As good as the new Audi R8 looks, it’s apparent that Audi didn’t want to make too much of a departure styling-wise from the outgoing R8, which made such a deep impact into the ‘practical supercar’ market in 2007.
That said, each of our fellow reviewers present at the recent launch agreed with GRR that the new R8 is a handsome automobile, despite its close resemblance to the outgoing car. Unlike the first iteration of the R8 though, this car was developed in tandem with the R8 LMS which showed the field the way home at the Nurburgring 24 Hour race mere weeks after being revealed for the first time. As such, much was expected as we took the car out on to the helter-skelter that is the Circuito do Algarve at Portimao.
Our car for the track sessions was the R8 V10 plus (Audi insisting that the p in plus is not a capital letter.) At 602bhp it’s the most powerful production Audi and is a fair bit more powerful than the standard (non-plus?) car’s 533 ponies. Sadly though, it appears that no longer will we be able to sample Audi’s exquisite V8 engine in the R8, which is a shame not only because the car handled best with the eight-potter in it, but also because the V10 – for all it’s riotous cacophony of sound – just isn’t as sweet as V8 is at high rpms.
Climb in and it’s exactly what you’d expect from Audi: everything is beautifully nailed together and all the controls are self-evident in their operation. The flat-bottomed steering wheel with its many functions must be one of the best fitted to any car. It’s lovely: not too small, not too thick, nicely contoured and all the controls are a finger’s length away… As with the TTS we drove recently though, Audi seems determined to remove the passenger from the equation as much as possible by incorporating the information/entertainment screen in the main instrument binnacle ahead of the driver, meaning that if you’re not in the hot seat but want to play with the radio, nav, or any other toys then you’re forced to lean over and try to look either in front of or behind the steering wheel in order to see what you’re doing. Not fun and just a little intrusive as far as the driver is concerned. Also, could we be excused for thinking the interior space just a little …ordinary?
Another area of slight disappointment was the engine’s torque characteristics. Power-wise, all is well; 602bhp at 8250rpm from the V10 plus is a figure to be proud of and allows the car to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (or thereabouts) performance-wise with anything else in its class. However, the majority of the oomph is only available in the upper echelons of the rev range, so if you need some motive force you’re going to have to rev the thing. Great on a race track and doubtless a boon to the LMS GT3 people who’ve made such a positive impact on the competition side of things, but if you’re not planning on spending most of the time in your R8 on a racing circuit, the number you need to focus on is not the peaky 602bhp, but instead the torque figure of 413 lb/ft at 6,500. Compare that to something like the Z06 Corvette which serves up a luscious 650 lb/ft at a laid-back 3,600rpm. Too often we wanted to overtake on the road and lost the opportunity because pulling the left hand paddle just once wasn’t enough to access any meaningful snort.
It’s important to get those two slight misgivings out of the way, because the rest of the car is pretty much sensational. Technical Manager Michael Fissler tells us: ‘We learned how the forces are acting upon the chassis and suspension, then we asked the Competitions people how much of this we could apply to the road car.’
This really showed when we took the car out on to Portimao’s wildly-elevating curves. Despite delivering supercar performance the R8 is playful, fun and reassuring should you prod it past its limits in certain situations. There’s a mild reservation about the variable ratio Dynamic Steering, which felt a tad light and could perhaps have offered more mid-corner feel, but so good is the chassis and body control that over an engaging section of road or track you’re left with the urge to go and do it all again… as many times as possible. Mechanical grip is confidence-inspiring and when the grip levels are breached it’s a very forgiving place to be. Just calm your imputs for a moment and it sorts itself out, ready for another bold charge towards the horizon. The most easy-to-drive supercar there is? Possibly. Probably, even?
The new gearbox bolted on to the high-winding V10 isn’t far off being beyond reproach and is a huge improvement over the outgoing case-of-cogs. Shifts are immediate and the new electro-hydraulic clutch does an imperceptible job of shunting potentially all of the torque to either the front or rear axles. Magnetic variable dampers come in as an option and on the road they’d certainly warrant inclusion on any R8 we’d consider acquiring, although we’d also leave the standard seats in place to make the most of the added comfort they bring.
So the new car is 40 per cent more stiff, 50kg lighter (due to the addition of a carbon fibre transmission tunnel and rear bulkhead), has a fair dollop of extra power over the previous car and won pretty much universal praise from the reviewers who drove it first. The relative lack of real torque and faint question marks over the steering aren’t really enough to put us off considering the new R8 as a sturdy contender in its sector. In fact, the only major factor which might make us think twice is the hotly-anticipated McLaren 570S, which will cost just a bit more than the V10 plus, but which promises to be the most well-rounded and usable McLaren yet. But if you can’t wait several months for the Woking machine and are tempted by the R8, be assured that the latest very fast Audi is borderline superb.