Test Drive: Chef Dante de Magistris

September 12, 2011 | Food & Drink News

My very first car was an Audi TT, so I’ve long been a fan of the brand. That TT was very cool when it came out. Ferrari owners would stop me to ask about it. I bought that car with truffle money, back when I was just making cooks’ wages. I sold truffles on the side to afford the down payment.

To me, sporty is luxurious, and no car that I’ve driven recently embodies that better than the Audi R8 Spyder. I drove it from the North End, shooting out of the Tip O’Neill Tunnel going 120 mph, and it performed just as I’d hoped—going from zero to 60 in just under four seconds, about a second faster than my own Audi S4.

I took the car up 128 north to Annisquam, where it hugged the rugged coastline, reminding me of my earliest experiences behind the wheel: learning to drive along the Amalfi coast in Italy with my cousins. Through the crazy curves and learning to drive rally style, with up- and downshifting, they taught me control. The R8 is a lot of power to direct—it’s a supercharged V-10—but it’s built so well that it holds tight at every curve; there’s no tug in the steering, no sway in the tail. The mid-body engine placement (just behind the two seats) helps weight it properly for taking turns with speed. It actually reminds me of the car I convinced my father to buy when I came back from Italy that year: a 1978 Maserati Khamsin, which was big for an Italian car. It had a similar purr and power behind it. The R8 is obviously quicker and better, but there is a familiar feel to driving it.

At a spit of sand, I pulled over to take down the top—I loved the breeze through the retractable back window, but it wasn’t enough. For a small car, the R8 gets a lot of attention. It’s a sexy machine. This one came with a leather interior and a sweet Bang & Olufsen sound system. I loved the steering wheel in this model, too—it’s smaller than in my S4, which felt huge by comparison when I got into my car the next day. I like that you can feel the road in the R8. The PZero Pirelli tires have been known to enhance the performance of amazing cars, and this was no exception—they’re ultra-sticky and designed for extreme cornering.

Despite the power, my favorite thing about the R8 might be listening to the music of the engine, both the roar of it and the bit of gurgle you hear when you slow after a burst of speed. Each gear has a distinct purr. The car was especially responsive in second and third gears, and second gear had the power of a catapult to it.

It’s funny, my dad loved my S4 so much, he went out recently and bought the new 2011 A6, which is such a high-tech step into the future that at first I was a little envious. But after driving the R8, I’m starting to save for the trade-in. Audi Burlington, 62 Cambridge St., Burlington, 866- 314-3827; herbchambers.com

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