Audi Uber Alles at 150 MPH on German Autobahn: Jason H. Harper

Audi R8 GT
The Audi R8 GT. Only 333 of the GT model will be sold worlwide, with 90 headed to the U.S. Photographer: Jason Harper/Bloomberg

I’m going in excess of 100 miles per hour when I glance in my rear-view mirror. A police van is behind me. I step on the accelerator -- yes, accelerator. Yet, it’s still getting closer.

How fast does the ultra-exclusive, $200,150 Audi R8 GT go, anyhow? Quick enough to beat a police van. I send the speedometer needle even further to the right.

I’m still abiding the law, as I’m on a stretch of German autobahn without a speed limit. But apparently the local constabulary thinks I’m not hustling enough as the van passes me.

I’ve just left Munich airport and am heading 350 miles northwest to the town of Nurburg. I’ve got to be there by early evening. I could have flown, but this way I can see the German countryside and experience the rarest of delights: highway driving in a supercar without speed restrictions.

Google Maps tells me it should take just over five hours. Yeah, right.

And what a ride the GT is: the newest and rarest version of Audi’s mid-engine uber-car, the R8. Only 333 of the GT model will be sold worldwide, with 90 headed to the U.S. Each has its number inscribed on the top of the metal gear shift. Mine says 0, as it’s a pre-production car.

As is often the case with making a supercar a bit more super, Audi has used carbon fiber to lighten loads, losing some 180 pounds, and the engine gets an extra 35 horsepower for a total of 560.

The GT looks similar to the $150,000 R8 5.2, but it has an even more savage rear end and aerodynamic changes improving downforce, keeping the car glued to the road at airplane speeds.

Speed Test

Those last modifications most interest me on the autobahn. The only downside is the quick math needed to translate kilometers per hour to mph in my European test car.

It’s outfitted with a racing package, an option unavailable on U.S.-bound models. This includes a racing-red, four-point safety harness rather than regular seatbelts, a roll-cage between the roof and rear window and a fire extinguisher tucked into the passenger footwell.

I wonder if it would be discomfiting to other drivers if I wore a racing helmet to complete the look?

The upright sport seat adjusts little and doesn’t recline. Fortunately it fits my body better than a tailored Hugo Boss suit, with my arms at the perfect angle.

Also lucky that I’m alone, as my backpacks occupy the passenger seat. The 5.2 liter V-10 engine lives behind the driver, so there’s no rear trunk, and the hood’s front storage compartment is small. That’s what FedEx is for -- you can race against your luggage.

Racing Change

The transmission is a six-speed sequential, operated with paddle shifters. You can leave it in automatic, but on a racetrack, manual operation works brilliantly.

I’ll discover later that the lighter GT handles like a master on windy roads, but the width and oversized tires make it an irksome monster when you’re backing up and making U-turns.

Trying to maneuver in tight spaces like an underground parking garage is even worse. At the airport, I only negotiated through the narrow European turnstile after three attempts, reversing each time.

On the autobahn, speed limits are peculiar. You’ll notice a series of permanent signs which slow you to 120 kph, 100 and even 80 as other roads merge. But then you realize you haven’t seen a sign for a while and Mercedes and BMWs are hurtling by on the left. It’s go time.

Autobahn Rage

There’s a lot of traffic, but the left lane clears quickly for the Audi’s distinctive daytime running lights, particularly when I’m approaching at 120 mph. Driving at that velocity for minutes at a time takes discipline, a light hand and trust in other motorists.

At one point a VW Passat gets hung up by a silver Citroen who won’t clear the left lane. The two jostle, the Passat driver becoming agitated. Finally he squeaks by and triggers a long spray of windshield wiper fluid onto the other car. Road rage, autobahn style.

When the Audi’s gas gauge shows half empty, I stop for a dose of super premium. The GT sucks in 37.75 liters, just under 10 gallons, for 61 euros ($87) -- the downside of a naturally aspirated V-10 and the freedom to use it.

Only after completing three-quarters of my trip and shattering Google Maps’ estimates do I get a stretch of road with no traffic. I’ve no intention of going near the claimed top speed of 198.84 mph, but I simply have to flex the R8’s capabilities.

One-hundred-fifty slips by with nary a sigh. Soon my brain can no longer do the conversion to miles from kilometers and I don’t care.

I’m flying in a supercar with nothing to worry about. Not even police vans.

The 2012 Audi R8 GT 5.2 at a Glance

Engine: 5.2 liter V-10 with 560 horsepower and 398 pound-

feet of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed R-tronic sequential transmission

Speed: 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 13 city; 19 highway.

Price as tested: $220,000 (estimated).

Best features: Effortless speed, Audi-style convenience.

Worst feature: Width to maneuver at slow speeds.

Target buyer: Hardcore driver who still wants a few

creature comforts.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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