What is it?
The hottest and most focussed series production version of the current Audi R8 supercar you can buy before the brand new one – freshly unveiled at the Geneva motor show 2015 – goes on sale. I specify ‘series production’ because Audi has also introduced a limited-edition version called the R8 LMX, which has a 20 more bhp and laser headlamps; if you were able to snap up one of the 99-unit global production run of the LMX, you are lucky indeed.
So there’s a new one coming soon, and this is not the ultimate version of the outgoing car – so why bother revisiting this R8? Two reasons. One, we have only so far sampled the V10 Plus on the racetrack and not the road. And two, this is still one of the greatest and most accessible supercars money can buy. However, the ‘Plus’ in its name is a hint that perhaps it isn’t quite as friendly on the road as the standard model – if you can call a 518bhp mid-engine V10 supercar ‘standard’.
Apart from the subtle changes that came with the facelift a few years ago (new LED front and rear lamps, and new tailpipes, mostly), the Plus gets its own set of special accoutrements over the standard car. There’s loads more carbonfibre on the bodywork, in the cabin and even in the engine bay. Rather more significantly, however, the power from the glorious Lamborghini-sourced V10 is up to 542bhp and torque to 55kgm. Then there’s the weight – a whole 50kg less, and the dampers, which though still adaptive, have been stiffened; this is meant to be the ‘hardcore’ version, after all.
So, it’s a bit more than just a power upgrade, then. All this has a lot of promise when you think about how it will affect the way the R8 drives, and sure enough, it feels a bit different from the standard car on the road.
What’s it like to drive?
We’ve always said that if you can drive a medium to large-sized luxury sedan, driving the R8 is not much more of a challenge, apart from being a little bit lower to the ground. That’s still largely true with this one – visibility is good, the seats are comfortable (even these winged sports buckets on the Plus), the controls are as you expect them to be, and with the gearbox in automatic and Sport mode disengaged, it’s like any other Audi.
The biggest change that came with the facelift a few years ago was not the new LED indicator lights that ‘swiped’ in the direction you were turning – it was the automatic gearbox. The shift from the R-tronic single-clutch to the S-tronic dual-clutch unit transformed the way the R8 behaved at anything less than race speed. It became much easier to move away from a standstill in traffic, and the gearshifts themselves were smoother and more intuitive – it was the last crease ironed out in making the R8 properly usable every day. That all still holds true in the V10 Plus, with the only dramatic change from the standard car being the ride. It’s a whole lot firmer, and though this is understandably no A-to-B commuter car, driving it on poor road surfaces will become tiresome after a short while, as will the rather heavy steering.
Then there’s the Sport button. Unlike most Audis, whose Drive Select menu lets you tailor the engine, gearbox, steering and suspension to your needs, the R8 just has one single Sport button that does it all for you, and rightly so, in a car like this. Pushing it sends the V10 Plus into maximum attack mode, and let’s just say, you’d better have a racetrack or a superb stretch of road spread out in front of you before you dare venture here. The stiff ride becomes stiffer still, the gearbox will downshift abruptly to keep the revs high, and the V10 alternates between barking and screaming, depending on where your right foot is. It’s a massive transformation, and one you should not bother using in town; it’s simply too fierce. On the right road though, it is an immense thrill. The engine note is just incredible, the shifts quick, the power delivery of the naturally aspirated motor so precise. Thanks to more power and less weight, the R8 V10+ reaches 100kph in a shocking 3.9 seconds which is half a second faster than the normal V10. Even more mind bending is the 12.1-sec time it takes to reach 200kph, which is as fast or faster than most mid-size sedans take to reach 100kph!
Through the bends, there’s a huge amount of grip from the fat tyres. The Quattro AWD system means it puts all that power down without any drama, and it would take far more bravery than I could muster to try and unsettle it in a corner. It stops hard too, thanks to carbon ceramic brakes, whose grabbiness will take a little getting used to. As will the slight gurgling sound you hear when the pads meet the discs.
Should I buy one?
A little while ago perhaps, the answer would have been a wholehearted ‘yes’. This is the range-topping version of one of the best supercars around, and for many, that’s reason enough; what’s not to like? However, the knowledge that a brand new model is on its way is likely to dissuade some buyers. On the flipside, that car is still some time away, and you might not want to wait that long. Also, the new car will be much more expensive, which could put it outside your budget.
But the bigger thorn in this car’s side is not the next R8, but the current one, the standard 518bhp V10. Yes, you get more performance from the Plus, but unless you have access to a circuit or a private mountain road, the additional premium is just not worth it. The regular V10 is more civilised on the road, and serves up more than enough thrills and performance for most mere mortals. We have a feeling the first-generation R8 will go on to be an icon, and for that reason (amongst many others already listed), it’s still worth getting one and if you bargain hard you could get a great deal on one too.