It’s about ten years since the Audi R8 was introduced but it remains a fresh and exciting design and upgrades have been minor over that decade. On its release, the world’s motoring press universally agreed that it was an outstanding sports car in every possible way and few were the voices that had anything even mildly critical to say.
The R8 was one of those rare cars that was ‘right first time’ and Audi has sensibly strayed little from the original concept over the years. The styling is a total delight and the R8 is low-slung with sensual curves and a very well balanced look about it. As most people know by now, Lamborghini is part of the big VW Audi group and the R8 is based on a platform from that maker’s Huracán model, a point that few would complain about. Incidentally, there is a roadster version of the R8 too for those who prefer the wind in their hair.
As with some other Audis, the car uses aluminium space frame construction so the body is very rigid and exceptionally light. I’ve visited the Neckarsulm, Germany, plant where Audi builds aluminium bodies and were surprised at how much laborious hand finishing was involved. Audi claims that the bodies are just as durable as steel ones and less expensive to repair.
At the heart of the R8 is a V-10 engine, a 5.2-litre unit developing a whopping 610-horsepower. For those who think this is a little over the top, there’s a less powerful V-10 available with ‘only’ 540-horsepower. We drove the big engined R8. The V-8 offered in the original car has gone now, so the V-10 is the only one available. The transmission is a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with steering wheel ‘paddles’ to select speeds manually if that’s your preference. When I drove the first R8 I thought the automatic transmission was awful and preferred the manual box, but with Audi’s new S-tronic, all that has changed and it’s a joy to drive. The shrill note of the those 610 horses being fully exploited is so delightful to the ear of a sports car enthusiast, it’s worth the price tag for that experience alone. Thankfully, the car delivers in numerous other ways too, so it’s good value compared to some other exotics.
It’s not the easiest car to get into and the same can be said for most sports coupés. Once you’ve threaded yourself inside, the ambiance is so outstanding you’ll never want to get out. The driver becomes part of the car and nestles into a fine leather cocoon with all the controls well within reach. As the old saying goes, you wear this car, rather than sit in it. Fire it up and you’ll feel as though you’re on the starting grid at Le Mans but in fact, this is an easy car to drive for just about anyone. Even hard acceleration doesn’t compromise the car’s traction, thanks to the great balance of its mid-engined design and to Audi’s much-vaunted Quattro all-wheel drive. While many high-powered cars twitch and protest under hard acceleration, this one just gets on with the job and lays down the horses with no drama at all.
The Audi R8 is certainly one of the finest serious sports cars to come along in a generation and there’s almost nothing Audi could do to improve it. The latest version is quite a lot more expensive than the original car, but still carries a reasonable price sticker and after all, it’s now joined the rarefied class of superpowered exotics with performance only corporate cousin Lamborghini can match.
ENGINE: 5.2-litre V-10, 610 hp
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed, dual clutch
ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 3.2-seconds
TOP SPEED: 330 km/h
PRICE: Starts at around $184,000