Audi Served Three Ways
by Scott Corlett
Infineon Raceway is a blind, hilly, tortuous beast that squats between San Francisco and the Napa Valley, waiting to eat every under-tuned car and over-confident driver that wanders onto its blistering blacktop. So when the good volks at Audi invited Gaywheels.com to Infineon to drive three of its newest über-hotties—the S5 coupe, the RS 4 ragtop, and the outrageous, mid-engine R8—there could be only one possible answer: “Hell ja.”
Audi S5. At Infineon, the vehicles were laid out under a cloudless October sky, and the two-door S5 was the leanest of the three models on display. I reached the front of the line of eagerly waiting journalists, slipped on a crash helmet, and climbed into a S5. First, I was struck by the lux-tech cockpit, with its aluminum and carbon-fiber trim, well-bolstered leather seating, and fighter-craft array of technological goodies. Then, I remembered that I had more important concerns than the decorating—I had a date with the beast. I put down the clutch and hit the start button.
With a car-length between the nose of my S5 and the ass of a lead vehicle piloted by one of Audi’s professional drivers, I rolled out of the pit onto Infineon’s steeply rising, hard-banking Turn 1. By the time that I jigged the shift lever into third gear, my smile was wide, the rubber was squealing, and the S5’s super-crisp handling had already proven that although this runner’s skin is lux, his soul is all performance. And what a sweet soul it is: a 354-hp V-8 engine; a six-speed manual or an optional, six-speed Tiptronic automatic; Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system; and 19-inch tires—all which conspire to take the S5 from zero to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds, according to Audi’s engineers.
Audi RS 4 Cabriolet. With the RS 4 Cabriolet, Audi offers you the chance to hit 155 mph with nothing but SPF 30 between you and the sun. As in the S5, the Cabrio’s interior is flawless. But this two-door is easy on more than just the eyes; despite being a soft top, with the three-layer “Acoustic Hood” up, the Cabrio at highway speeds enjoys interior noise levels similar to those in the sedan, per Audi’s numbers. Yes, for the three hundred lucky (that’s the planned first-year production), the RS 4 Cabriolet is, indeed, a very special and versatile ride.
During my Cabrio run, the lead car pulled away, its driver clearly expecting an RS 4 to handle a bigger ride than an S5. I can’t imagine why—the RS 4 Cabriolet is only packing a 420-hp V-8; a six-speed manual; Quattro AWD; and Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control system, which dampens body roll and pitch. Watching the receding tail, I thought why, all those many years ago, did I stuff quarter after quarter into Pole Position machines if not for this very moment? I throw the tranny down into second, the Cabrio’s exhaust roared its knee-weakening battle cry, and the chase was on. The result? Well … let’s just say that they don’t call ‘em pros for nothing.
Audi R8. The Audi R8 is one seriously gorgeous vehicle—and one seriously mean racer. Sigh. Where to start? How about the 420-hp, mid-mounted V-8, showing its muscle beneath a transparent hood, with white LEDs that ensure nighttime voyeurs miss none of the show? Or maybe the signature “blades” that lay just aft of the two side doors, and that deliver high-pressure air for cooling and aspiration? Still have one eye on that rerun of Noah’s Arc? How about these numbers: 4.4 and 187, as in 4.4 seconds from zero to 60 on the way to a balls-out 187 mph? BIG sigh.
During each run, the Audi drivers peeled off after two laps, leaving you alone for another pair of heart-racing spins. When my lead signaled his split, I downshifted the R8’s six-speed manny, hooked a tight curve, and then opened the throttle to 60% on the ensuing straightaway. I briefly hit fourth gear, which, with Infineon’s short legs and the R8’s 8250 rpm redline, is all a street racer like me would ever need on this track. The wind rushed in the open windows. The R8’s grip was incredible; the S5 and RS 4 now seemed like go-carts. I slid from bolster to bolster, through turn after hilly, blind turn, grinning like a kid. And then all too quickly, as during those Pole Position rides of yore, it was GAME OVER.
So, did anyone succumb to the beast that day at Infineon? Other than the bruised ego of a writer from another publication that shall remain nameless, who managed (with hard effort) to spin out an R8, I’m glad to report that no injuries worse than a touch of sunburn occurred. The R8, as you might have guessed, was everyone’s favorite. So much so, that journalists rode shotgun just to, as a Canadian colleague said, “get as much seat time in the R8 as possible.” No, the true victor that day was neither the track nor even the drivers, it was Audi’s engineers, who—like chefs at a fine restaurant presenting a single main ingredient in three, unique dishes—served up sexy, high performance in three different vehicles: Audi served three ways.
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