Very good. In some places exceptional. But, boy, does it suffer from second album syndrome when faced with familiar roads. The first R8 was a triumph, not least because its brilliance was so unexpected. While it was built (and marketed) in Audi’s image - an AWD, spaceframed Ubermensch among mere monocoques - it felt like a handcrafted, wholly mechanical masterpiece, carved not by the 3D laser printer that Ingolstadt apparently uses to build its saloons, but by measuring, tuning, welding, weighing, trying and tweaking with the fingers and palms of two dozen human hands.
The result was brilliant, a natural-born sports car. Four-wheel-drive and formidable, yet the opposite of the unfeeling item such a concoction ought to have been. Like a wrestler’s handshake, it keyed you into its strength and dexterity immediately - and then gripped your attention no matter where the needle pointed on the speedo. It felt different from any other Audi. It felt like it had a real claim to be one of the best driver’s cars on the planet.
Its replacement, for all its quality, does not. It is extremely fast, hugely composed, wonderful to sit in, brilliant sounding and tremendously direct. But it’s difficult to get under its skin on the road, and surprisingly hard to enjoy it consistently. The reasons for this are plain enough. Blighted with Audi’s optional Dynamic Steering system, the relationship between mitt and contact patch is tangible but not intuitive. Not on the scale to which we’ve become accustomed, at any rate. Its predecessor’s progressive clarity has been replaced with a rack wired for reflex action and a Fijian jink of savage direction change - in other words, the sort of steering predominate elsewhere in Audi’s range.
Our test car was on the magnetic ride dampers, too. These were available on the old car, but it hardly mattered whether you chose them or not, so surreal was the comfort levels that quattro coaxed from the spaceframe’s inherent stiffness. There the suspension hardly seemed to have anything to do; here, it’s clearly working very hard indeed. Its efforts are not without a pay-off - the R8 exudes a hard-bodied, ultra-focused sort of pliancy - but its restriction of bodily motions seems overzealous, with any long-wave release of tension tacked too tightly back down before it even gets started.
Then there are the drive modes. All seven of them, including the four stock Audi menu options (Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Individual) and three additional ‘performance’ ones for the R8 alone. These are toggled from the steering wheel under a new switch and let you choose between Dry, Wet and Snow. Having been fettled by quattro themselves, the final three are clearly worth getting to know (and show the car in its best light), but then why bother with the other four? Especially as Dynamic comes worryingly close to turning the R8 into the kind of intransigent, clumsy, overstimulated prospect that Audi is notorious for too often turning out.