What is it?
This is the Audi R8 5.2 V10 FSI - baldly, an Audi R8 with a 5.2-litre V10 motor under the engine cover. More specifically it’s the quickest and most expensive production Audi ever, the first capable of a sub-4sec 0-62mph time and a car that was scheduled to carry a six figure price tag until Mr Darling’s VAT cut.
Comparisons between the Audi R8 V10 and the Lamborghini LP560-4 are inevitable, not least because, internally, the engines are identical, right down to their uneven 54 and 90deg firing intervals. But different intakes and exhausts means the Audi is restricted to a mere 517bhp, the better-breathing Lambo manages 552bhp.
Still, in a car weighing just 1635kg (only 60kg more than a V8 R8 despite a considerably higher spec, this still leads to an impressive 316bhp per tonne power to weight ratio for the Audi R8 V10, superior even to that of a 911 Turbo, the car which in terms of price and pitch it probably most closely resembles.
Interestingly, while the Audi R8 V10 has received a great deal of attention in certain areas because of its 100bhp-plus power gain – its springs are 20 per cent stiffer at the front and 22 per cent stiffer at the rear, it has a thicker rear roll bar and a fresh set of suspension bushes – in others it’s barely been touched.
Whether you specify steel or carbon ceramic brakes they’ll be the same that you find on a Audi R8 V8, the tyres are no different and even the body has needed no further stiffening to cope with the performance potential.
The six-speed manual and semi-automatic gearboxes have been left untouched, with just a raised final drive ratio to accommodate a top speed that rises from 187mph to 196mph.
Visually you’ll spot an Audi R8 V10 by its badging, intricate ten-spoke 19in wheels, wider sills, enlarged air intakes and different exhausts while, inside you’ll need to spot the now-standard Nappa leather or the little ‘V10’ badge on the tacho.
The Audi R8 V10 is also the first production car to have wholly LED lighting front and rear. But if this all sounds a bit too forensic, the presence of a fairly enormous V10 under the transparent engine cover is something of a giveaway too.
What’s it like?
Expect the Audi R8 V10 to be to the standard R8 what a 911 Turbo is to a standard 911 and you’re going to be disappointed. While the turbo Porsche is and always has been an entirely different proposition to its normally aspirated sister, a V10 R8 is really rather similar to a V8 R8, just with all measurable performance points re-established on a higher level.
And were the eight-pot Audi R8 less than one of our very favourite cars of any description, this might come as something of a let down. In the event it’s like being given not just the keys to the chocolate factory but the deeds as well.
All the superficially mundane qualities that in fact make the Audi R8 so special – it’s ride and refinement, the functionality of its interior and ease of use – have survived the transition intact.
Perhaps more than any other supercar, when you think of an Audi R8 you think not just how great it is to drive, but how much greater even than that it must be to own and live with day by day. And the V10 shows you can have all of this, complete with truly epic performance not to mention a howling V10 soundtrack and an 8700rpm rev-limit.
No, it’s not quite so unhinged as the Lamborghini LP560 (and for that blame its extra 225kg as much as any power deficit), but the gap is narrower than the £40,000 price gulf between them would suggest.
Best of all Audi has stuck to its decision never to allow more than 35 per cent of available torque be delivered through the front wheels so it effectively feels more rear-wheel drive than ever, while its ultra-long wheelbase and dazzlingly well-controlled suspension with magnetic adaptive damping means its handling is as benign as ever.
Should I buy one?
Many people, some of us included, predicted that the Audi R8 V10 would prove a step too far. The V8 car never felt lacking in performance and had such a delicious feel that it seem inevitable that whatever the V10 brought in extra performance would be more than offset by what it lost in balance and delicacy.
This appears not to be the case, and by pricing the Audi R8 V10 so close to the R8 V8 (once you’ve added the Nappa leather, sat-nav, carbon side panels, LED lights and magnetic ride there’s less than ten grand in it), it has produced an even more desirable and better-value version of one of our favourite cars of the 21st century.
No wonder Audi thinks 70 per cent of R8 sales will now be V10s. There probably hasn’t been a worse time to sink a hundred grand into a supercar, but if there is one out there worthy of such a commitment, it’s hard to think of another more deserving than this.