Audi R8 in the snow: short or long straw?

That’s what I was wondering when I pulled out of the office car park last night in the Audi R8 V10 we’ve got on loan from Audi. Everyone else had clamoured for keys to the likes of the Honda Insight, Toyota iQ and Kia Soul – reasonably small and low-powered front-drivers on pretty skinny rubber all. But with its perfect weight distribution and four-wheel drive, the R8 should be alright in the slippery stuff, shouldn’t it?

Course it should.

Truth is, on the most of the main roads around Autocar HQ, a slick-shod Porsche 917 would have got through. For most of the way, my commute home was quicker and easier than it is normally, thanks to the all the shut schools and offices, and to the panicked masses who stayed at home all day. And once I got onto unsalted residential roads, I had no problems either – even on summer rubber.

Snow and ice can be a blessing to a road tester; it teaches you a great deal about the balance and traction a car has, when you’d have to get out onto a track to learn the same lessons otherwise.

True to expectations, the Audi’s perfect directional poise and ESP got it through. With the electronics off, under too much throttle, it would gradually oversteer around a corner or away from a T-junction, but a quick redistribution of power to the front wheels, coupled with a quick correction on the wheel, soon sorted it out. At bumbling speeds, the car would gently slide and yaw around at times, but never felt out of control.

The hairiest moment I had was, like Hilton, leaving a filling station forecourt. Having been on main roads for a while, I stopped for fuel, and then made the mistake of assuming that the station forecourt itself would be as grippy as the road I’d just left. Trying to squirt the R8 out onto the road in front of a steadily closing lorry, I span the R8’s rear wheels up and went nowhere fast. Thankfully, the front wheels found grip within a few seconds.

You only get 30 per cent of the V10’s power at the front wheels, even when the back ones are melting their way through the ice with wheelspin.

Thankfully, 30 per cent was enough to save my bacon.

(Finally, below is a photo from the Autocar car park. Cars have since parked in the spot, but the tyre marks tell the story of what someone got up to after we'd all left.  It wasn't An Autocar staffer that did it, but someone from another magazine based here. Still, it's a nice reminder that snow and cars can mix, in the right conditions...)