Sports Car With a Lot of Wows Per Hour
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Ria was ready. She had spent two weeks being chauffeured around metropolitan Manila. That was hell for a car nut passionately in love with driving, a suffering unrelieved by Manila's traffic congestion and made worse by her mode of conveyance -- a moribund Mitsubishi L300 van.
When she returned to the United States, Ria was ready to drive something new, including the big red Nissan Titan crew cab pickup truck that greeted her on her arrival at Dulles International Airport.
The truck was a necessary ruse. This column's subject, the 2008 Audi R8 sports coupe, was parked in my driveway in Northern Virginia. You can't load two week's worth of overseas vacation luggage into a sports coupe, especially not in one with an itty-bitty (3.5 cubic feet) cargo bay in its nose.
We deposited Ria's luggage at her house and returned to my place to pick up the all-wheel-drive, 420-horsepower R8 coupe -- Audi's bid to grab sales from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche in the exotic-car wars still raging around the pockets of the super-rich.
"Ms. Manglapus, I presume?" At least, that is what the R8 seemed to be asking.
Ria, my associate in vehicle evaluations, stared at the silver, long-nosed coupe. It stared back at her. From her mouth came a crescendo of "wows," as in: "Wow! Wow!! Wow!!!" And in a fourth "Wow!!!!" she was gone.
Later, there were reports of men following a Filipina in a German super car, of men flirting with her in Virginia parking lots, of men smiling and waving at her at stoplights all over the Washington area. According to a reliable source, one man had the temerity to make Ria an offer she sensibly refused: "Can I take you to lunch for a drive around the block?"
Her motorized celebrity continued for several days, moments of which were captured with a digital camera by Ria's sister and brother-in-law, Emma and Pete Siapno. The photos were sent via Internet to the Philippines; from there, as often happens in such matters, they eventually made their way around the world.
Ria was thrilled by all of this. But her joy was nothing compared with that of Allan Vergel de Dios, a 15-year-old friend of her two sons, who were still in Manila during the R8 drive. For months, Allan's car fantasies had been reflected in a R8 poster hanging on his bedroom wall. He was so excited by the prospect of getting a ride in the real thing, he, well . . . Imagine a pubescent male on a date with Christina Aguilera.
What is it with men and exotic cars, anyway?
My next-door neighbor, Sartaj Alag, a management consultant who normally is quiet and reserved, behaved as if I was handing him the keys to Donald Trump's empire when I gave him the keys to the R8. He quickly scooped up his teenage stepson, Peter Renaldi, a young man normally passionate about skateboards. The two went in hunt of the perfect road and returned a couple of hours later smiling broadly and proffering several handwritten pages of an R8 critique: "Clutch and brake pedals too close. . . . Easy to drive. . . . Good at hugging the road. . . . Very good ride for a car with such a tight suspension. . . . Gearshift has very natural feel. . . . Very easy to speed."
Ria agreed with most of those assessments, especially the bits about the ease of using the R8's smartly beveled and gated six-speed manual gearbox. I agreed that it was frightfully easy to slip into illegal speeds in the car. But, for me, the most interesting reaction came from my wife, Mary Anne, who usually is nonplussed by what she once called "selfish, two-seat, expensive, hard-riding, uncomfortable sports cars with manual transmissions and no cargo space."
I took Mary Anne with me for a spirited run into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. From her mouth came a crescendo of "wows" as in: "Wow! Wow!! Wow!!! Wow!!!!" And there followed: "Oh! Warren! Wow! I really like this car! Wow!!"
From that moment, the R8's big price tag meant nothing to me. Its egregious thirst for premium unleaded gasoline mattered not. Its excessive horsepower and speed, its overall blatant impracticality did not matter. I experienced an epiphany. I understood why men love exotic automobiles. It has little to do with power and speed. It has everything to do with the anticipation, expectation and perception of performance.
It's the "wows" that such cars elicit from women, the deliciously seductive enthusiasm of those expressions. We men kill for that sort of thing. We lust in our hearts for it. We lie and cheat for it. In retrospect, it's much easier and more enjoyable to get it from the likes of the R8 coupe.
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