That statement may sound sacrilegious to some Audi enthusiasts. The Audi R8’s lack of forced induction makes it one of the last pure vehicles to wear four rings on its face. In face, I’m struggling to think of a current naturally aspirated Audi that isn’t an R8. It’s no secret that turbochargers are taking over the automotive world, though. The ice caps are melting, the ozone is disintegrating and polar bears are turning into regular bears, so something must be done to help slow down our greenhouse gases. Well turbochargers help us do that as well as add power, so they’re here to stay.
However, us enthusiasts don’t like turbochargers much, because they lack the proper throttle response, engine noise and the overall feel of naturally-aspirated engines that we enthusiasts love so much. It’s no secret that if we could choose an N/A engine over a turbocharged engine, we ultimately would. Sorry Johnny Polar Bear, but I’d let you turn brown if it meant I could have sweet V8 engine noise. But turbochargers don’t have to be all bad and in some cases can actually help.
Take the Audi R8 for instance.
Currently, the only Audi R8 model offered has a naturally-aspirated 5.2 liter V10. This engine is an absolute gem. It makes a tremendous noise, it has incredible throttle response and makes fantastic power. It’s the stuff of dreams for a gearhead. There’s but one problem with that Audi R8 — the price.
With a base price of around $170,000, the Audi R8 is far too expensive to be competitive with the Porsche 911. Now, the Audi R8 admittedly competes with the Porsche 911 Turbo S, which does go for around that money, but the R8 is still more expensive and Porsche probably sells one hundred 911 Turbo S’ for every one Audi R8. The Audi R8 is just too expensive for people to choose it over the 911.
However, if Audi were to offer and entry level R8, with say the twin-turbocharged 3.0 liter V6 from the upcoming RS4, that was less powerful, it could compete with the 911. There have also been rumors about Audi using the famous 2.5 liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine with e-turbo technology. Either of these choices would be excellent. Now, I know what you’re thinking, that downsizing and turbocharging would take away from the character of the R8. Admittedly, it would make it sound worse, give it a bit less sharp of throttle response and ultimately make it a bit less exciting. But adding turbos doesn’t take everything away from the car.
Porsche just recently made the switch to turbochargers in the 911 Carrera for the first time in history. Swapping the glorious 3.8 liter flat-six for a twin-turbocharged 3.0 liter flat-six made the Carrera not only more economical, but faster too. And it didn’t lose much by the way for response or noise. In fact, it might be even better to drive than before thanks to the added torque bump turbos give.
If you still don’t believe that turbochargers can be exciting, take a look at the Alfa Romeo 4c. That little Italian pocket rocket has a 1.7 liter twin-turbocharged four-cylinder engine and makes enough power to propel it from 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds and it sounds like the devil’s guitar solo while doing it. It’s a monstrous little thing that doesn’t get more exciting. So there’s still room for an exciting and engaging Audi R8 that has a couple of turbo snails.
But the main idea is to offer an entry-level version of the Audi R8. I recently attended an Audi even at a dealership with some very high profile customers. On display for everyone to gawk at, get in and fiddle with, was a first-gen Audi R8 V10 GT. It was stunning and no one could take their eyes off of it. Yet, despite the fact that most of these people had enough money to own one, no one knew quite what it was. “This was the car Iron Man drove, right?” Or “Is this that R8 thing we see in commercials?”. No one knew exactly what they were looking at or what kind of engine it had simply because it isn’t a very popular car because no one buys it.
The Audi R8 gets crushed by the Porsche 911 each and every year, in sales. Now, Audi is aware of this and doesn’t really care. The idea is that the R8 is more of a small-market niche supercar. However, it could be so much more than that if it didn’t cost as much as the average American suburban home. Literally, a loaded Audi R8 costs more than my condo. That’s sickening to think about.
But if there were a version that cost around $120,000 and had a high-performance twin-turbocharged engine, Porsche 911 customers would have a new competitor that looked better, was mid-engined and was just as fast but handled better. Plus, it would spread the word about the R8 even more, boosting Audi’s brand prestige even further. Right now, Audi doesn’t really have anything to compete with the 911, as the only 911’s that compete with the R8 are crazy expensive. But if there were an entry level R8, customers would get very excited.
Would enthusiasts be mad? Sure, many of them would think that a smaller turbocharged engine would dilute the R8’s greatness. But the new Audi R8 lost the option of a manual transmission, which hurt enthusiasts quite a bit. If Audi were to create an entry-level R8, it could throw a manual gearbox back in and then everyone would be happy.