Racing has been embedded in the Audi DNA ever since the company was founded more than a century ago. Be it redefining the world rally championship with the Quattro or winning Le Mans 13 times out of 17 attempts at the legendary endurance race. So, it wasn’t too surprising, the manufacturer named its fastest-ever road car, the R8 – the same name which won Le Mans 24hours four times in a row.
The first R8 which arrived in 2006 came with four-wheel drive, an aluminium structure and a hard-hitting naturally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 engine that revved to more than 8000rpm! Then came the V10 version with more than 500bhp which took the R8 into supercar territory. Not only was this car dynamically brilliant but it was very easy to live with. No wonder it is the most popular mid-engined sportscar in the sub-continent. The second-generation car, then, has a lot to live up to, which might explain why Audi has gone to great lengths to take this car to a whole new level.
We flew to Faro in Portugal to get a first-hand impression of what the fastest Audi ever made feels like. Faro is also home to the mind-blowing Algarve International Circuit; so we could find out how the new R8 feels both out on the road and on a technical and undulating circuit.
As soon as we stepped out of the airport, we were greeted by a whole row of new R8s. At first glance in the flesh, this supercar looks much more desirable than in images online. Although it looks more of an evolution of the old car, the new one looks edgier and more dynamic. Audi has also gotten rid of the side panel behind the B-pillar which makes the profile look more streamlined and cohesive. From the rear though, it looks more or less the same, except for that massive diffuser.
The new R8 still uses an aluminium space-frame but in order to make the shell more rigid and lighter, Audi has used CRPF (carbonfibre-reinforced plastics) which has made the body 40 percent more rigid and 15 percent lighter over the old car. The new R8 also uses a heavily revised quattro all-wheel-drive system and now, it comes with an electronically controlled clutch to divert torque to the front axle, in place of the previous viscous coupling. This system helps much faster transfer of power to the front or rear wheels thus maximising traction and stability especially in greasy and low-grip conditions. What hasn’t changed on this sportscar is the brilliant 5.2-litre V10 Lamborghini-sourced engine. Unlike the old car, which always played second fiddle to its Italian sister as far as power output was concerned, with the new one, it’s not true anymore. The new R8 in this V10+ spec makes the same 602bhp as the mighty Lamborghini Huracan, which is 60bhp more than the old car! Think of a set of performance criteria that a modern supercar should meet and the new Audi R8 ticks all the boxes. Its power figure starts with six, the 0-100kph time starts with a three and its top speed starts with a three.
More impressive than the numbers themselves, though, is the way in which this Audi goes about setting them. Tap the throttle and the R8 vaults off the blocks; thrust is immediate and very strong. The power delivered is explosive, and even short bursts of acceleration are addictive. Configure the gearbox, dampers and engine to sport-mode, and things get even more insane. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is the speed with which the R8 builds its revs. The engine tears towards its rev limiter in first and you then need to be on high alert not to run it against that limiter by mistake. There is no hang, no lag. You ask of the throttle and the engine delivers in an utterly predictable, linear fashion. Contributing factor to its ferocity and speed is its dual-clutch automatic transmission. The seven-speed gearbox is lightning-quick with its shifts and, you can use it in manual mode, gears shifting up only when you pull the right paddle.
In the V10+ trim, the R8 now produces 602bhp.
Although at its heart, the new R8 has a V10 engine that thumps out 602bhp and 57.10kgm torque, it is its relative lack of weight which adds to its whole experience. At 1,454kg, this car is impressively light for a 4WD supercar. When you then align this with the V10 engine’s delicious soundtrack, the Audi really has all the ingredients to blow your mind.
Along with all that power, the R8 also possesses an eye-watering blend of grip, balance and composure, not to mention its steering and traction, both of which are excellent. And that’s to say nothing of the car’s most surprising feature – its ride comfort. The R8 V10+, even with its stiff dampers, felt comfortable and composed enough on some of the bumpy sections we encountered in Portugal. The way the R8 felt soothing and refined on a motorway, even in this hardcore V10+ variant, is testament to the achievement of its engineers.
If there is a criticism of the handling, it’s that when you really start to lean on the V10+ in a slow corner, the nose does have a tendency to run wide. A well-timed lift will make the nose tuck in, in essence, there’s a natural degree of understeer engineered into the chassis that mostly adds to the R8’s civility.
If you sit in the old R8 and then step into the new one, it feels as though you have skipped two generations rather than one. The new cabin feels thoroughly modern and exudes a sense of class and uniqueness that was missing from its predecessor. The curvy vents give the impression of the dashboard engulfing the driver, and most of the important controls are placed on the beautifully sculpted steering wheel or around it, making it is an extremely driver-focussed cabin. If one has to be picky, then one may argue that it’s a bit dark inside. But then, if you are not, you’d simply admire the fit, the relative simplicity of the layout and the genuine style and panache with which things are finished.
Driver-focussed cabin is minimalist yet beautifully built and designed.
A digital instrument panel sits in place of analogue dials. The screen is crystal clear and places all the information in front of the driver. You can switch the display between Classic View — with prominent speedo and rev counter — and Infotainment View, which brings functions like the navigation map or audio screen to the fore. The high-resolution LCD display does away with the need for a centre-stack screen, allowing for a sleek, minimalist dashboard design that’s sporty and upmarket. There is impressive amount of space in this two-seater, and the thin A-pillars allow for a fantastic view out the front. The nicely crafted seats are snug and well bolstered, and keep you in place even when you drive hard.
With the new R8, Audi has made a supercar that is better than its predecessor in almost every way. Now that is a huge compliment considering how good the old car still is. It may not have the visual drama of the Lamborghini Huracan, but the R8’s appeal lies in the way it is easy to drive but also ferociously fast and scary when you want it to be. This dual personality makes the R8 not only a car for the purist but a car that an amateur driver can have fun in too.