The new year always brings with it automotive nirvana: a rash of new vehicles that are quicker, prettier, and more fuel-efficient than the previous year's. For 2010, one standout is the Audi R8 5.2, a raucous V10 that's as fetching to look at as it is agile to drive. At first glance it appears to be a race car: angular, low riding, and with a track-eating 5.2-liter, 525-horsepower engine under a transparent cover in the rear.
The R8's superior handling comes courtesy of a midmounted engine that gives excellent front-rear balance to the car, a delightful attribute that I experienced on a recent ride around a racetrack. All-wheel drive with rear-end bias also contributes to greater traction. But it is the Audi's engine, purposely built with a racing spirit—it's the same powertrain that propels the R8 LMS GT3 race car—that makes this two-seater so quick. And yet the R8 5.2 rides smoothly enough to be an everyday driver. A button takes the suspension from a softer "normal" setting to a firmer "sport" ride. Inside, there's brushed aluminum trim and swank aluminum pedals. A display screen provides information like navigation, audio controls, even a phone book for the Bluetooth system. But it also works as a lap timer, a feature not usually found on commuter cars.
The R8 5.2 is more car than anyone would need, but driving one is fuel for the soul. Best of all, this racer requires no special license.