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Nouveau riche

Experience and history breeds confidence. We trust those who “know,” those who have been around the block a few times. We’re content in knowing they know their way around and believe their expertise. So, what happens when a newbie shows up claiming to know it all and proves to actually be quite good? Do you let them play with the old experienced farts? Apparently we do.

Analogies aside, I’m talking about the Audi R8.

I had the esteemed pleasure of driving one recently, and not just any R8 but the V10 Plus version. It wasn’t until I stepped back from the beast of a car that I realized, quite suddenly, that in the near-7 years since its launch it has barely changed an ounce. Park a 2014 Audi R8 V10 next to a 2008 Audi R8 V10 and you’d not spot a difference, besides the headlights … which you’d really have to scrutinize to spot.

What am I getting at here? That the Audi R8 is an ugly car in desperate need of a redesign? Hardly. While I do think it’s going to have to step it up and offer up a new look sooner rather than later, what I’m getting at is the fact that it arrived to the game late and still garnered quite a following, despite a hefty price tag and barely any “supercar” history to speak of.

I know, I know; Audi and Le Mans. However, their Audi R8 race car wasn’t introduced until 2000. That wasn’t terribly long ago.

On the flip side: Porsche has been building the 911 for 50 years. Fifty. Years. The Porsche 911 isn’t just a historical masterpiece it’s a lesson in supercar evolution and development. For those 50 years Porsche has perfected the art of a balanced, fun-to-drive, rear-wheel drive apex-killer.

So, if Porsche want to ask me to pay $206,600 for their Turbo S variant, I’ll happily write the cheque (in my wildest, richest dreams, of course). However, when Audi comes along and asks the same price for a vehicle that’s been on the road less than a decade, I can’t help but feel a little hesitation.

It’s not that the Audi R8 is a bad car, and I can’t stress that enough. What makes it able to “play ball” with the big boys (i.e., Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar); the stalwarts who’ve been in the business for decades and truly know the fine art of a sports car?

There’s the whole subject of quality, of course; Audi charges what it does because of the quality of materials used, craftsmanship, technology, etc. Is that really a good enough justification, though? A bare-bones Porsche Cayman (a quarter of the cost of the R8) might actually offer more thrills on and off the track and is just as well-built. And why? Because that’s what Porsche does; builds track-ready street-cars.

Audi is in the business of all-wheel drive luxury vehicles. Not supercars. Again, the R8 is a fabulous car to drive, and I enjoyed every moment behind the wheel, but as ballsy as it is to throw a V10 in the back of a 1,635kg vehicle it’s just as brash to ask the public to pay over $200k for it.

Like the nouveau riche, the Audi R8 is trying to fit into the social club and often ends up sticking out like a sore thumb for a vulgar word or two or an inappropriately used utensil and elbows on table during high tea.

2014 Audi R8 V10 side view
Photo: Lesley Wimbush