Scroll back to 20 years ago and the concept of a supercar coming from anywhere other than a niche manufacturer from Italy or maybe the UK was ridiculous. Audi clearly had different ideas, and we’ve been out driving the new generation of its R8 to see how it has done second time around.
It’s the second generation Audi R8, now fitted as standard with the 5.2-liter V10 FSI engine and a seven speed, automatic gearbox. This version is the lighter, more powerful ‘Plus’ model.
Well, the standard Audi R8 is just so slow, isn’t it? 532hp, 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds, a top speed of only 199mph. Just dreadful.
So Audi’s turned the wick up on the V10 and given it 70hp more. Not only that, the R8 Plus goes on a little diet. It’s 90lb lighter than the regular car, and there’s a few go-faster bits and bobs too.
Typical supercar road manners then?
Not so much, no. By and large, the R8 is utterly undramatic when you don’t have your right foot buried in the carpet. Sure, it’s wide and low, so you’ll be holding your breath a little in width restrictions and plan your journey to avoid speed humps, but otherwise it’s as civilized as a big TT.
The 19-inch standard wheels tread that fine line between looks and ride quality. On horrible asphalt, the R8 will grumble quite a bit but it’s generally more forgiving than you’d expect. The wheels also mean that the R8 retains some semblance of low speed maneuverability. The turning circle between curbs is just under 37 feet, and while there’s a little crabbing at full lock it’s relatively easy to live with. It’s even quiet at cruise – we picked up 73dB on a gentle hillside amble.
Nor is there the sense of pent up anger you’ll sometimes get with a supercar. Simply stick it into drive to let the auto ‘box do its work and you could, noise aside, be driving just about anything. The car doesn’t complain about doing 30mph and it doesn’t egg you on to more. As one of the last surviving naturally aspirated supercars, we’d have to point at the lack of turbos for that – similar cars ache to be on boost all the time and whine when they aren’t. Where the others are like walking a highly strung dog on a lead, constantly straining to go faster, the R8 is a retriever that trots along with you.
And, like the labrador, when you let the R8 out to play it too transforms in an instant. The V10 is spectacular, with a distinctive soundtrack that never gets dull. The four-wheel drive system marshals every single droplet of torque into acceleration. Bury the throttle and the power hits so hard that it drives the air out of your lungs. Stamp on the brakes – carbon-ceramic as standard on the Plus – and your lunch may rise to meet it.
Attack a bend and you may expect understeer – performance, four-wheel drive Audis have been known to push on a bit – but the R8 is surprisingly neutral. If anything it’s more prone to a little oversteer, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get it wrong enough to find out for yourself, at least on dry, public roads. Otherwise the R8 just grips all day long.
And the kit?
Normal Audi SOP is decent kit, weird omissions, and expensive options to fill in the blanks. There’s something of a grain of truth to that still, but the Plus version of the R8 is just about the most complete car Audi has ever offered – as well it should be for the thick end of £140,000.
There’s a £15,000 difference between the R8 and the R8 Plus. A good chunk of that is accounted for by the carbon-fiber trinkets – spoiler and splitter, sideblades and bits of decor – along with the hopped-up engine, upgraded suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes. There are some seemingly weird downgrades too. The Plus has a 73 liter (19 gallon US, 16 gallon Imperial) fuel tank, down 10 liters on the standard car – although the larger tank is an option – and it loses the backrest adjust and memory function in the seats. That’s due to Audi swapping the seats for single piece carbon-fiber buckets. The Plus also includes an exhaust flap control system, which makes that V10 even louder.
You’ll find climate control, satellite navigation, LED headlights, Nappa leather throughout, and Audi Virtual Cockpit as standard fit on all R8s. This latter feature gives the instrument binnacle a dynamic display, so instead of the tedious speedo and rev counter you can have the screen filled with the navigation system, pushing the dials out to the sides. No more glancing down and left to see what your next move is.
There are oversights. Our test car wasn’t equipped with cruise control, for example, which is available as a £275 option or as part of a £600 driver assist pack. You might not think this is worth noting, but the UK is peppered with average speed cameras and the R8’s V10 is so sensitive to throttle pressure that even your pulse through the veins in your foot might vary your road speed by 5mph.
If you want to splash out, you could always drop £3,000 on laser headlights. We wouldn’t – the beam only operates under certain circumstances and the light from them is hauntingly unnatural – but it’s certainly something a bit different.
Who’s going to buy this?
Lottery winners and footballers. Lots and lots of footballers. That’s no reflection on the Audi though, it’s just an expensive, noisy and striking piece of metal (and carbon), and that sort of thing is right up their street.
Otherwise this a car for the thoughtful and price-conscious supercar buyer. It’s not really that expensive considering the performance and it has four-wheel drive to save indiscretions – we’re not all racing drivers after all. It uses a naturally aspirated engine too, which makes its official fuel economy – 23mpg (Imperial) – easier to match than its turbocharged brethren.
What else might they buy instead?
Oh, the list is almost endless. The R8’s rivals are anything that’ll get near 200mph and costs less than £200k.
For starters there’s the R8’s twin, the Lamborghini Huracan. Where there’s a Lambo, there’s a Ferrari, so the Ferrari 488 is a rival too. Don’t forget McLaren, with the 570 models. And the Porsche 911. Or the Jaguar F-Type R. Alongside the Jaguar there’s the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. And whenever someone mentions a four-wheel drive supercar, you have to talk about the Nissan GT-R. Since we’re talking Japanese performance cars, there’s the Honda NSX. You get the point.
What’s the result?
Some aren’t sold on the more angular looks of the second R8 opus. There’s a lamented lack of either a V8 option or a manual gearbox. Personal preference aside, it’s a clear improvement and perhaps the best rounded of the cars in the sector.
Fans of ‘driving purity’ might scoff at the auto-only, four-wheel drive layout, but this only enhances the R8’s credentials. Unless you live in the Mojave Desert and never see rain, the Audi’s the supercar you can hop into without having to think twice about whether the weather will remain kind to you.
It’s simple to drive, simple to operate and doesn’t have any daft ergonomic foibles or infotainment system quirks. When it comes to everyday supercars, Audi has it totally nailed down. Besides which, just listen to it and you’ll fall in love.
Audi R8 V10 Plus
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