WRITER: Nicolas Shammas
Continuing in a rarefied lineage of cars that offer blistering speeds and astonishing usability, the new Audi R8 V10 Plus is one of those rare supercars that the right-side of your brain will want you to get, while your left-side actually rationalises the purchase.
Historically speaking, supercars used to be stunning, fast, flamboyant, rare, more than a little temperamental and usually Italian. They were engineered to be driven by ‘real men’ and no one questioned their notoriously high running costs. But then, in the 1960s, Henry Ford, still smarting after having thought he had agreed on terms to acquire Ferrari, only for Enzo Ferrari to have a change of heart at the eleventh hour, decided the best way to get revenge would be to hit the Italian marque where it hurt the most – on the race track. And Ford succeeded too, winning the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race four consecutive times. In road-going terms, that record breaking Ford GT40 was incredibly niche – only around a hundred or so examples were ever made – yet its importance to the development of the everyday supercar cannot be underestimated. That was the car that proved the Italians could be beaten at their own game.
Let’s fast-forward to the early 1990s when Honda, reigning supreme in the Formula One championships (once again to the infuriation of Ferrari) decided to take their racing know-how and transfer it into a supercar. (They even got the legendary F1 driver Ayrton Senna to lend a hand in its chassis and suspension development.) The final product, named the NSX, was beyond extraordinary; not only was it lightning quick around a track, you could drive it all day, everyday and never have to worry about reliability issues or high maintenance costs. Effectively, the Honda NSX had taken up the baton from Ford and run to pastures new, proving for the first time that an everyday supercar wasn’t actually an oxymoron.
The easiest way to tell a V10 Plus from the regular V10 model is to look for the carbon-fibre spoiler and mirrors.
Nowadays, there’s a new everyday supercar on the block and it is, of course, the Audi R8. When it first came out in 2006, it was a revelation because Audi had never actually made a supercar before, let alone a world-class mid-engined one. With four-wheel drive, an aluminium structure, a naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 engine (along with a larger V10, added later), cool new LED lighting tech, phenomenal fit and finish and a big helping hand from sister-brand Lamborghini, the R8 proved to be every bit the descendent of the GT40 and NSX.
Now, a decade later, with a brimming endurance-race winning trophy cabinet and almost 30,000 examples sold, the second-gen R8 has finally arrived. Ingolstadt, rightly or wrongly, dealt with the ‘pressures of the follow-up album’ by aligning the development of their new R8 with that of Lamborghini’s Huracán. As a result, the V8 has gone, as has the underappreciated manual transmission. Instead, the new model gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with a manual-shifting mode as standard, along with either a 532bhp or a 601bhp ‘Plus’ version of the same naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V10 that you’ll find in the back of a Huracán. In layman’s terms, the Lambo and the R8 are non-identical twins: they share the same engine, transmission, partially carbon-fibre floor and bulkhead, chassis hard points, steering system and electronic architecture. Yet where the Lamborghini is all about bombastic styling (and mischief, thanks to a rear-wheel drive version), the new R8 takes the safe route with Quattro drive and evolutionary styling.
Visually, the new R8 has lost its curves and replaced them with edges. This new cut look makes it seem as though it has been slaving hard in the gym. It has also got itself a new nose, with front grill that’s surgically shaped like a trapezoid. And its hips have changed too, with a shoulder line now bisecting its once dramatic side blades. Yes, it is all a little sharper but it’s too safe for my liking. I mean, from afar you’d think this new model is merely a face-lifted version of the old, you’d never actually know it’s a totally new second-gen model. The good news, though, is that the rest of the car is pretty damned good.
My date with the R8 was in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit, to be exact. The issue with that particular venue, though, was that I never got to see how well she handles herself when the surface gets rough. Audi claims to have found an even suppler balance than the already compliant ride of the old model, but sadly I cannot say if that is true or not. I also could not really sense the ratio-varying Dynamic Steering, which makes the steering quicker at lower speeds than at higher speeds but that may be more of a case of well-executed tech. Like all Audis, the R8 has a Drive Select button, so that you can toggle between Comfort, Auto, and Dynamic modes, but unlike any other model, the R8 gets a new Performance mode that unlocks three additional settings (Dry, Wet, and Snow) via a steering wheel-mounted button depicting a chequered flag. Fortunately, Audi had us try these by getting the trackside marshals to create an artificial rainstorm just off the circuit, and it was as fun as it sounds. What I found was that the R8 will allow varying amounts of play depending on how treacherous the conditions are. But don’t go thinking this is a car you can power slide excessively because that’s not what Quattro is. It will, however, tolerate you enjoying small tyre-slip angles in vivid detail.
If you take it easy in the R8, she’ll behave in a very civilised manner. If you want a little more from her though, it’s easy to gauge where the limits lie thanks to a wonderfully progressive and naturally aspirated engine. What’s more, when you play in the high rev range, it’ll sing a teutonic opera.
I would say the Quattro chassis feels sharper than that of the previous model and it’s a pretty smart Quattro too. The electronically controlled centre diff maintains a rear-wheel drive most of the time (for better agility) and only brings the front wheels into play whenever it has to.
Apart from a well-considered, meaty rear quarter, my favourite aspect of the R8’s detailing has to be the interior. You enter through large doors that allow for very easy ingress and egress. As with the old model, there are just two seats with a small parcel shelf behind. You sit low but with a good visibility. The headroom is decent and the shoulder and elbowroom are excellent. Beautiful leather abounds on almost every surface and there’s a generous amount of carbon-fibre trim. It’s all wonderfully luxurious, high-quality stuff but the major upgrade is a new 12.3-inch digital display where the speedometer and rev counter used to go. It’s fully customisable to allow you to see only what’s important at any given moment of time. For example, if you’re in unfamiliar territory you can turn it into a full-screen navigation map (that can even be pulled from Google Maps if you prefer). Alternatively, if you’re kicking it around a circuit, you can choose to place the rev counter front and centre with your choice of other information, like oil temperature and tyre pressures on the left and right.
All in all, it’s clear that Audi still knows how to build a world-class supercar. Though it may not be as visceral as its twin sister, the Lamborghini Huracán, it’s a more accomplished all-rounder, and for that, we’re grateful.
Model Audi R8 V10 Plus
Engine 5.2-litre V10
Power 601 bhp
Torque 560 Nm
Weight 1,630 kg
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Top Speed 330 km/h
0-100 km/h 3.2 seconds
0-200 km/h 9.9 seconds
Price 191,150 USD