Audi and Lexus join the su­per­car race and give the tra­di­tional heavy­weights a nudge, writes

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Front Page -

W hich of th­ese brands is the odd one out: As­ton Martin, Audi, Fer­rari, Lo­tus or Porsche? One an­swer is the As­ton Martin, the only badge that doesn’t build a mid-en­gined sportscar. The other is Audi, which since its stun­ning R8 be­gan ar­riv­ing in Septem­ber has joined an elite hand­ful of mak­ers that of­fer a ve­hi­cle with the pow­er­plant mounted be­hind the cabin – the lay­out of a rac­ing thor­ough­bred.

The mar­que miss­ing from that list is Lam­borgh­ini, a part­ner brand to Audi in the Volk­swa­gen group. Audi has al­ready bor­rowed some Ital­ian ex­per­tise for its large per­for­mance sedans, which use vari­ants of the V10 en­gine used in the Lam­borgh­ini Gal­lardo. Even­tu­ally, one of those V10s will be avail­able in the R8, too. To be­gin with, though, Audi’s fit­ted an en­gine of its own: eight sonorous, high-revving cylin­ders ar­ranged in a V, dis­plac­ing 4.2L and pump­ing out a whop­ping 309kW of power – that’s more than most Porsches.

This is Audi’s first at­tempt at a su­per­car but, in a sense, it has been pre­par­ing to build one for years. It has a motorsport her­itage dat­ing back to Auto Union rac­ers of the 1930s, while its qu­at­tro all-wheel-drive sys­tem started life in rally cars in the 1980s. Audi paved the way for the R8 with epony­mous en­tries in the fa­mous Le Mans 24-hour race, win­ning five times since 2000.

Through a variety of pro­duc­tion mod­els, Audi has also been ac­cru­ing ex­per­tise in con­struct­ing cars on alu­minium skele­tons rather than pressed steel sheets. With the weight sav­ing that of­fers, it’s an ideal method for mak­ing a su­per­car.

And it all comes to­gether in the R8, which gives Audi some­thing the Ger­man lux­ury leviathans, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, don’t have. With some typ­i­cally ap­peal­ing Audi de­tails and hi-tech run­ning gear – in­clud­ing mag­net­i­cally con­trolled sus­pen­sion – it will be a lu­mi­nes­cent lure for the brand as it tries to catch up with the two big­ger fish. Just 15 a day will emerge from the as­sem­bly plant in Ger­many, and the start­ing price of $260,000 pitches the R8 right into Porsche ter­ri­tory.

No one out­side Toy­ota knows what the Lexus LF-A will cost be­cause the com­pany has been keep­ing al­most ev­ery­thing about its su­per­car con­tender a closely guarded se­cret. Two years af­ter it first re­vealed its in­ten­tions with a con­cept at the an­nual in­dus­try cur­tain­raiser in Detroit, it’s still fine-tun­ing the LF-A de­sign. An­other ver­sion was un­veiled at the re­cent Tokyo event.

Lexus is still fine-tun­ing the han­dling and per­for­mance, too, as spy shots on the in­ter­net at­test. Cam­ou­flaged ver­sions of the LF-A have been re­peat­edly caught test­ing at the Nur­bur­gring, Ger­many’s no­to­ri­ously long, fast and dif­fi­cult road cir­cuit, which is used by any maker with sportscar as­pi­ra­tions. The pic­tures led to all sorts of spec­u­la­tion about Toy­ota’s plans for the car, with sug­ges­tions it might em­ploy a hy­brid petrol-elec­tric en­gine mounted be­hind the cabin.

Since then, it’s con­firmed that con­cept ver­sions, at least, are pow­ered by a 5L V10 un­der the bon­net, which can de­velop at least 375kW of power. It’s claimed to have a top speed of 320km/h – faster than the R8.

The LF-A will in­ject some pas­sion into the Lexus brand, some­thing it lacks de­spite be­ing the lead­ing lux­ury maker in the US since 2000. When the LF-A fi­nally ar­rives in 2008 or 2009, Lexus will no longer be the odd one out.

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