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Audi R8 GT. (Audi)
Audi R8 GT. (Audi)

First Drive: Audi R8 GT

Audi R8 GT will set your heart racing Add to ...

The world may not need a faster, lighter and more powerful Audi R8, but the world does not need another stunning photograph by Vancouver conceptual artist Ian Wallace, either.

We'd like more from Wallace, though, just like we welcome the latest addition from Audi's own internal skunk works, Quattro Gmbh - the Audi R8 GT. Stephan Reil, head of development at Audi's high-performance division, argues the demand for ever-racier R8s is real and, being an engineer, he's happy to spin out super-cars like the R8 GT.

"More and more customers are demanding high-performance sports cars suitable for track days and club competition events," he says. "We want to bring some of the Audi R8 LMS race car's technical features to the road."

Inside the Audi R8 GT.

A race car. That's what the GT is. A street-legal race car, right down to its moulded fibreglass tub seats, the four-point harnesses for driver and passenger, and the 560-horsepower, 5.2-litre V-10 just behind your ear.

This car is fast: 0-100 km/h in under 3.5 seconds. That's neck-snapping stuff. The car is lighter than the modestly powerful (525-hp) R8 5.2 FSI by 100 kg, too.

Exclusive? Of course. Audi will build just 333 GTs, of which a couple of dozen will make their way to Canada next year. And, yes, it's expensive. Expect to pay at least $50,000 more than the R8 V-10's base price of $173,000, though Audi Canada types insist they want the car to tag at less than $200,000.

Even in the low-$200,000s, the GT is full value for the money. With a little smart Quattro engineering and some savvy marketing plans to stir the pot of demand, Audi has added a fourth R8 to top the range and squeeze out yet more R8 "halo" effect to cover the full Audi lineup. Believe me, there are some very smart people working at Audi right now.

The engineers among them figured out that a few changes to the V-10's engine software would just nicely boost output to 560 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, up from 525 and 391, respectively.

To save development money for a limited range, the Quattro boys have made the R-tronic automated manual standard; no regular manual gearbox is, or will be, available.

But this GT is not really about horsepower and to dwell too long on that topic is to miss the point. Quattro Gmbh really wanted to create the most nimble R8 imaginable, within the budget.

So out went the 5.2's magnetorheological shocks and in came conventional coil-overs. Then they dialled in more negative camber at both the front and rear and voilà - crazy grip and quick, lighting-quick responses.

Finally, the R8 went on a weight-loss program, not that there was much fat to begin with. Reil's gang put in a thinner windshield, a plastic-like engine-compartment bulkhead and a polycarbonate rear window. Weight savings: nine kilograms.

A carbon-fibre engine cover trimmed another 6.6 kg over the stock aluminum piece. Audi also stripped out sound-deadening material, trimmed weight from the braking system and battery and shaved a full 31.5 kg by installing those tubs for sitting.

The GT also has its own forged aluminum wheels, a fixed rear carbon-fibre spoiler, a double-lipped front air dam and a rear diffuser. The gauges inside are white with red GT logos, the trim bits are made of carbon-fibre and aluminum trim parts and grippy, durable Alcantara fabric covers the steering wheel and dresses up the cockpit in all sorts of places - headliner, pillars, parking brake handle.

The R8 GT is not an everyday super-car. Its ride is stiffer, harder, more serious than the regular V-10 and the engine is louder, angrier, too. Not as piercing as the similar engine is Lamborghini's Gallardo Supperleggera, but at high rpm it is very raucous.

Top speed is limited to 320 km/h, but that's not nearly so important as the miraculous responses the Quattro Gmbh people have managed to dial into this R8. Small steering, throttle and brake inputs produce instant reactions. Turn into a corner at a fast rate and the grip, the precision of the engineering, becomes obvious and it's settling, too.

Remember, even though this is a four-wheel Quattro car, 85 per cent of the power goes to the rear wheels. So it behaves like a benign, rear-drive, hugely powerful bit of magic. That is, there is a forgiving nature dialled into the whole racy package. We have here the car for those weekend track days with the enthusiastic but not necessarily over-skilled boy racers.

Just 333 for the world? Seems miserly. But that's the marketing department having its say. Demand will far outstrip supply, which means more buzz, more word-of-mouth, more angst among the wealthy cognoscenti.

They're pretty sharp, these Audi people.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2011/2012 Audi R8 GT

Type: Lightweight super-car (coupe)

Price: $225,000 (estimated, with mid-2011 on-sale date)

Engine: 5.2-litre V-10

Horsepower/torque: 560 hp/398 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): NA.

Alternatives: Ferrari 458 Italia, Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Mercedes SLS AMG, Porsche GT2 RS

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