Rated R8: Audi supercar has power to overtake Italians
FIRST DRIVE:Audi’s decision to launch its new R8 in Rimini, a short distance south of Lamborghini’s and Ducati’s Italian headquarters, is more than coincidence: both brands are now under Audi’s ownership – or rather, under the umbrella of its ever-growing parental behemoth, the VW Group.
As it strives to become the biggest carmaker on the planet, VW has been snapping up some iconic names along the way, and Italy has offered rich pickings.
There is also a little Irish connection in this motoring mix, with the Aussie-born former boss of Audi Ireland, Fintan Knight, now heading Lamborghini’s global marketing. A nice job if you can get it, and perhaps a little more exotic than reorganising the Audi network on this little island.
For all the connections and close relationships between the brands, however, Audi is eager to underline that the R8 has been designed and developed solely by Audi.
The R8 has received a midlife facelift, along with the introduction of a new, more focused model, the R8 Plus. You could be forgiven for not noticing the subtle exterior design changes if one passed you in the street.
A focal point of the R8’s revamp is the introduction of new LED headlights, now standard across the range. The rear lights feature a band of 30 LEDs that light in the direction of the signal; they’re a unique feature, but once lighting manufacturers start to re-create them they may lose their appeal. The R8’s interior remains true to its predecessor, continuing to offer a premium feel, with a comprehensive choice of personalisation available.
The most significant development in Audi’s range-topping sports car is the introduction of S Tronic transmission, a welcome addition available on all three models. This twin-clutch, seven-speed automatic transmission replaces the six-speed R Tronic robotised manual gearbox that somewhat took the edge off the driving experience of the original R8.
The 4.2-litre V8 R8 remains the entry-level model; it has sufficient power (430hp) to compete with the 400hp Porsche Carrera 4S. On damp, leaf-strewn roads, the R8 displays impeccable road manners, instilling confidence in the driver. The front-end grip on turn-in is impressive; even when pushed hard into a corner the R8 provides sure-footed grip. The new wave-design disc brakes, which are standard on the V8 and V10 models, perform flawlessly in all road conditions, with a reassuring, progressive feel from the brake pedal.
The V8 R8 has copious amounts of power, but its delivery is far more restrained than its V10 sibling. It’s an accomplished sports car that’s ideally suited for someone’s first foray into sports-car ownership: its sure-footedness won’t throw any surprises at the driver.