Let's for the moment say you are billionaire Warren Buffett, king of the value investors. We all know that nothing is ever going to drag you out of that little Omaha bungalow where you live, but just for the sake of argument, imagine you quite inexplicably decide that owning a fast ride should be on your bucket list.
(I know this is a slightly absurd proposition, but play along, okay?)
Being the value investor of all value investors, you are looking for the lowest-price-to-book-value 500-horsepower super-car. That would be the 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI V-10 ($173,000).
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The truth is, the great economic calamity of 2008/2009 helped to distract you from the temptations of the regular, old R8 ($141,000). On top of that, we all know that 420 horsepower really isn't any big deal any longer - even in an all-aluminum, mid-engine, hand-built, all-wheel-drive gem like the basic R8. Truly, that R8 with eight cylinders is nice. Really, it is. But 400-hp cars dot the automotive landscape like so many commuters on the Don Valley at rush hour. So the original R8 flew by your radar screen.
Now something new has popped up. We're in more of a cautious buying mode now, too. By adding two cylinders (to make a V-10) and 105 hp, Audi has created something entirely novel and arresting: the value investor's dream super-car. This R8 does a sub-four-second 0-100 km run and has a top speed of 316 km/h. Throw in that most important of drag strip figures: the quarter-mile in well under 12 seconds. Plug all that into a spread sheet and voilà - the value investor does a second take.
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For the record, all those numbers come courtesy of a direct-injection engine that is planted, right there, visible for all to see, behind the delicious sports seats. Call it a work of mechanical madness encased in glass, with 24 vents surrounding the engine cover. Even non-gear heads - from Buffett to New York actress Sarah Jessica Parker - surely must appreciate the aesthetics of the thing.
Ah, aesthetics. Numbers may be critical for determining value, but it's judging what the intangibles are worth that separates the Buffetts from the buffoons. In this car, the quattro all-wheel drive system is one of those intangibles.
To help understand its contribution to the value here, we can haul out measures of grip. On a skid pad, the R8 can pull about one G of force. Not enough to call for a pressure suit, but impressive nonetheless. What that number doesn't tell you is the joy that comes with passing cars from impossible angles in the R8, all with near-surgical precision.
And how do you put a number on comfort, other than using one of those weird spider graphs so popular with auto engineers. A seat-of-the-pants reading will convey the huge value in Audi's magnetic ride active dampening system. It gives you the power to fine-tune the aluminum double wishbone suspension.
There is also the art of the thing. The R8 has an elongated body with a 2,640-mm wheelbase that somehow looks utterly in proportion, yet at the same time menacing. This R8 has LED headlamps, both high-beam and low-beam, as well as Audi's LED brow. (For the record, each daytime running light uses 24 LEDs.) Dual oval exhaust pipes finish off the tail.
How, too, do we actually quantify comfort here in the R8. The black leather seats surround you and support you, but they're not straitjackets. The leather dash and silver aluminum trim throughout the cabin are just the sort of understated touches a value investor might want. Warm and fuzzy? No. But Warren Buffett-like, you might say - serious but not grim? Absolutely.
The most telling piece in the cabin is an open-face plate for the six-speed manual transmission. Each gate is exposed, delivering precision and a satisfying "click" with every gear shift.
But not to be ignored is the relative simplicity of the single-wheel switch on the centre console through which you operate Audi's MMI (multi-media interface) control system. While not entirely intuitive, learning the ins and outs of the MMI is not difficult and the fully initiated will never need to ever again look down at the buttons on the console. This matters because the R8 here is loaded: Bluetooth connectivity, back-up camera, Bang & Olufsen 465-watt 12-speaker sound system ...
The cabin itself is just enough for two adults, but not much more, not even a modest purse or briefcase. You will find a small trunk under the hood and there you have room for a small bag. A set of golf clubs fits behind the two seats, as well.
But this is no moving van, though moving is what it does best, all on its own. Audi has conceived and executed an astonishingly racy two-seat coupe listing for a relatively affordable price. You could easily spend another $100,000 and not get such a wondrously fast work of mechanical art like this.
But that brings us back to the inevitable value investor question: Is the V-10 R8 worth the price premium over the V-8 car. Yes, even though the V-10 carries the same-size Pirelli summer tires (235/35R19 front, 295/30R19 rear) as the standard model. It carries the same magnetorheological two-mode adaptive dampers as the last V-8 I tested. And it has the same cross-drilled brake rotors clamped by the same eight-piston front and four-piston rear calipers.
But the extra horsepower and torque, a longer list of standard equipment and the V-10's own exterior trim package - shiny black trim in place of flat-black trim, a splash more chrome, unique wheels, oval exhaust tips in place of the four round tips of the V8 and flared side air intakes - make all the difference in the world. That V-10 is by itself worth every penny. With an 8,000 rpm power peak and an 8,700 rpm redline, this motor is the gift that keeps on giving. The mad rush of power will leave you breathless.
Yet even with all that power, the R-8 is unflappable on the race track, in your daily commute, winding down a country road or bumper-to-bumper in rush hour traffic. As big as it is, it's nimble; as powerful as it is, it's manageable. Composed, refined … Pick a descriptor.
In a nutshell, this is a striking achievement for Audi - striking enough that it might make even penny-pinching value investors count out some cash.
2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI V-10
Type: Super-car (coupe)
Base Price: $173,000; as tested, $175,795 (including freight)
Engine: 5.2-litre V-10, DOHC
Horsepower/torque: 525 hp/390 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 19.1 city/11.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari F430, Porsche 911 GT2Report Typo/Error