It becomes apparent that a weekend in an Audi R8 with the new 525-hp V-10 will be like no other when I drive past a banquet hall in the tony Detroit suburb of Birmingham and a valet dashes off the curb into traffic to shoot pictures of this red rocket.

The rest of the weekend goes the same way.

A grandmother stopped at a traffic light asks excitedly about the car, then exudes, “It’s beautiful!”

A businessman in a BMW 745i sharing the northbound lanes of Woodward Avenue with the R8 can’t take his eyes off it. A slack-jawed man and woman – in a Porsche Boxster, no less – stop in the middle of the street to inquire about the car.

People react to the R8 as if it were John Lennon’s paisley Rolls Royce, only way, way cooler.

Auto makers wish every vehicle they produce could generate such excitement.

Of course, they can’t, because acclaim of this nature must be disbursed in small doses, like the atomized fuel sprayed under 1,740 psi (120 bar) directly into each of this Herculean 5.2L engine’s 10 cylinders.

All of the admirers are consumed by what they see – from the flowing LED headlamps to the illuminated see-through engine bay. But none actually ride in the car.

If they had, the debt crisis could start all over again, as people who can’t afford this $164,000 dream might work any deal imaginable for a chance at ownership.

Audi launched the R8 in 2007 and sold 241 units in the U.S. the first year and 900 in 2008, according to Ward’s data. The V-10 arrived in Europe this past spring and in the U.S. in July.

Despite an awful economy that has punished sales of every Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Lexus (except RX 350), Cadillac, Acura and Infiniti nameplate, deliveries of the R8 are up 4.8% this year, compared with the first nine months of 2008.

As expected, the V-10 is driving the bulk of R8 sales this year, although Audi expects long-term for the mix to stabilize with the V-8.

The hand-assembled, water-cooled, naturally aspirated V-10 was developed in partnership with Audi’s quattro GmbH high-performance division, so it’s infused with the auto maker’s racing heritage.

The V-10 is the same powerplant found in the R8 LMS GT3 racecar. Dry-sump lubrication keeps all the moving parts well oiled, even at the maximum lateral acceleration of 1.2 g.

With 391 lb.-ft. (530 Nm) of torque, the R8 V-10 can high-step its way to 60 mph (96 km/h) in just 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 196 mph (316 km/h).

’09 Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro
Vehicle type Mid-engine, all-wheel-drive, 2-passenger coupe
Engine DOHC 5.2L V-10 with aluminum-alloy block/heads
Power (SAE net) 525 hp @ 8,000 rpm
Torque 391 lb.-ft. (530 Nm) @ 6,500 rpm
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Bore x stroke (mm): 4.5 x 92.8
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase 104 ins. (265cm)
Overall length 175 ins. (443 cm)
Overall width 76. ins. (193 cm)
Overall height 49 ins. (125 cm)
Curb weight 3,715 lbs. (1,685 kg)
Base price $146,000
Fuel economy 12/20 city/hwy (19.5-11.7 L/100 km)
Competition Aston Martin DB9, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Turbo
Pros Cons
Trade your Ferrari Dreams ain’t cheap
Easy to drive, love Little storage underhood
Heavenly exhaust chorus $3,000 gas-guzzler tax

Direct injection minimizes knock and enables a high compression ratio (12.5:1) that contributes to reasonable fuel economy, considering the staggering thrust delivered.

And the engine is amazingly stable. To prove the point, a friend balances a glass of water on the cylinder head at moderate throttle. Barely a ripple.

Ward’s editors managed 14.8 mpg (15.8 L/100 km) after a week of daydreaming about autobahn speeds in the R8. That was with the 6-speed manual gearbox, which should achieve 15.8 mpg (14.9 L/100 km), according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.

Also available is an optional 6-speed “R tronic” automatic, and the split between the two transmissions is about 50/50, Audi says.

The gated metal shifter with the manual provides the icing on this German chocolate cake. Each gear change comes with a precise, Teutonic metal-on-metal thud that alarms at first, then quickly becomes part of the fun.

What makes the R8 V-10 such a thrill to drive is the standard quattro permanent all-wheel drive, which works with the locking differential on the rear axle to enhance traction, stability and cornering speed while transmitting power smoothly to the pavement.

Combined with supreme chassis dynamics and a low center of gravity, the powertrain makes for an enjoyable ride in casual driving without feeling like a go-cart.

It inspires non-professional drivers to feel like Michael Schumacher and allows them to bond with the car, rather than feeling intimidated.

Aiding and abetting the ride are hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering and 19-in. 10-spoke alloys wrapped in sticky, high-performance low aspect ratio tires wedged tightly into all four wells.

Words can’t do justice to the sound. This thundering powerplant revs to its 8,700-rpm redline and does so inches from the driver’s ears. Yet all the driver hears is pure music – a harmonic convergence of growling bass and angelic highs.

The V-8 sounds pretty good in the R8. But adding two more singers is like striking up the Hallelujah chorus.

Besides the lack of storage, there is only one negative cited by the Ward’s editorial team: having to drive the R8 at speeds under 120 mph. (193 km/h).

Penny-pinchers will find objectionable items on the sticker, including the $3,000 gas-guzzler tax, $1,300 black alcantara headliner and $3,500 enhanced leather package.

And the car is dripping in carbon fiber, which jacks up the price another $8,400. Carbon fiber lines the engine bay, an option priced at $3,600.

Some things in life are worth a boatload of debt.

Just ask the guy in the white Chevrolet Suburban who pulls up to the R8 in a parking lot, stops abruptly, hangs out his window and screams at the top of his lungs, “THAT’S ONE SWEET F*%#ING CAR!”

Without missing a beat, my gearhead nephew, who dreams of owning the Audi supercar someday, hollers back, “I know! I just bought it!”

tmurphy@wardsauto.com