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.
At 525hp, the 5.2-litre V10 engine produces almost 100 additional horsepower over the V8, though in reality the characteristics of this engine results in a more intense driving experience. It seems the gap between these two models has been amplified. My test car was equipped with the new seven-speed S Tronic transmission; it heightens the scorching pace of the car, and provides near-instant gear changes. Select sport mode and not only does this sharpen the R8’s steering and throttle responses, it opens bypass valves in the car’s exhaust system, providing a glorious soundtrack from the V10 engine midmounted behind the driver and passenger. In the Spider (convertible) model, with the hydraulically operated cloth roof retracted, this aural sensation is further enhanced; the S Tronic comes into its own, providing autoblips of the throttle on the down changes.
The V10 R8’s range of standard equipment has been increased over the first-generation model, with Audi magnetic ride and a Bang Olufsen sound system fitted as standard – although I’d question the need for the latter once you’ve experienced the sound on offer from the V10 masterpiece. The magnetic ride is down to an adaptive damping system that adjusts the responses of the shock absorbers with the simple press of a button on the centre console. This system proved its merit across rough, uneven roads, keeping everything comfortable inside the cabin; it also improved the car’s handling in the wet, offering a softer suspension setup. It’s this key feature, combined with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive, that helps the R8 to fill the role of a supercar while still managing to transform itself into a comfortable tourer, something few Italian supercars can achieve.
Outstanding R8 Plus
An addition to the R8 family is the R8 Plus, a lighter, tuned, track-focused version of the V10 coupé. The standard 5.2-litre engine has been remapped to increase power to 550hp, while torque also increases to 540Nm, resulting in a 0-100km/h acceleration of just 3.5 seconds. The Plus has been put on a diet: it’s 50kg lighter than the regular V10 coupé, mainly through the use of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic parts, including sideblades, diffuser and engine cover, and also lightweight 19in forged alloy wheels and bucket sports seats.
I drove the R8 Plus around the Missano race circuit, in Rimini. The benefit of the additional horsepower and weight reduction is noticeable when driven back to back with the regular V10. With a rear-biased power delivery, the R8 drives like a rear-wheel-drive car and will deliver oversteer in abundance if provoked. The carbon-ceramic brakes offer tear-jerking, late-braking capability. They are beneficial for track driving; however, on the road I prefer the new wave steel brakes, which offer more feel through the brake pedal. The R8 plus has its own bespoke suspension setup, tuned in favour of track driving. On the road this stiff suspension results in the car becoming twitchy at speed on anything less than billiard-table-smooth surfaces, while the comfort is compromised on longer journeys.
The R8 Plus is technically outstanding and therefore capable of competing with the Porsche 911 Turbo S and Lamborghini Gallardo, the latter of which has the same V10 engine as the R8. Its track-orientated setup will benefit drivers who regularly drive on track days. Personally, I prefer the regular V10 coupé, with its more user-friendly setup. The V8 and V10 R8s manage to combine supercar looks with performance to match, from which the average driver can extract maximum pleasure in all conditions. It’s this all-round usability that distinguishes the R8 from its competitors.
Although this new R8 has a slightly reduced price (€11,000 less) compared with that of its predecessor, with an indicative starting price of €165,000 for the V8-powered R8, and an increase of about €16,000 in equipment levels, it will still remain a rare sight on Irish roads. Those wealthy enough to splash out on one, though, won’t be disappointed.
Audi R8: The lowdown
4,163cc V8 petrol putting out 430hp at 7,900rpm and 430Nm at 4,500-6,000rpm with a seven-speed S Tronic transmission; 5,204cc V10 petrol putting out 525hp at 8,000rpm and 530Nm at 6,500rpm with a seven-speed S Tronic transmission; 5,204cc V10 Plus petrol putting out 550hp at 8,000rpm and 540Nm at 6,500rpm with a seven-speed S Tronic transmission.
V8:0-100km/h 4.3 seconds, max speed 300 km/h;
V10:0-100km/h 3.6 seconds, max speed 314 km/h;
V10 Plus:0-100km/h, 3.5 seconds, max speed 317 km/h
V8: 12.4l/100km (22.8mpg); V10: 13.1l/100km (21.6mpg); V10 Plus: 12.9l/100km (21.9mpg)
All models in tax band G (motor tax €2,258)
Our Verdict:A sports car that's still a comfortable tourer. Worth splashing out on. 8/10