THE new Audi R8 supercar continues with its Lambo-infused formula but adds more technology and more punch to tackle Lamborghini Huracan and Porsche 911 Turbo.
WHAT IS IT?
The second generation of a bespoke supercar designed to showcase the talents of the mainstream luxury brand. The R8 is the fastest, most potent Audi ever produced and a car designed to take the fight to Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
It’s an all-new model based on the still-fresh Lamborghini Huracan. The two share a V10 engine but the Audi also gets a less powerful version with a lower price point.
Lamborghini Huracan, Porsche 911 Turbo, Aston Martin V12 Vantage S and, if the budget stretches, Ferrari’s upcoming 488 GTB.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Effectively a Lambo, but with sensibilities and for a little less money, minus the outrageous styling and more desirable badge.
PLUS: Acceleration and throttle response from atmo V10; all-paw traction; practical and comfortable cabin
MINUS: Priced to frighten; badge lacks supercar cachet; occasional unwanted noises.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE second-generation Audi R8 is a car that may never have happened. Since the original debuted in 2007, parent company Volkswagen has taken over Porsche and cemented Lamborghini as a serious Ferrari competitor. No shortage of slick, fast metal then.
But the R8 is more than just a micro-drop in the vast – and still growing – Audi sales pool. It’s an engineering statement of what the company is capable of, and one that helps sell everything from A1s and Q3s to A8s and Q7s. It also adds incremental volume to a little-used architecture.
As before, the R8 is more Lamborghini than Audi, at least underneath. Engineers say the mechanical package is 95 percent shared with the sleeker Italian supercar; mid-mounted dry-sump V10 engine, basic suspension architecture and largely aluminium (79 percent) and carbonfibre (13 percent) chassis.
Performance is also pure Lambo; better, even. The 449kW 5.2-litre in the V10 Plus launches it to 100km/h in 3.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 330km/h, making it 5km/h faster than the wedge-shaped Huracan.
Then there’s the look. It’s completely new yet evolutionary, with sharper headlights, a 4cm-wider body and customisable side blades now split by a strip of body colour. The Plus gets a DTM-inspired fixed rear wing while the regular V10 has a cleaner active wing that hides at less than 120km/h. Yet it’s not such a head-turner as the Ferrari 458 and Lamborghini Huracan.
It’s the same with the way it drives. Lay into it and the atmo V10 unleashes a satisfying bark in its most aggressive Dynamic mode, but doesn’t leave you temporarily deaf. In Comfort it’s less aurally enticing than an Audi SQ5 diesel.
No shortage of punch, though. There’s something seriously refreshing about a powerful high-revving naturally aspirated engine. These days it’s almost unheard of for a non-boosted engine to emerge from the big European players as they chase tightening emissions standards and lower fuel use.
Audi has given a serious nod to the greenies with the addition of fuel-saving tech. There’s idle-stop (it’s super-smooth when refiring) and cylinder-on-demand, which cuts an entire bank on light throttle, alternating banks to control temperature.
The compression ratio is 12.7:1 (up from 12.5) and there’s dual fuel injection (multi-point manifold injection at low revs and load, direct injection at maximum power).
It all adds up to fuel savings of up to 13 percent, although it’s still 12.3L/100km for the Plus.
The V10 borders on lazy at low revs, at least compared with the new breed of turbo supercars. But past 5000rpm there’s plenty of fire and fury. The 449kW V10 Plus screams to 8700rpm.
It’s not quite as vocal as a Huracan, but there’s enough aural passion to remind you there’s something special not far behind your head.
Fast, too, and delivered in a thoroughly predictable and exciting manner. The R8 has a linear power delivery that relies on revs; the more the better. In second, third or fourth gears it’s a seriously useful device, always ready to react, something that happens quickly courtesy of that instant atmo throttle response.
Even the 397kW version in the regular V10 (torque drops from 560Nm to 540Nm) has plenty of pull, albeit without the manic top end of the Plus.
The seven-speed auto is also nicely synced to the engine and can be brilliantly obedient and smooth.
In its most docile shift mode, the R8 is positively relaxed and happily shifts into taller gears when cruising. Dial up a more aggressive mode – it’s all on the distinctive steering wheel that, like an F1 car, is in many ways the brain of the car – and it drops down a couple of ratios and full-throttle upshifts go from barely discernible to a solid whack as it builds pace. Only in that sporty setting does it occasionally overcompensate on a downshift, with a less than elegant fumble-and-thud to full power.
Getting drive to the road is also better than before, thanks to a new Quattro system, which can apportion drive in any configuration, from 100 percent to the front or rear wheels. It also has a driver-selectable performance mode (another one of those buttons on the wheel), which tunes the torque split to dry, wet or snow-covered roads.
Steering is towards the lighter side but with enough meaningful weight to keep you informed and be devoid of kickback. The nose darts sharply and the 20-inch Pirelli tyres cling extremely well to the road.
The ride quality, too, is compliant enough to relax into a cruise or deal competently with city imperfections, and you don’t have to slow to a crawl to protect the low-slung nose.
Approaching 100km/h, though, there’s a rustle of wind noise from the rear part of the side window, and tyre noise is also prominent on certain surfaces, a rare blight on an otherwise refined and sensible supercar.
A blast around the Portimao track in Portugal was done on Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tyres (as used on Porsche 911 GT3 and Ferrari 458 Speciale), which were a fine accompaniment that copped multi-lap abuse without protest.
The carbon-ceramic brakes have some trademark low-speed scratchiness yet bring a solid yet malleable pedal feel. During some night punishment, the 380mm front discs (the standard steel discs are 365mm up front) were glowing orange and ultimately resulted in wafts of smoke, but the pedal pressure and brake performance were still there.
Inside, the R8 has a sense of practicality. Indeed, headroom is good by supercar standards, although the high sill and low squab height means there’s no elegant way to alight.
The R8 picks up the virtual cockpit debuted in the TT. As with that car, there’s no central touchscreen, leaving a clean design dominated by carbonfibre-laced air vents and a trio of control knobs. The chunky gear selector takes out a fair chunk of the centre console, which gets a small covered binnacle forward of it and the MMI controller aft (along with covered cupholders at the back).
A 226-litre space behind the seats is claimed to accommodate a golf bag, but the smaller 112-litre hole under the bonnet – complete with power outlet – is a more useful luggage area for less bulky items.
The latest active safety systems (auto braking, lane departure warning) are nowhere to be seen, but the R8 does get a Griswold-like collection of LEDs. Each headlight has 37, with ‘laser spot’ high beams said to double the beam distance. Another 188 tail-light LEDs and more smattered around the cabin complete the glow factor.
While exotic supercars are high on the R8 hit list, Audi sees the R8 as an everyday alternative, albeit one that has rarity and exclusivity on its side (in eight years little more than 400 are on Australian roads). In that way it’s more likely to compete with top-end 911s. The $400k-plus price tag for the Plus (pricing will be confirmed closer to the car’s second-quarter 2016 local release date) should ensure that exclusivity continues.
Model: Audi R8 V10 Plus
Engine: 5204cc V10 (90°), dohc, 40v
Max power: 449W @ 8250rpm
Max torque: 560Nm @ 6500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.2sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 12.3L/100km (EU)
Price: $400,000 (estimated)
On sale: Q2 2016