✔ Delicious audible note of the Lamborghini V10,
exotic body lines, unparalleled quattro handling. ✖ Interior showing its age.
☀ ☀ ☀
Back in 2005, Audi announced that the name of the successful Audi R8 race car was to be used for a new road car that was to become available in 2007. The R8 road car would be based on the Audi Le Mans quattro concept car. The R8 development program had begun two years earlier and as revealed in spy-shots at that time, production body prototypes began field testing in January 2006.
The road-going Audi R8 was officially launched at the 2006 Paris motor show, with six-time 24-Hour Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx describing the car as “the best handling road car today”.
The Audi R8 is an all-wheel-drive, mid-engined supercar. It shares a platform and numerous mechanical components – including the glorious 5.2-litre V10 engine – with the outgoing Lamborghini Gallardo. Despite its high-performance capabilities, the Audi R8’s driver-friendly nature and comfortable cabin make it suitable as a daily driver.
The Audi R8 is no ordinary Audi. It’s built on a small production line in a specially constructed section of the Audi plant in Neckarsulm, 40 miles north of Stuttgart, Germany. The entire production process, from body shell construction to final assembly, is organised in the same meticulous way as a bespoke craft workshop – much like Morgans in The Malverns. Small teams of specialists accompany every step of production, ensuring that every car is built to those renown Germanic standards.
Nearly ten years on, the Audi R8 remains one of the more appealing supercars on the market due to a blend of engaging driving dynamics, surprising practicality and of course, its stunning ‘yeah-look-at-me’ looks.
From its aggressive, mid-engined proportions to the contrasting signature ‘blades’ behind the doors, everything about the R8’s appearance yells ‘exotic’. Revised head lights, tail lights, bumpers and other minor style updates separate the latest model from its predecessor. The arresting sheet metal of the R8 is shaped from aluminium in order to keep performance-sapping mass to a minimum – successfully so as, including the V10 Lambo lump, the car weighs in at an unladen 1,585kg.
Inside is where the Audi R8 shows hints of grey around the edges. Knobs, switchgear and fittings have a dated look and feel about them. Navigation and entertainment functions are accessed through Audi’s multi-media interface, which is one of the more intuitive infotainment set-ups available.
While there’s adequate space for driver and passenger, the R8 isn’t blessed with an abundance of space in the forward boot, which measures a mere 100 litres and is erratically shaped, nooked and crannied to accommodate the front mechanicals. Great for transporting bags of mercury, but little else.
The cabin is a comfortable and practical environment befitting a high-tech, £130k+ supercar, but one can’t help be a little disappointed to find a Wogan-like interior when the externals promise so much Chris Evans.
For the latest model year, Audi replaced the antiquated six-speed single-clutch gearbox with a new seven-speed dual-clutch unit that improves efficiency and provides smooth changes through the quickest set of paddle-shifters I’ve ever driven.
The heart of the Audi R8 V10+ is a high-revving 5.2-litre engine that delivers 550 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. Peak torque is 540 Nm at around 6,500 rpm. Get it up to full chat and it’s a full-on sensory ambush – all going on right behind your ears. Glorious!
Transferring all that white-knuckle power to the road is a quattro four-wheel drive system that distributes output variably to both axles by way of a viscous clutch. It’s a boon for rapid acceleration and makes the R8 more sure-footed than many of its peers when the weather turns grim.
In addition to the symphonic cacophony immediately behind my spine, another enjoyable aspect of an all-too brief drive of the Audi R8 V10+ was its steering and handling. It’s a very distinctive sensation with the direct, hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering offering a feedback-filled rebuttal to the numb, electrically-assisted systems that feature in many modern performance machines.
In a straight line it’s quite unlikely you’ll notice the engine’s mid-ship placement, but enter a corner with a sizeable dollop of enthusiasm and suddenly its weight distribution and drive torque become all-too apparent. You don’t notice how much pulling the front wheels are doing until you give them a break. It doesn’t get scary or throw you off. The car’s trajectory just slightly changes at the apex, when you come off the throttle. It was an altogether adrenalin-inducing experience and frankly, quite brilliant.
When you don’t want to choose every gear yourself and you don’t want to hear the growl of a mighty V10, you can turn off Sport mode and put the S tronic into automatic with a simple click to the left. You’ll then find yourself cocooned in the most comfortable, confident coupés that money can buy.
Fuel economy – rarely a point of interest for supercar buyers – suffers due to the potent V10 Lambo lump and all-wheel-drive, with the car achieving around 18-22 mpg, around the same as the Maserati GranCabrio Sport I tested last year.
Along with aluminium double wishbones at the front and rear, the suspension features an ‘Audi Magnetic Ride’ adaptive damper system that can be configured to provide sporty driving dynamics or a softer ride. The latter is sufficiently cushy to ensure that the R8 could be enjoyed as a daily driver.
Pretty much industry-standard stuff:
* Car: Three-year / 60,000-mile new car warranty.
* Paint: Three years.
* Rust perforation: 12 years
Like superheroes, supercars don’t have a typical life cycle. Of course they are at the mercy of competitors, but more so the fickle, unpredictable nature of wealthy buyers. The Audi R8 might be showing a hint of grey around the edges but it’s still a stunning looking car. It remains a very competitive player and is an absolute joy to drive, especially in this V10+ guise.
The supercar proportions set it apart from competitors such as the Porsche 911 – the silhouette of which hasn’t progressed much beyond the 1970s – and the R8’s smooth styling, conceived by Audi designer Frank Lamberty, remains true to the original Le Mans concept.
With elbows flying, it barges its way into a parking space in the WWA Lifetime Garage of Ten.