Few things are better than the visceral enjoyment of driving a supercar.
Ask any car enthusiast which driver’s seat they prefer and the answer, almost invariably, will be one that sits low, with a big, thunderous engine out back and a six-figure price tag.
As true as that might be, it’s almost cliché to say that supercars are the stuff of dreams. Certainly they are for most people. For others – including journalists like myself who get to drive these things from time to time – they are less of a dream and more of a study in harsh realities.
Outside of a racetrack or some flawless stretch of pavement underneath an impeccable sky, supercars are otherwise useless. Some of them are works of art, to be sure, but once removed from their natural habitats and employed as daily drivers, they are basically loud, over-engineered land missiles that cost more than four times the average annual US household income.
Own one of these cars in a city like San Francisco and you’re in for a stressful experience. And if you’re like most city dwellers who don’t have a personal garage, you can add paranoia and lack of sleep to the mix.
Audi loaned me a new Audi R8 V-10 Plus that I would spend a week with in San Francisco. All things considered, this is one of the few supercars that tries to make itself livable as a daily driver.
There are more than a few areas where the R8 shines. So my experience driving this car in and around the city by the bay, though challenging, had less to do with the car itself and more to do with the general headache caused by city living with this much power beneath my feet.
Allow me to explain:
A day with the R8: excitement, joy, visions of how I’ll look behind the wheel. I eyeballed that parking sign more than once and double-checked the curb before I could comfortably walk away.
When your wheels are 20-inch rolling sculptures like these, you try your best not to let a hostile curb destroy them.
Nothing about the R8 is ordinary. These racing seats are firm and supportive. Off the racetrack, they’re better for short city jaunts instead of long drives. Avoid potholes at all costs. These buckets will not forgive you. Neither will the wheels. Nor the suspension.
The interior features Audi’s industry-leading virtual cockpit — a robust digital display in the instrument cluster. That explains the general lack of buttons on the center stack and abundance of buttons on the steering wheel.
OK, enough about parking and seats and steering wheels. Time to drive. You can tell how wary I am of curbs in this car by how wide this left turn is.
A quick look at this engine: It’s a 5.2-litre V-10 that makes 610 horsepower. Driving the R8 in San Francisco means you’ll get to unleash all of that power precisely never.
Here’s how it sounds.
That V-10 has no trouble announcing itself, but here’s some helpful badging in case this beast — painted in dynamite red — distracted you.
San Francisco is famous for its tight, circuitous roads — not easy to navigate in the long, wide R8. Proceed carefully.
The R8’s minimal distance between its front bumper and the ground is a good reason to keep your eyes open for speed bumps and other road obstacles.
Fortunately for San Francisco, this R8, and my nerves, good roads are never too far away. This blacktop near Stinson Beach is one example.
The R8 was firmly in its element here.
The views, despite the lingering fog, were serene.
Many other vehicles were on the road this particular day, but it’s clear whom the overachiever was …
… overachieving in the twisties and in pictures.
All right, time to head south, where it’s a little sunnier …
… to Sweeney Ridge, a local hiking trail a few miles south of San Francisco, where the sun is warm and the wind whips fiercely through the hills.
Driving is not encouraged here.
But perhaps it was at one time.
You can’t hide this car anywhere.
Enough nature — time to get back to the city.
But first, a few errands are in order.
The R8’s mpg numbers don’t look very good on paper (14 city, 22 highway), but it is surprisingly fuel efficient. Its 22-gallon gas tank will get you roughly 300 miles on a full tank of premium.
After navigating the San Francisco Bay Area’s many enclaves, I’m back to the realities of city living — like stocking up for the week ahead. I could only get two bags in the front trunk.
Back home. Thankfully, street parking is generally good in this neighbourhood, but space is minimal, and the R8 is nearly 15 feet long. As much as I enjoyed the car, I was happy to return the keys.
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