Outrunning the recession in Audi's R8

 

FIRSTDRIVE AUDI R8 5.2 V10:THERE ARE several reasons why I should feel guilty after driving a new version of Audi’s R8. One is that, like whistling at a funeral, driving a V10 supercar in times of economic crisis just isn’t done. Although just two short years ago we seemed to be lighting our Cuban cigars with €50 notes and changing our car every year so it would match a new pair of trousers, the motor industry and in particular the luxury end of the market seem to be falling victim to the collective sharp intake of breath around the world.

We seem to forget that some of the most celebrated sports and performance cars were created at times when it was wholly inappropriate to do so. It is hard to imagine that post-war Germany was clamouring for a Porsche 356 or that Italy of the late 1970s really called out for a Lamborghini Countach.

But with brands such as Tesla producing fully-electric, emission-free sports cars it is becoming increasingly unfashionable to produce daisy-killing petrol engines. So, therefore, I should feel doubly guilty that I am strapped to the inside of a V10 R8 on Ascari’s circuit near Rhonda in Spain producing as much carbon dioxide as three-and-a-half Toyota iQs, challenging the R8’s Quattro all-wheel drive and ceramic brakes on the rain-soaked surface. I should feel guilty. But I don’t.

Audi’s R8 is, to this writer anyway, one of the most special cars to have been produced in the last five years. And one of the most competent. With most supercars you tend to assume that there will be compromise, and after generations of growing up with flawed performance cars coming from Italy, you know that while the passion will be there, the heartache will soon follow. Audi, with the R8, showed that it could produce a car that would not only cut it dynamically, thanks to Quattro, a throbbing V8 and the same build quality and refinement that you would find in a regular Audi luxury sedan, but one that you could live with every day.

You could buy an R8 and take it to the office every day, then at the weekend belt it around a track. Rumours abounded that a diesel version was in the pipeline, but Audi has instead given the car the kind of addition that we might not have expected in these economic conditions – more power.

The 4.2-litre V8 R8 will set you back €176,860; however the new 5.2-litre V10 R8 will cost you €229,815 or about the same as a three-bedroom house outside of Dublin. With an engine that you will also find in an Audi S8 or indeed a Lamborghini, the V10 has 525bhp without the use of a turbocharger: Just pure muscle. The result is a car that has the potential to reach 100km/h in 3.9 seconds and has a top speed of 316km/h, which is just shy of 200mph in old money. This isn’t just a fast Audi; this is a properly fast supercar in the same league as anything Ferrari and Porsche can offer.

Before we get too bogged down in technological boasting, a second is required to talk about how the R8 looks. Frankly, there isn’t another car on the road that stops me dead in my tracks the way this car does. I want one in the same way I want to win the lottery in order to pay for it – it is pure, unbridled, selfish desire. And that really is what wanting a supercar is all about. But the R8 adds something different. You get into the R8 and even if like me you are tall, you can easily get comfortable. You can also see out of it.

The manual gearbox is easy to use and if you don’t fancy that, there’s an R-Tronic automatic with paddle shifters (although it will set you back a whopping €11,905 extra).

It is as easy to drive in town as an Audi A3, yet when you ask it to, it will calmly and with measured German efficiency, unleash hell.

The V8 R8 was and is a magnificent car, or so I’m told. I’m making my Audi R8 debut with the V10; my colleague in the passenger seat tells me the V8 is refined, very fast and nothing like this V10. Even with the limpet grip of Quattro, gluey tyres and enough driver’s aid to get you off the M50 on an icy day, when you squeeze the CO2 pedal on the R8 it squirms and bellows.

And you better be paying attention. Spain, one would think by the scores of holiday makers on our flight to Malaga, is an oasis of sunshine amid a current world of snow. Not so. Teeming rain left the road surface like glass and with so much power under your foot that makes things just a fraction scary.

The changes to the R8 with the addition of a V10 are few. There are some styling details, some suspension tweaks, new wheels, LED lights at the front and some bigger air intakes.

On a mixture of soaking wet roads and a soaking wet Ascari racing circuit we attempted to get to grips with the V10’s awesome power. At no time, even on the circuit, could we push this car anywhere near its limits, but you got a sense of a vehicle that felt competent and safe yet could bite your head off at a moment’s notice.

This is an R8 for someone really serious about power and performance. With further rumours that Audi might even put a V6 into the R8 eventually to suit those who covet the look of the car more than its outright performance, this version is likely to be left very much to the purists.

The R-Tronic transmission takes a little getting used to, as it is not as smooth as Audi’s double-clutch transmission, so upchanging is best done by slightly letting off the throttle before moving up a gear via the paddle shifters. A Sport mode on the R-Tronic makes these changes faster and the adjustable dampers, where specified, give you the option of a firmer set-up.

It would probably be fair for anyone to say that this €229,815 car is pretty irrelevant in 2009, especially when you consider that over three years it is going to cost you €6,150 to tax. However, it comes in at less than the €235,780 Porsche 911 Turbo and shares almost identical performance figures.

For some, the lure of the 911 would be too much and the Audi, too new and too unproven as a supercar. For me – I’m sold, at least in my six-number winning head. If my numbers come up this Saturday, I’m having one and a Toyota iQ to balance my carbon footprint.

In the real world, if you can afford it, is it worth paying the extra €52,995 for the V10 over the V8? No, it probably isn’t, unless you happen to own Mondello Park, or Esso, or preferably both, but there is and may never be any sense to supercars and for now, at least, that’s the way we like it.

Factfile

Engine: 5204cc V10 putting out 525bhp @8,000rpm and 530Nm torque at 6,500rpm

0-100km/h: 3.9 seconds

Max speed: 316km/h

CO2 emissions: 351g/km

Road-tax band: G/€2,050 per annum

Price: €229,815

Available: Second quarter 2009