What is it?
When the original R8 was launched back in 2006 it was in the fortunate position of having nothing to live up to. Okay, it had to compete against the all-conquering Porsche 911, but it wasn’t expected to be quite on that level.
This was an Audi after all, and for all its quattro prowess, Ingolstadt usually produced effective but rather blunt instruments. Only there was nothing blunt about the R8; it was as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel.
Fast forward the best part of a decade and now the pressure is on for this all-new R8 to maintain form. Sadly, Audi has canned the V8 and manual gearbox option, saying uptake was too small, so the R8 is now V10 and seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic only. Mind you, it’s already got a racing pedigree: the R8 LMS GT3 version has recently won the Nürburgring 24 Hours race.
That V10 comes in two power modes, both more forceful than before: 533bhp in the standard car, and 602bhp in this V10 Plus version we’re in today. Both are more efficient, too, thanks to dual injection and cylinder-on-demand (COD) technology.
The latter shuts down one bank of the engine under part-load by switching off the injectors and ignition. It then runs as a five-cylinder, swapping between banks of cylinders every 30sec or so to keep the catalytic converters up to working temperature. And all without you ever knowing – hopefully.
They’ve also improved the S tronic ’box to quicken the shift times, and Audi reckons there’s now next to no torque-drop between changes.
The ’box sends its output through two differentials: an electronically controlled multi-plate diff at the front – replacing the old model’s viscous coupling – and a conventional mechanical limited-slip diff at the rear. The system can now shove 100% of the torque to the front or rear depending on need, and is said to reduce turn-in understeer as well.
All these components are bolted to an aluminium space frame that’s 4kg lighter and 40% stiffer than before, mostly thanks to the inclusion of a full carbonfibre-composite rear bulkhead and central tunnel.
Some of the technology from Audi’s Le Mans programme has filtered its way into the R8. Not only do you get standard LED headlights, but you can order laser lights as well, which double the range of the main beams.
Like the TT, there’s a 12.3in Virtual Cockpit that replaces the traditional dials and infotainment screen. It’s highly configurable and puts information about the engine modes, driving data, sat-nav maps, phone and media menus, right in your line of sight.
What’s it like?
The R8’s F1-style steering wheel is festooned with buttons for setting up the various driving modes and torque maps, but thumb the most obvious one – the big red starter button – and one of the all-time great engines fires into life.
It may be heavier than a V8, but boy does the glorious cacophony of sound this V10 produces compensate for that – especially as the software momentarily holds the revs at 2500rpm on start-up, before letting out a crackle and allowing things to settle down to a mildly raucous idle.
Before you do anything else, you must press the sports exhaust button if you want maximum aural pleasure. It opens up all four tailpipes and, with no synthesised accompaniment, lets out pure, honest, exhaust noise. It’s truly wonderful.
From a standing start and on sodden roads French roads, the traction is phenomenal. With no turbos to wait for, the engine pulls instantly, but its intensity builds all the way through the rev range, its note deepening while simultaneously rising, as only V10s do. At some point you become aware of a flash of red on the dash telling you you’re about to hit the 8700rpm limiter, so it’s time to change up.
Pull the right-hand paddle and the engine’s pitch changes in a millisecond, but there’s no let-up in the sensation of being pinned back in your seat. Keep going and you’ll arrive at the next corner carrying a silly speed, but lean hard on the brake pedal and straight away you’re reassured by the awesome feel and massive deceleration from the huge carbon-ceramic discs.
The adaptive rack fitted to this car is super quick and takes a few corners to get used to, but when you do it’s beautifully weighted and precise. Everyone knocks these set-ups, but this one is pretty well sorted, even if it’s not quite as telegraphic and fizzing as a 911’s or the new McLaren 570S’s.
It’s continually telling you how much purchase the front tyres have, and then, just at the point they’re about to scrub across the asphalt, it feeds you the information you need. No drama, no surprises, just the way it should be in a 600bhp car.
This R8 has the optional adaptive dampers, too, which do a marvellous job of remaining supple over mid-corner bumps so as not to upset the car, while also keeping the lean angles amazingly low.
As you turn into a bend the R8 will understeer, but as you roll off the throttle and feel the weight shift forwards, the front bites again. Be less smooth, with too much entry speed plus a sharper lift, and you’ll need to be quick to catch the slide.
The same is true on corner exit if you’re clumsy on the power; although the throttle is so smooth and progressive you’ll have only yourself to blame for the ensuing drama. Yep, the R8 is still playful, but it lets you decide how much fun you wish to have.
It doesn’t just do the ten-tenths fast stuff, either. Dial the modes back to Comfort and the R8 obliges. The ride, at least on 19in rims, is superb, and with the gearbox in auto it slurs up and down the ratios with an easy style. If you need everyday usability from your supercar, there are not many better options than this.
It’s not hugely practical, but then neither is a Porsche 911 Turbo S. The boot is about the same size as that of the Porsche, and although you don’t have any rear seats for added storage, there is a decent-sized shelf behind the seats that might, at a push, take a set of golf clubs.
The interior design manages a blend of style and ergonomics that the old car couldn’t muster, and of course, this being an Audi, it’s exquisitely finished. If you want to make it even more special, you can choose from a vast array of personalisation options – although looking at some of the prices, you’ll make a sizable dent in your bonus with just a few careless ticks on the order form.
Should I buy one?
Put simply, it’s faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo S, and the new McLaren 570S for that matter, so it’ll easily win in a game of Top Trumps. And it’s cheaper, too, by around £10k, so it’ll win your accountant’s heart at the same time.
But as I suspect the latter of these points won’t have much relevance to those of you looking to buy your next supercar, let’s concentrate on what else is good about the R8. Well, pretty much everything as it happens. So yes, go and buy one this instant.
Audi R8 V10 Plus
Price £134,500; Engine V10, 5204cc, petrol; Power 602bhp at 8250rpm; Torque 413lb ft at 6500rpm; Gearbox seven-speed dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1630kg; Top speed 205mph; 0-62mph 3.2sec; Economy 23.0mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 287g/km, 37%
What is it?