2015 Audi R8 First Drive Review

Audi's second-gen V10 supercar delivers racing car thrills and race tech engineered for the road.

Audi R 8 Front Drive Jpg

So, what is it?

Jürgen Königstedt is a shining light of hope for supercar aficionados who prefer their power supplied turbo-free. As Audi’s powertrain guru in charge of the second-gen R8’s glorious, naturally aspirated V10, he believes, “super sports cars could have an atmo future.” And if the sights, sounds, and sheer thrust delivered by the new R8 performance flagship is a taste of what’s possible, we’re with him all the way.

Why should I care?

Sure, Ferrari’s new 488 GTB is a techno tour de force, pumping out fat wodges of turbo-fed torque, but 5.2-litres of all-alloy purity howling towards its 8,700rpm ceiling makes maximum attack in the R8 a rare pleasure.

What’s new about it?

Like the first generation car, the new R8 shares much of its DNA with an Italian cousin. Audi has owned Lamborghini for 17 years, and first time around the long-serving Gallardo spawned the R8 (launched globally in 2006).

A decade down the track, the new R8 shares its underpinnings with the now one year old Lambo Huracán, including its hybrid construction (alloy/CFRP) space frame, V10 powerplant, electrically-controlled seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, double-wishbone suspension set-up, and all-wheel drive system.

Headline innovations for the Audi include standard Laser high beam headlights (Dr Evil will be pleased, although no sharks are involved), and the latest expression of the custom-configurable, hi-res TFT dash instrument display (tech debuting for Audi in the TT, and shared with the Huracán).

Although it’s an all-new car, the R8 is instantly recognisable as a design evolution of the out-going version. Wheelbase is identical, although the new car is fractionally shorter overall, thanks to 9mm deducted from the front overhang. It’s also wider (+10mm), lower (-12mm), and lighter (-40kg).

V8 lovers and manual fans should grab a straw and suck it up because Audi’s drop punted both options out of the R8 program. The car is now offered as a V10 with dual clutch only, the standard R8 V10 producing a hefty 397kW/540Nm, and the top-spec R8 V10 plus churning out 449kW/560Nm (identical output to the Huracán LP 610-4).

Audi R8 front side

That’s all fine, what’s it like to drive fast?

We steered both R8 variants at the car’s global launch, including several hundred kilometres of flowing back roads across southern Portugal, as well as a day/night circuit session on the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, in the southern coastal city of Portimão (last syllable rhymes with wow).

The overwhelming first impression comes courtesy of 10 cylinders sitting mere centimetres behind your head. We’re in the full-house R8 V10 plus, and straight line acceleration is ballistic. In fact, Audi says this is the fastest road car it’s ever built, and 0-100km/h in 3.2secs is only two tenths slower than the Fez 488 GTB, and just a tenth off Porsche’s 911 Turbo S.

That’s seriously fast company, and full compression of the throttle pedal slams you into the seat and narrows your field of vision to a centrally-focused tunnel of speed. This atmo engine loves to rev, enhanced by the combination of port (low revs) and direct (high revs) injection, as well as variable cam and valve timing; each eye-blink gear change delivering another stunning surge of acceleration. Let the ‘plus’ off the leash completely and it will punch up to 330km/h.

And then there’s the noise. Oh, the noise.

Audi’s development of the V10 introduces a specific intake set-up and exhaust system which stands the R8’s sound apart. No synthetic enhancement here; a full-blooded yowl in the mid-range, ascending to a blood-curdling, mechanical scream at the top end. And it’s worth noting the perceived and actual difference between standard and plus models is marginal.

As mentioned the ‘S tronic’ shift-by-wire, dual clutch seven speed (Lambo calls it LDF for Lamborghini Doppia Frizione) is race car fast, yet smooth and precise. The space frame chassis is claimed to be 40 per cent stiffer than the one it replaces, adopting a multi-material approach, blending CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer) around the cockpit and rear bulkhead with aluminium in the rest of the structure. And the engine’s dry sump design means it can be mounted low to drop the centre of gravity down as far as possible. Front to rear weight distribution is 42:58 (identical to the Huracán).

The quattro all-wheel drive system uses a combination of mechanical diff lock and a new electro-hydraulic multi-plate clutch to seamlessly manage drive distribution between the axles, and steering is electro-mechanical. Standard rubber is 19 inch Pirelli P Zero (245/35 f – 295/35 r) and electronically-controlled dampers (Audi Magnetic Ride) are optionally available on both versions. A 20-inch rim wearing even wider tyres (245/30 f – 305/30 r) is optional.

The result of all this stiffening, balancing, and tuning is mega dynamic response, the R8 remaining stable and predictable even under extreme cornering pressure. On the circuit, the R8 V8 plus was fitted with the ‘Track Pack’ accessory option, which translates to a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slick tyres. But the car’s open road character translates directly to the track; the nose pointing obediently and quickly with understeer the dominant trait at the extremely high limit of adhesion.

Braking by dinner plate metal discs in the standard car, with six-piston front and four piston rear calipers, is seatbelt-strainingly good. Carbon-ceramics with big eight pot calipers up front means the plus is race track ready.

Driver focus is the main cockpit design theme, and with the 12.3-inch TFT instrument display configured with a large, central rev counter and supplementary digital speedo driving quickly is simple and intuitive.

The standard multi-adjustable seats are brilliant, and the grippy, leather-trimmed wheel, complete with racy ‘satellite buttons’ sits in perfect alignment with the main gauges and peripheral switchgear.

Audi R8 Rear

And driving home from the city?

The multi-function instrument display also negates the need for a separate infotainment screen in the centre console, and the interior feels restrained, yet surprisingly open.

A specific control on the steering wheel controls two flaps in the exhaust to enhance or mute its output, and the optional magnetic dampers magically iron out city and suburban bumps at the push of a button.

The engine also features COD (Cylinder On Demand) tech which knocks out one bank of cylinders at low loads (alternating either side to avoid cat converter cooling), a coasting mode which decouples the gearbox on zero throttle downhill runs, and a smooth stop-start function. All of which contributes to a 13 per cent improvement in claimed fuel economy.

Anything bad about it?

Despite sharp turn-in and reasonable weight, the steering lacks road-feel. Disconcerting in a car which buzzes the senses in so many other ways.

The arrow-shaped trim piece surrounding the top of the instrument binnacle also causes a massive windscreen reflection directly in the driver’s line of sight.

How much would I have to pay? And is it worth it?

Audi Australia’s launching the R8 locally in the second quarter of next year, and is yet to confirm final spec and pricing. But despite the fact the car is more expensive than the out-going model in Germany, the stated aim is to make it cheaper here. On that basis, expect the standard R8 V10 to weight in around $360k, with the plus stepping up to just the other side of $400k.

Standard equipment includes the latest MMI (Multi Media Interface) set-up, with a larger rotary/push-button controller featuring a touch-sensitive element for scrolling, writing and zooming in the nav function. Voice-control has also been upgraded for audio and phone.

Would you take the Audi R8 or Lamborghini Huracán?

So near and yet so far apart, the R8 exudes technical efficiency next to the Lamborghini’s more flamboyant personality. The R8 absolutely stands up as a daily driver, while the $20-$60k dearer Huracán is a special occasions special. Both fantastic, the choice will be determined more by the scale of your ego than the size of your wallet

Click here to find out more about the Audi R8.


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