Road Trip: Florida wedding crashing in Audi's R8

It pays to be able to read lips. Otherwise you would have a tough time knowing what bystanders were uttering from the street corners as we passed in a fire engine red and carbon fiber-striped Audi R8. It seems there is a lot of blessed manure or something like that out there as that was the single most uttered phrase we "read" from the lips of those we passed on our way around Jacksonville Beach, Florida.

Spring was upon us, and a restlessness was in the air, so when Audi asked if we wanted to take the R8 for a week's turn, they didn't have to wait too long for an answer. A gleaming example was delivered on Thursday morning; Friday we were off to an undiscovered part of the state (at least for us): Jacksonville. From Leftlane's southeastern bureau in West Palm Beach, a weekend trip north makes a good test for any vehicle. It is also a great measure to see how little one can pack for a three-day weekend - R8s were not built to haul cargo.

Our trip takes us up to Florida Turnpike to Ft. Pierce. A quick hop off at Okeechobee road, and a jump lands us on northbound I-95, up Florid's Treasure Coast. Clearly avoiding the Mouse House quickly becomes one of our objectives, and as a result we find traffic, for the most part, moving at a brisk clip.

Stretching the R8's legs
A two-place sports coupe / supercar inspired by the 2006 Audi LeMans concept car, the R8 is in its third year of production, even if it looks and feels like something from the future. Built on an aluminum-constructed space frame body with a 4.2-liter V8 direct injection (FSI) engine, it is probably the most attention-grabbing vehicle we have spent seat-time in. Add the fact that it puts out 100 horsepower per liter, for a total of 420-horsepower and 317 lb-ft. of torque, it is a technological tour de force that does everything almost perfectly without forcing its occupants to suffer. (Dodge Viper, do you read me?)

With a silhouette that is inspired by the legendary mid-engined Auto Union Type C and D Grand Prix cars of the 1930s, the R8, we would quickly find out, was a spectacle on wheels. The all-wheel-drive quattro system kept our R8 sure-footed all the way, with only the occasional Red Bull and bathroom stop to slow things down. But the drive was not without restrictions.

The R8's mid-engine configuration, while an asset on the road, causes some driveway rethinking when deciding what to take on a two-night weekend jaunt. With a big direct-injection V8 huffing over your shoulders, not to mention the dry-sump oiling system and six-speed manual gearbox (on our tester) taking up valuable rearward room, storage space is at a premium. Ditto for suspension kit up front. When all is said and done, the storage capacity comes to 3.5 cubic feet under the "hood," while about six-inches of storage shelf space is available behind the driver and passenger seats. Audi claims sufficient room behind these seats for a pair of golf bags. Just not the Rodney Dangerfield-sized bag from Caddy Shack. We did manage to get quite a collection of soft-sided luggage in. Not an elegant solution by any stretch, but we did end up taking everything we needed, as you can see from the photos. Just pick your passengers wisely - there's only so much space for makeup bags.

En-route diversions
While the car in no way stresses the driver or passenger, keeping eyes peeled for Florida Highway Patrol cruisers does. With evergreen covering much of the median on I-95 from Melbourne northward, care must be taken to avoid being caught with your hands in the proverbial cookie jar while cruising at low altitudes. A good long-reach radar detector like the Valentine 1 comes in handy to give advance warning when troopers are conducting revenue-enhancing exercises along the interstate. Florida's county mounties are about as vigilant as they come.

Cruising north for 183 miles makes you realize that Florida is not all palm trees and coconuts. The land takes on a decidedly northern look that is refreshing in a sense, even if hills are but a figment of the imagination. Continuing north along I-95, about 40-miles past Melbourne, you'll see signs heralding Florid's space coast history. Take the exit for Highway 528, the Martin Anderson Beachline Expressway, to get right into the thick of things at Cape Canaveral, outside of Cocoa Beach. Just watch out for Jeannies in a bottle.

Continuing north on I-95 takes you past Daytona Beach, home of NASCAR, Speedweeks, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Bikeweek and more. Turn off on the Volusia Blvd Hwy 17-92 exit, and head east.

If your tastes go more toward the two-wheel variety, make Bruce Rossmeyer's Destination Daytona a must-see stop. Decidedly Harley-centric, the Destination houses the world's largest Harley-Davidson dealer as well as a hotel, restaurants and specialty shops that deal in everything from H-D apparel and accessories, to customizing and repairs, a cigar store and a while-you-wait tattoo parlor. We bought a souvenir from the former but skipped the latter. Your tastes experience could vary.

Lunchtime approaches and so does St. Augustine. Settled during the mid-1500s, it became part of the United States, when Spain sold it in 1821. The site of El Castillo de San Marcos is the historic centerpiece of the town, but we will bypass the fortress, renamed Fort Marion, on our way to A1A which runs north/south between the Intracoastal Waterway, on the left, and the Atlantic Ocean on the right (assuming you're cruising north). Heading north, you can't miss Caps Seafood Restaurant on the Coastal side. Fresh fish in a dive-like atmosphere is their specialty. On weekends, classic cars compete with sport and high-performance varieties, not to mention motorcycles, for available real estate in the parking lot. After a leisurely break of vegging under the Spanish moss-covered live oak trees, it's time to fire up the R8's motive powerplant to move northward.

Driving the R8 is like owning a pit bull. In the right situations, it is a perfectly docile, well-behaved vehicle. But step on the loud pedal, and it becomes a serious road machine that can either put more hair on your chest, or have you screaming like a spoiled-rotten brat. Well balanced, its roughly 44-56 weight balance (front/rear) that is extremely neutral for most situations. Understeer creeps in for sharp turns as we saw at Leftlane's official test track, Palm Beach International Raceway. Coming in too hot, and then suddenly lifting sees the tail hang out a bit, even with the benefit of the quattro all-wheel-drive system and an active Electronic Stabilization Program in place. But on the relatively straight roads of Florid's A1A, the R8 was all manners. Even with the spirited driving we engaged in, we still managed an average of 18 mpg.

We arrive at our destination in Jacksonville about an hour and a half later. The Casa Marina Hotel, located on Jacksonville Beach is a classic "old-Florid" location that has been extensively preserved and improved on since it opened in 1924. Designed in a Spanish-Mediterranean style, it features 24 bedrooms and parlor suites decorated to reflect various periods of its history, which date from the days when Jacksonville was a movie-making Mecca (before Hollywood stole all the thunder) to stopping off points that saw the likes of Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Serviced by an exceptionally friendly and capable staff including hotel "ambassador" Sterling Joyce, it is well known as a scene for almost continuous beachfront weddings and a rooftop martini lounge with the best views of sunsets, and the Atlantic Ocean. Located about 45 minutes south of Amelia Island, the Casa Marina is the perfect base-camp for those attending the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance in mid-March. It is also an hour and a half drive from Daytona International Speedway.

Crash course
The weekend we arrived saw three weddings held on consecutive days at the Casa Marina. As we returned from an amazing meal at Jacksonville's Bistro AIX (pronounced Bistro-X), we stopped in the hotel's lobby lounge to check things out. While waiting for our server, we found ourselves next to a lady who appeared to be the sister of the bride - but it turns out she was the mother of the bride. (We know what you are thinking, yes.) After a few minutes of conversation we found ourselves in the midst of a wedding we had not received an invitation to.

With the first wedding crash under our belts, the second shouldn't be as difficult.

With the R8 parked in the front of the hotel, there was a constant stream of gawkers, picture takers and gearheads stopping for a closer look. It was time to return to West Palm so we loaded up the Audi for the four-hour trip home. We didn't want to leave - and apparently someone in the vicinity felt the same way. Otherwise, she probably wouldn't have left the lipstick kiss on the windshield. The mother of the bride? That secret's between her and the R8.

2009 Audi R8 base price, $114,200. As tested, $139,100.
Enhanced leather package, $5,500; Carbon fiber engine compartment trim, $3,600; Carbon fiber interior trim, $2,500; Carbon fiber side blades, $2,300; Premium package, $2,100; Navigation, $2,000; Bang & Olufson audio, $1,800; Black Alcantara headliner, $1,300; Polished alloy wheels, $500; Gas Guzzler tax, $2,100; Destination, $1,200.

Words and photos by Mark Elias

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