigree. Its quattro all-wheel drive system is world-famous, but its 70% rear bias still made it excitable when you wanted it to be. Plus, it had all the expected luxuries and comfort of any other Audi.
The early success of the R8 spawned several variants over time, including a V10 model, convertibles and some experiments with electricity and even diesel. The first-generation V10 was pushed to its limits by 2012, nearly cracking the 200-mph barrier in the ultimate road-going Audi, the GT.
Produced in limited numbers – just 666 coupes and convertibles combined – the GT sought to grow the R8 up a little bit. For much of its lifespan, it was held up to the Gallardo’s shadow and relegated to being referred to as the “little brother.” A fine tag for an adorable, spunky character, but the R8 fought for higher standing.
The GT was the serious contender for out-dueling the Lamborghini, with its V10 tuned to a 552-hp rating – matching the Gallardo LP560-4. Enthusiasts will notice the GT with its fixed carbon fiber rear wing, front winglets and red GT badge adorning the edges of the fenders. Vents behind the rear wheels funnel out well pressure parallel to its reshaped exhaust outlets, which emit a sound awfully familiar to and equally as savage as its pricier playmate.
All of these small changes amounted to the most powerful Audi road car produced at the time, and its looks and rarity made it a sight to behold. On paper it was cool, but in the world of exclusive supercars, it’s more about emotion than it is numbers and facts. Certain cars make you feel some way and that’s what you remember.
The emotion that stirred in me from the original R8 commercial – I still watch it now and then on YouTube for remembrance – came right back with the GT. It was the ultimate version of the first car that made me think cars were cool, and not just transportation. It was the perfection that the Patriots didn’t achieve in February of 2008.
8 years after that, pretty much on the dot, I received an email that said one of our Porsche Cayman GT4s had sold, which is not unusual because the car is a blast and highly sought-after. I thought the new owner must have had good taste once I noticed one of his trade-ins. It was the R8 GT.
It’s not the first time an R8 GT has appeared on the lot of an RDS Automotive Group dealership, but multiple years have passed since the first one. I was more excited because it would be my first time experiencing the car hands-on; the same car that always popped up first when my friends would ask what car I would want if I won the lottery.
I hadn’t just won the lottery, however, so the fun of the R8 wouldn’t last beyond my returning of the car to the Porsche of The Main Line pre-owned lot. But even if it’s the last time I ever get to drive one, it’s still one of the coolest things I’ll ever do.
Even though the R8 was the car that opened up the car world for me, it’s since been unseated as my favorite car on the market. But with the two cars ahead of it totaling a final cost of well over $20 million, the R8 was the only realistic shot at achieving a dream. I don’t mean owning it, as the $145,000 price is not even on the horizon despite being over $50,000 less than its original sticker price. But it gave me a decent shot of getting behind the wheel without too much on the line.
Prior to finally getting to drive the car, I heard all the comments from my less enthusiastic colleagues. Many revolved around the car’s transmission, with the “R-tronic” unit being laggy compared to today’s PDK and SSG boxes from Porsche and McLaren, the two biggest retailers of the RDS Automotive Group. A college friend of mine even drove the R8 GT we had years ago, and said nothing about anything except the transmission. I figured it couldn’t be as bad as they said.
Or at least, I didn’t want it to be. This was finally one of my dream cars, and I wanted the dream to stay perfect.
And of course, it was.
The thing is, you need to learn how to manipulate a single-clutch automatic gearbox. Sure, the GT would be so much cooler with the gated 6-speed manual the standard R8 sometimes features, but the R-tronic unit isn’t far from it. Really.
The lack of a third pedal does disengage you from the overall experience, but really only slightly. With 552 horsepower and the launching ability (of course it was tested) of the quattro system, you can only think so much and most of the ride is simply reactions. Clicking the paddle is really all you have the instinct to do.
That’s where the problem comes in. Most drivers, assuredly, mash on the throttle and upshift (or even leave it in automatic mode!) as acceleration builds beyond preparation. In this fashion, the car will jerk you around like it’s trying to shake you from sleep, but at least the R8 keeps you in a dream. This visceral experience is hated by many, but probably loved by some. But it’s likely the singular reason behind the spite toward the car.
The simple way to combat this is to lift off the accelerator, click into gear and then re-apply the accelerator. These motions nearly mimic the manual experience, and isn’t the what everyone wanted to begin with?
Aside from the transmission, which I found highly enjoyable, the GT is a treat in really every other sense, especially the physical senses. It’s an assault to the ears yet a massage to the eyes, seeing the R8 in morning traffic is a soothing change to the monotony of the commute.
And, as crazy as it sounds, sitting in traffic is where you appreciate the R8 the most. Sure, it eats up back roads like its last meal but that’s a selfish way to enjoy the car. It’s a solo experience shared only by your retelling of it. But seeing the car in traffic out on the street is the highlight of someone’s day.
Maybe just the R8 appearing briefly in their minds is enough to encourage an enthusiasm toward cars, sort of like a real-life commercial.