The thought of buying a supercar in India is quite baffling. Their low stance looks more apt for scraping speedbreakers than carving corners, and seeing them struggle in our chaotic traffic is quite disheartening. So when we got an Audi R8 V10 to ourselves for three days, I took it upon myself to find out just why people would even consider buying a 518bhp supercar in an environment like ours.
Now three days is not a lot of time to get to know a car intimately, so I snapped up the keys and hit the road right away. Trouble is, ‘right away’ was during peak-hour traffic. But to my surprise, I found the R8 no harder to drive than any big luxury saloon. The view out of the front was fantastic and despite the mid-engine layout, visibility out the back was not too bad either. The 5.2-litre V10 motor felt relaxed, although driving such a car on our crowded streets needs a lot of restraint, especially when you know how much power there is on tap, which can get frustrating.
Then there’s this car’s most significant update for 2013 – a new seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic gearbox in place of the clunky old R-tronic single-clutch unit. And what a difference it makes. In auto mode, it was butter smooth, and it’s only when I suddenly got on the power that there was a sudden jerk from the gearbox as it rapidly downshifted for quicker acceleration.
I decided to give the R8 a break for the rest of the day and set out again in the wee hours of the morning. It’s on open, empty roads that you realise the true potential of this V10 motor. I knew the R8 would have a great deal of performance, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how explosive the acceleration would be. The R8 happily spins into life without drama, and from the word go, has enough torque to blow your mind. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is the speed with which the V10 motor builds its revs. There is no delay, no lag. You ask of the engine and it delivers in an utterly predictable, linear fashion.
Out here too you will really appreciate the new gearbox. It endows the car with relaxed usability befitting its superb on-pace precision. It will remain in Auto mode, no matter which of the powertrain presets you choose, but so much as nudge one of the standard wheel-mounted paddles and it will shift to manual mode, where it will hold every gear and swap ratios on command with impressive response and precision. So the figure of 4.40 seconds for 100kph from standstill doesn’t come as a surprise.
But the fun didn’t last long, and the traffic started thickening again. So I left the city and headed out onto the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Time to put this car’s handling to the test on the twisting section of the Lonavala ghats and Aamby Valley. Where most supercars can feel intimidating charging up a mountain road, the Audi simply doesn’t. Perhaps it is the steering, specifically the amount of reassurance it offered in being so accurate, maybe it’s the safe understeer you sense when you push hard, or maybe it’s just grip from the 295 section tyres and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Whatever it is, I could go up and down this road all day without breaking a sweat.
You can take liberties with the R8. It is a supercar that’s willing to allow a driver a second chance. It is so agile, so keen to change direction that adding steering inputs halfway through a turn is entirely acceptable. Our test car was fitted with optional adaptive damping, and in Normal mode, it judged damping on most surfaces well enough. It never felt explicitly comfortable, but at the same time, never felt harsh either. But then I switched the system to Sport and the ride deteriorated considerably. Best save this setting for when the road surface is smooth, and there’s a realistic opportunity to really go for it.
Even on the braking front, the drilled and ventilated petal discs, gripped by four-piston callipers front and rear, did everything that could possibly be asked of them on the road. The pedal was always solid and the anti-lock remarkably unobtrusive. But the R8’s ability to come to a halt from 80kph in 2.0sec is nothing compared to the manner in which these brakes will handle sustained abuse.
A supercar wouldn’t be a supercar without a low-slung driving position, a steeply raked windscreen and all the controls that matter falling precisely within reach. The R8 V10 ticks all of these boxes, and does it with some style. But unlike a lot of supercars, these traits are accompanied by a genuine sense of quality and a generous level of trim and equipment. It blends some fairly obvious Audi parts – the MMI system, some switchgear and an excellent sat-nav system – without diluting the inherent drama that a supercar deserves. You also get a very effective air-con system and a top-quality stereo. Be in no doubt, the R8 feels like – and indeed is – a class act inside. If ever a supercar reflected its price in the style and quality of its cabin, this would be it.
No one buys a supercar for practical reasons. Yet, for its modus operandi of being a thrill machine, the R8 doesn’t do too badly. The boot in the bonnet is impressively deep and can take one decent-sized soft bag, and within the cabin there are numerous well-sized cubbyholes for odds and ends. In a hurry to get my head around the way this car drives, I realised I hadn’t taken a moment to soak in that exquisite exterior styling once again. I pull over and have
a walkaround. It’s been six years since the R8 first went on sale, and along with the new gearbox, Audi has thrown in a few styling tweaks for 2013 as well. Outside, there are new all-LED lamps, restyled exhaust pipes, a new valance at the back and a restyled grille at the front. Inside, there are a few more bits of aluminium trim and things such as sat-nav, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity have been promoted from optional to standard equipment.
There is, however, more to the 2013 R8 than a few visual tweaks and a new gearbox. Though all the previous range members remain, their ranks have grown by one – a new flagship, the 543bhp R8 Plus. It’s essentially a production version of the limited edition R8 GT with 25bhp more than the standard V10, bespoke suspension settings and carbon-ceramic brake discs. And while the car I’m driving is just as much at home on the road as on the track, the Plus has been given a harder, track-biased edge (see box).
Pegged at Rs 1.8 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi), this Audi is hilariously expensive. But then which supercar isn’t? In fact, if you compare it to a Lamborghini Gallardo (which has the same V10 under its hood), this car looks almost affordable. So let’s put that aside and see if we can answer the question we set out to earlier. Well, there’s no shortage of performance from the engine, there’s a lot of drama in the look, feel and sound of this thing, and it has a handling balance that’s deft enough to take on the very best from Italy. But it’s also a comfortable car, one that rides well and pampers you with creature comforts. It’s pretty practical too, and is really not one of those supercars that simply gives up when taken out of its element – and this has a lot to do with that superb new gearbox. So no, urban India is not the best place to own and use a supercar, but if you wanted to, the Audi R8 is one of the best there is.