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Audi ABT R8 review (2009 onwards)
What - ABT R8R
Where - Kempten, Germany
Date - September 2008
Price - £140,000
Available - Now
Key rivals - Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari 430, MTM R8
Summary - A stunning job to create the ultimate every day hypercar.
Likes - Gallardo power with much more character, perfect steering and comfort
Dislikes - Leather engine bay, saddle brown paint. Not much else
Top speeds are a popular topic in the tuning community and it's hardly uncommon to hear about how a hardcore Fiat Punto probably could hang on to a Bugatti Veyron, but it would be close. Talking about top speeds is one thing, though, going out and doing it is something else. And going out and nailing 200mph on the German Autobahn without so much as a warm-up- well that is a rarefied ballpark reserved for the likes of the Abt Sportsline R8R.
Now the R8 is Manna from Heaven for the tuning community and MTM has already created a Lamborghini beater with a similar supercharger conversion. Abt Sportsline, though, built Audi's DTM cars and is already working hard on the upcoming GT3 customer race car on Ingolstadt's behalf. So while there is no such thing as an official supercharged R8, this one is about as close as it gets.For a glimpse through the looking glass into a World where Audi rules with its more powerful R8s, and a reckless run down the derestricted Autobahn in the wake of a tuned RS6 that could go even faster - Kempten is just about the best place in the World.
Thanks to the twin-screw supercharger, which is a relatively simple bolt-on conversion that doesn't require a major engine rebuild, the performance is simply ballistic. Everyone knows the R8 could handle more power, indeed Audi has moved on to that very task itself with the R10 and diesel-powered variants of this same basic chassis. Tuners like Abt simply got there first with its 523bhp variant, which is less than the MTM, but it's a more driveable car for this rare show of restraint and with 406lb/ft of torque it certainly isn't lacking in the trousers department.
Thanks to a suepr sticky set of Dunlop Sport Maxx XL tyres it launches down the road and through the 60mph mark in 3.7s, 124mph in 12.4s and on to 197mph - in theory. But as we hammered down the deserted and derestricted stretch of road, straightening out the long flowing bends by cutting across all three lanes, the speedo distinctly said 325kph. That, in English money, is 200mph, and a sobering thought for the Gallardo drivers out there who might think twice about scoffing at the R8 with the bling next time.As for the looks, the carbon-fibre kit is vastly expensive, but isn't there to increase downforce. No, Abt didn't want to plant the car to the deck and instead focused on feeding air to the engine and brakes, which are standard Audi items and in need of all the help they can get at that speed.
Ride and handling
If the R8 were a sloppy dog then these tuned creations simply wouldn't happen, but the four-wheel drive was the first real driver's car to emerge from Ingolstadt and even gave the previously all-conquering Porsche 911 a bloody nose. But this being an Audi it always had to be comfortable, a cruising, posing car as much as a ragged edge racer. Abt's customers want a more focussed machine that holds the apex that little bit longer and a 3" wider track and traditional springs and adjustable dampers - rather than the MagneRide set-up favoured by Audi and MTM. Sitting 15mm lower than the standard car at the front and 20cm at the rear isn't a lot, but it's enough to give the R8 that touch more aggression on turn in.
Bodyroll wasn't an issue before, now it's noticeable only by its absence as I nervously nudge the car into the bend at a speed I'm not sure it has any right to take. Simultaneously squashing imperfections in the tarmac and holding a tightening radius deep into triple digits is a skill in itself and Abt's motorsport experience shines through in the near perfectly damped car that hasn't resorted to cheap tricks like epic camber or toe-in on the wheels.A car like this must be equally adept on the high street, though, and a softened throttle response and ability to soak up the bumps give it the edge over a Gallardo when it comes to the daily trawl. Is it the near perfect sportscar? Yes, absolutely.
Most of the truly special interior touches actually don't come from Abt at all, they ordered the carbon pack from the factory and it looks absolutely stunning. Abt felt the Audi interior was strong enough and there was no reason to meddle for its own sake. So there's lots of brown leather to match the exterior paint, which looks brown from a distance, but it actually saddle brown. The show car came in black with red carbon-fibre aero add-ons, but production costs sadly ruled that out for the mass market.I can't see many folks opting for the unusual engine bay treatment either. The chromed effect on the supercharger that makes it stand out like a wrestler's six-pack is one thing, but the Nappa leather trim is quite another. Apparently it won't burn, but animal skin engine-cladding is just a bizarre concept and I can't see it taking off.
Economy and safety
Abt has a private goal that it can place its tuning kit on 1 per cent of Europe's R8s, and that's an ambitious target considering the conversion costs a not inconsiderable £30,000+. But then this machine will trample all over the Raging Bull that is the Lamborghini Gallardo, in terms of pure pace, usability and even sex appeal thanks to that extravagant carbon-fibre bodykit, so it's still a bargain.And the car still wears the four rings on the bonnet, which means it's safer than a hard hitting interview with Phillip Schofield. No, wait, it's much safer than that... Four-wheel drive shifts the power to the front and breaks the 30-70 front-rear distribution only when you've asked too much of that monstrously grippy chassis. Then there's ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes) , EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution), ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation), ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), EDL (Electronic Differential Lock) and a whole arsenal of electronic alphabeti spaghetti to keep the car on the straight and narrow.
The MSN Cars verdict
A while ago the MTM R8 Supercharged blew me away with its technical skills, boasting Lamborghini Gallardo-style performance with the every day practicality. But the Abt Sportsline version is even more complete, even more devastating and even better looking. It's a shame the black show car with red carbon-fibre flashes didn't make it through to production, but then this is still a car that leaves the Gallardo in its shadow.
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