When it comes to something as inherently outrageous as the supercar segment, you might think that it would never really need shaking up. But that's not the case – every once in a while, you have to have something that reorders the breed – a goalpost mover like the McLaren F1 or a Bugatti Veyron. Or you need to have challengers to the establishment on other fronts, be it styling or powertrain technology. Sometimes, just the presence of a new marque is enough of a disruptor to put everyone on guard.
And that's what exactly happened with the original R8. Not only did it introduce a new player into the segment, Audi, it did so with iconoclastic styling and a new approach. In a way that only the Acura NSX did before it, the R8 rationalized the supercar. That might not be an inherently sexy concept, but as Hondaproved, it can make for a great car, not to mention good business. Like the NSX, the R8 availed the segment of newfound levels of tractability and refinement in a mid-engined package, with docile around-town manners, surprisingly good visibility and a robust, ergonomic interior to go with its impressive performance. What's more, it did so with all-wheel drive, making it something of a supercar for all seasons.
All of which explains how we ended up caning a suite of 2014 R8 coupes and Spyders up, over, down and through the Tyrolean Alps. In the pitch dark. With nearly a foot of snow on the ground. Usually, you'd never take something as low-slung and powerful as this out in inclement weather, let alone over a mountain range where the slick-surfaced asphalt ribbons like lightly salted linguine. And yet, there we were, in sub-zero temps, savaging hostile climbs and descents at high speeds, snaking our Germans through skiing villages and meandering tunnels. But our Audis seems utterly oblivious to the absurdity of the situation, their high-revving engines rattling snowpack loose from the conifers that lined our route, swank new LED lighting piercing the night's inky cloak.
Audi had thoughtfully fitted our entire alpine expedition with Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D footwear, and combined with the R8's Quattro all-wheel drive, our R8s pulled hard out of the corners like a pack of sled dogs mainlining Red Bull. Only the tightest of switchbacks caused split-second moments of consternation, wherein we could feel Quattro shuffling torque around between our car's four corners. It was a legitimately awe-inspiring performance – and we were "only" in the base V8 coupe with its 430 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque.