What is it?
The second-generation of the R8, the car that proved Audi could make a world-class sports car.
The first R8 arrived in 2007 with four-wheel drive, an aluminium structure and a naturally aspirated V8 engine that revved to the heavens. At the time we’d just been assaulted by the excellence of the RS4, the R8 was nonetheless revelatory. A V10 was added later, and that was superb, too.
This second-gen car, then, has a hefty amount to live up to, which might explain why Audi hasn’t opted to change the formula too much.
There’s still an aluminium monocoque, only with carbonfibre-reinforced plastics in key places to increase rigidity by 40% and reduce weight by 15% over the old model. The V10 is back, too, though not the V8. Shame. We always thought that the V8 was the marginally sweeter-handling car. The V10 remains in 5.2-litre form but with more power than before. In its standard guise it receives 532bhp or, as tested here as the V10 Plus, it gets 601bhp. With a top speed of 205mph and a 0-62mph time of 3.2sec, it’s the fastest production Audi yet. Cor.
The V10 still drives through a four-wheel-drive transmission and exclusively through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox (there is no manual option), while the four-wheel drive system itself no longer has a viscous coupling to divert power around, but instead uses a multi-plate clutch that can divert 100% of power to either end.
The observant among you will be aware that those mechanical elements sound remarkably similar to those of the Lamborghini Huracén, and that’s because they are. We’ve been left a touch cold by the blisteringly fast but numb-handling Huracán thus far. Let’s see if the R8 can go one better.
What's it like?
I’ll level with you early: it’s splendid. Really, this is a terrific car.
For one, it’s still as easy to live with as it ever was. Visibility is good for a mid-engined car, and the interior is lovely in the way Audi knows how interiors should be. Ergonomically it’s sound and the all-digital instrument binnacle is crisp and clear, which lets the rest of the dash be clean, too.
There are two seats only, with a small shelf behind that I suspect can take golf clubs if you have to. The engine is in the middle so there’s a small boot at the front. And it rides well enough to push most road lumps out of the way. In fact, it probably rides as well as a Porsche 911 Turbo, and I suspect better than a Mercedes-AMG GT or Aston Martin Vantage.
Right, that’s the obligatory sensible bit out of the way. The V10 engine is a mega piece of kit. On start-up it’s rather antisocial. In fact, it is most of the time, but that’s the rub if you want a car which makes peak torque at 6500rpm and peak power at 8250rpm on the way to an 8500rpm red line. And, you know, I rather like a car that has one of those, especially when it’s naturally aspirated and has a superb throttle response and hard, hollow noise – increasingly so if you put the drive modes (of which, inevitably, there are several) into their grumpiest settings and turn up the exhaust. The seven-speed dual-clutch ’box is as slick as we’ve come to expect them to be, and if you listen carefully there’s a lovely pneumatic-sounding ‘pssht’ on downshifts, a bit like a racing car. Goody.
And it handles. Our route involved some roads in southern Portugal – mostly well surfaced – and the superb Portimao race circuit. I fear the ESP-off button was disabled on the cars we used on track, leaving that safety net in place, but in the most liberated drive mode the R8 still allows a little slip at either end. Enough to tell you that, yes, like a Lamborghini Huracán, there’s a touch of stabilising understeer early in a corner; but also that the R8 has a degree of throttle adjustability and agility that the Huracán can only wish for. Keep the nose planted on turn-in by trailing the brakes into a bend and the Audi is inclined to pivot around its middle, just like the old one did, and drive its way out on the throttle. The brakes – carbon-ceramics discs as standard on the Plus – are superb, too.
What’s not so good? Not a lot. Our test car had dynamic steering – the system that gives you quicker steering at lower speeds than at higher speeds. These systems are getting better, and they work – the R8 is stable on a motorway and feels agile at manoeuvring speeds – but they still don’t supply a natural feel. A 911’s rack is better.
Should I buy one?
You might well. The R8 previously occupied a quiet little niche of its own – above most 911s, below most exotic supercars, even though it had the pace of the faster cars, which it still does, actually. It doesn’t let up.
These days I’d put the Mercedes-AMG into the area the R8 finds itself, while McLaren will drop the 540C and 570S in there as well soon enough. The R8 has to be good, then, and it is. It feels more visceral and alive than the Porsche 911 Turbo, and although it’s less raucous and caricatured than a Mercedes-AMG GT, its handling is the more accomplished. It does all the things the old R8 did superbly well, and tweaks the competence up by about 10-20% in every key area. Audi still knows how to make a great sports car.
Location Faro, Portugal; On sale November; Price £134,500; Engine V10, 5204cc, petrol; Power 601bhp 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; CO2/tax band 287g/km, 37%