The R8 supercar is one of Audi's most important brand ambassadors in India. Part and parcel of the company’s line-up for the sub-continent, it lords over the range from on high, the rest of the fleet basking in its high-tech glow. The message seems to be clear; technology and engineering are Audi's forte, and judging by just how good the earlier R8 was, the message seems to have carried well. Remember, at the time, this was Audi's first attempt at a serious sports car. The R8, however, isn’t just a showpiece or tech demonstrator; Audi claims it's also the bestselling supercar in India. And that, frankly, is a job well done, especially as Audi at the time didn't really have the brand or the credentials for a car like this.
Audi’s new R8, launched at the 2016 Auto Expo in Delhi at a price of Rs 2.55 crore (ex-showroom, Maharashtra), promises to carry the R8 myth even further. The new car is leaner, meaner and comes with an even sharper focus on driving experience. The carmaker claims the new R8 has been engineered and tuned to deliver a race car-like experience; one that's more focused than the earlier one. And added to this are the funky new interiors and loads of confidence garnered from the first car. So, does the new R8 deliver everything it promises? Is it even better to drive? And is it just as practical to use on our streets?
What is it?
Audi actually pioneered the mid-engine setup used by performance and race cars today. The Auto Union Grand Prix car of the '30s, engineered by Ferdinand Porsche, was powered by a mid-mounted, supercharged, 16-cylinder engine, unique at the time. And it's the same setup, supercharger excluded, that the R8 uses today. But just how different is the new R8 from the earlier one? Yes, it looks fundamentally similar to the outgoing car and it still retains a spaceframe chassis and a mid-mounted V10 engine, but apart from that, things are very different under the skin.
The spaceframe chassis, for example, isn't made only of aluminium. Rather, the new car uses a blend of aluminium and carbonfibre, with the latter making up around 13 percent. Shared with the Lamborghini Huracán, the chassis is now 5 percent lighter and 40 percent more rigid. The new R8 also gets a wider front track, for better front grip, aluminium double wishbones all round and stiffer springs and dampers. The steering setup has been changed from electro-hydraulic to full electric too; which, among other things, helps make the new car 13 percent more efficient. And there is an all-new quattro system that, unlike the fixed mechanical setup, now gets a new electro hydraulically operated multi-plate clutch. Audi says the new system reacts faster and feels sportier to drive. And like most race cars, you can adjust the slip on the rear diff (via a dial on the steering wheel) for dry, wet or snowy conditions. There are changes to the V10 as well, among them a hike in compression ratio, a new dual-injection system with both direct and indirect injectors (two injectors per cylinder), and the adoption of cylinder shutdown. The engine is lighter, keener to rev and with peak revs close to 9000rpm, it's sure to be an absolute riot when the revs fly.
It still looks like an R8 though, or more accurately, is quite easily identifiable as one. The nose has a distinctly Audi feel, the sideblades are still there, albeit split down the centre and the roofline looks familiar too. But the new car is different as well. Very different. It looks more compact and the sharp cuts and slashes replacing more rounded lines also give it an edgier feel.
What’s it like on the inside?
While the exteriors are quite different, the cabin is a huge step forward from the earlier car. The insides look fresh, new and very original; no regular Audi fare here. And there's a real sporty element to the cabin. The attractive new bits include floating, chromed-over air-con controls that have mini screens in them; sure to be carried over to Audi sedans and SUVs. And then there's the big, high-def screen that takes the place of the instrument panel, as on the Audi TT. Known as 'virtual cockpit', you can toggle between several modes and screens, the best of which happens to be a large rev counter; redlined at a crazy 8,600rpm. Then there's the aircraft throttle-like gear selector, and the bit I like the best, the metal steering wheel with the chrome-lined buttons. On the left of the steering boss, there's one for Audi's Drive Select (Comfort, Performance, etc) and below that, you have the adjuster for the diff.
There are also some nice touches like the specially created rubberised mat ahead of the gear lever where you are meant to place your phone, and a bottle holder, stowed away under the elbow rest. The new R8 also has a fair-sized glovebox; but compared to something like a Porsche 911, the cabin is a bit impractical. The optional, race car-like seats on this car though, aren't really focused on driver comfort. They look like nothing more than fixed racing buckets that are there to hold you in place. They only have a thin layer of foam and leather covering them. There's no 127-way adjust, you can't recline the backrest and the fore and aft control is manual. You can lift the seat up, and that is powered, but that's about it. So, initially, finding a comfortable driving position is a bit tough.
What's it like to drive?
What dominates proceedings is the new R8’s V10 engine. The updated engine is both extremely powerful and very responsive, and combined with the lightening-quick gearbox and the four-wheel-drive system, produces a surge of power that is difficult to resist. Put your foot down on the accelerator and the Audi just leaps forward and pins you back in your seat. And it does this from just about any speed. The gearbox shifts a few gears down in a jiffy, the engine responds better than almost any this side of a motorcycle unit and keep your foot down and the Audi will unleash a burst of raw speed that's bound to put a smile on your face.
Where the R8 really begins to come into its own is on more open roads. Attack a straight with any amount of intent, and the R8 just rocks back gently on its rear wheels, pins you in your seat, and darts towards the horizon like an arrow; gears rifling through and needle whipping across the tachometer.
Flat-out performance is a bit unreal. 0-100kph takes just 3.5 seconds. And you're doing 200kph from rest in 11.3 seconds; pretty insane. Performance is right up there with the fasted cars we've ever tested. Only the 12-cylinder Lamborghini Aventador is faster.
But this car isn't just built for straightline thrills; there's much more here. And the way to exploit it fully is to show it a nice set of corners. Yes, the new electric steering isn't great and that dulls the experience a bit, but rest of the package is so good, you can't help but enjoy the R8, especially once you get your head around its huge pace and mind-bending grip. Yes, the earlier R8 drove well and the V8 still is better balanced, but this one, with its stiffer chassis and harder suspension, generates so much confidence and connect from corner to corner, it feels a lot like a track car. You can brake hard, flick it into a corner and even get back on the accelerator early, without upsetting its balance too much. And the great thing is, the harder you go, the better it seems to get; all accompanied by the trumpeting blare from the engine. Even the four-wheel-drive system feels much improved. There's almost no understeer, the car feels beautifully balanced and adding a bit of extra throttle while powering out of corners gets the tail to start sliding too; quite addictive.
Ride quality, however, isn't great. This is especially true if you encounter some bad sections, where the R8's inherent stiff suspension causes it to thud and thump over ruts and holes. And even on some of the smoother sections, you can still feel the stiffness in the springs, as the car hops up and down incessantly over even small ridges. The ride does improve, once you cross around 80kph, and it does settle down a bit more after that, but at city speeds, expect to be pummelled around a bit.
What the R8 did manage to do, and quite easily at that, is clear every speed-breaker in sight. Yes, we babied the car over almost all of them, and sometimes jinked right and left, but it didn't touch anywhere. Not even once, and that gave us plenty of confidence to drive it everywhere.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. It may not be the fastest, most charismatic or the best-riding supercar around and, in the rarified atmosphere in which it operates, it may not have the most alluring badge either. But as an all-round experience, there's very little that can take on and beat Audi's new R8. It's blisteringly fast, drives like a track car, is beautifully built on the inside and looks just stunning. It's even good value, what with prices starting at Rs 2.55 crore and competition like the Huracan costing in the region of Rs 2.5-3.43 crore. It's even likely to be better looked after, especially with a long list of dealers spread across the country and service stations now in many small towns. So, if a supercar is on your shopping list, make sure you test drive one of these.