What is it?
Another new ultimate Audi R8 super sports car: the V10-plus coupé. Strictly speaking, this car slots in between the 518bhp regular V10 and the 552bhp V10 GT coupé – although with the latter’s limited production run now finished, this effectively becomes the flagship R8.
Its 542bhp bears favourable comparison with most of the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Bentley Continental GT and Aston DB9, all close rivals on price. However, the R8’s spaceframe construction and mid-engined layout remain even more distinguishing selling points for it.
Audi has enhanced the standard V10’s specification by providing standard carbon-ceramic brakes, revised front-suspension geometry, uprated springs and firmer passive dampers as standard for the ‘plus’ version. The ceramic brake discs save 4kg in unsprung mass per corner, all on their own.
Various carbonfibre-reinforced plastic parts have substituted heavier ones all over the car, and lightweight bucket seats fitted, to bring the kerbweight of a manual ‘plus’ coupé in at just 1570kg – only 10kg heavier than an equivalent V8.
What is it like?
Our test car was fitted with the most significant mechanical update for the whole 2012 R8 range – the new twin-clutch seven-speed automatic gearbox, which replaces the six-speed robotised manual that was shared with the R8’s Lamborghini Gallardo sister car.
Most V10 plus owners should go for it for three reasons: firstly, because it adds a launch control function that brings the car’s 0-62mph sprint down to just 3.5sec, making it one of the quickest cars in the class.
Secondly, because it means you don’t have to put up with the god-awful clackety metal gearchange gate of the manual R8 – annoying enough in itself to make you reach for the crowbar and attempt an aftermarket modification all of your own. And thirdly, because it’s a much smoother and quicker-shifting unit than the semi-auto it replaces, handling the stop-and-start challenges of everyday traffic much more consummately, and swapping cogs in manual mode with little noticeable delay.
The suspension changes do little to change the R8’s excellent ride and handling, which is also good news. There are times, over uneven surfaces, you’ll miss the softer mode on the standard V10’s magnetorhelogical dampers. Larger lumps and bumps aren’t dealt with as fluently as they would be buy a less aggressively controlled version of the car. But if you’re a track regular you’ll consider the trade well worth it, given the added incisiveness of the ‘plus’ coupé’s steering and the improved body control.
The R8’s extreme handling balance is largely unaltered by the suspension changes, with gentle and reassuring understeer presenting as you approach the limit of grip, which can be transformed into a fast but neutral cornering line, or a superbly controllable tailslide, either with a flick of your wrists, a well-timed dab of the brakes, or a generous helping of power.
Like all other versions of the car, this is the kind of mid-engined machine that you wouldn’t have believed could ever be made 25 years ago: it forgives and flatters the novice readily, and then spectacularly rewards you as your confidence and familiarity grows. It’s the perfect introductory route into proper supercar ownership in that respect: one of those cars you should own before you take the plunge with a Ferrari or Lambo.
Should I buy one?
If you want the best-handling R8, we’d still recommend you save £30k and buy a V8, the cheaper car having the edge on high-speed braking stability and possessing the marginally more benign cornering responses. But that said, the difference is only just perceptible, and rarely makes the V10 tricky to handle.
Meanwhile, the full-blooded speed and sharper focus of the V10 plus certainly add up to something very special indeed.
Audi R8 V10 plus S-tronic
Price £127,575; 0-62mph 3.5sec; Top speed 197mph; Economy 21.9mpg; CO2 299g/km; Kerbweight 1595kg; Engine V10, 5204cc, normally aspirated; Power 542bhp at 8000rpm; Torque 398lb ft at 6500rpm; Gearbox 7-spd twin clutch