Audi’s R8 model has been gracing the roads for over 10 years now. When first launched, it was a turn up for the books – Audi making their claim for supercar status with quite a bang. The original featured a V8 engine producing 414hp, manual transmission and could sprint to 60 in a then-impressive 4.6 seconds.
Wind the clock forward a few years and how things have changed. V8’s are off the menu, as is the manual transmission. Power output has jumped massively, with performance models now pumping out 612hp, whisking the car to 60mph in a breath-taking 3.1 seconds.
Question is, does it still carry the R8 Magic?
24 hours before picking up the keys to Audi’s latest supercar, myself and MSF’s founder, Gracie Opulanza, were invited to Hampton Court Palace by Audi for the Sentebale concert. When it comes to events, Audi knows how to host and Sentebale was no different. Chauffeured door to door, we were then treated to an outstanding evening of food, drink and entertainment.
Sentebale itself is a charity founded by the Duke of Sussex and Prince Seeiso in 2006, which aims to look after and support vulnerable children in Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi. The event at Hampton court was a fundraiser; headlined by Rita Ora and with both the founding Royal members in attendance, it was a memorable evening. To find out more about the amazing work Sentebale undertake, or make a donation.
Before we return to the R8, I’d just like to thank Audi UK for inviting myself and Gracie to this fantastic event.
Press cars resemble something of a lottery – although you know the model of the car to be delivered, the spec in terms of options and engine are generally unknown until shortly before the car is delivered. On this occasion, however, I hit the lottery jackpot, with the R8 in question a V10 Performance Coupe model.
On top of this, it carried Audi’s top tier ‘Carbon Black’ trim pack, which includes various carbon fibre body panels, 20” wheels, carbon fibre roll bars, ‘magnetic ride’ suspension, monstrous Carbon Ceramic brakes and much more. The petrolhead inside me was kicking and screaming – was this really going to be mine for the next 5 days?!
Time in any supercar is precious, so it always pays to have a plan of action whilst testing them out.
Fortunately for me, I had just the occasion in the calendar already transporting my other half to Cheltenham to visit her parents for Father’s Day. 150 miles each way, beautiful Cotswold roads staying at Crestow House Cotswold is famous for some of the best scenery around, what more could I wish for?
The R8’s Beating Heart
R8’s have always left a lasting impression with me, but not primarily for a physical or visual reason. It’s the unmistakable note of the V10, which penetrates your entire body and produces a buzz like no other engine. Thankfully then, this generation of R8 carries forward all the engine fundamentals of past, with a few minor tweaks here and there allowing the Audi engineers to boost the engine’s output from 602 to 612hp, along with a torque increase from 560 to 580Nm.
The engine nestles just behind the cabin, displayed to the world underneath the glorious glass hood. With the Carbon Black pack, a carbon fibre engine cover also comes as standard, with LED’s under the bay ensuring the R8’s heart is permanently on display. Ostentatious? Yes, but when you have an engine as impressive as this one, it would be rude not to show it off, right?
As the engine remains fundamentally the same, the increase in power hasn’t come about through a change in displacement that still stands at 5.2L, making this one of the largest engines available in a road car today. Such a big engine comes with its own problems though, particularly in today’s world where such a tight focus is placed on emissions and the environmental effect.
It’s these emissions regulations which have been brought to attention on this latest R8, with numerous journalists reporting a subtle change in the V10’s bark.
Is this due to new emissions equipment being fitted to the engine? Quite possibly, nothing’s been confirmed, but from my time with the car, it’s hard to disagree with those who’ve noticed a difference. It’s hard to place your finger on exactly what’s missing, but some of the V10’s character has been dampened. Fortunately though, whilst it may have lost some of its edge, it’s still a truly magical note and one of the most glorious sounds you’ll hear.
Numerous changes have been made to the interior of the R8, although these are mostly in way of updating the styling rather than a fundamental overhaul. The air-con controls, user interface, dash and cubby holes are all in familiar spots, whilst the gear-stick is unchanged. Being a performance model, the biggest change from my previous R8 experience was around the steering wheel, where an additional, chequered flag bearing button has been added.
This activates a performance mode beyond that of the dynamic mode in the Audi drive select system. Intended as a track-focused, full-on driving mode, it makes changes to the traction control program and sets the engine and gearbox up in their sharpest form. Audi’s virtual cockpit changes the speedo and rev gauge graphics to reflect this more aggressive setting too, with a hue of red used throughout.
Whilst on the virtual cockpit, it’s worth noting that this is perhaps my favourite incarnation of it to date. As the R8 has no central LCD display to fall back on, all the cars infotainment runs through the single display sat behind the steering wheel.
When driving the car, this is absolutely superb, as it makes all the information it displays so accessible and easy to view to the driver.
To my surprise, the R8 also supports Apple car play, which meant Waze, Spotify and other apps were all visible behind the wheel – talk about connected!
The cabin itself is typical supercar-small, with legroom and headroom a little scarce. The R8 on test was hindered slightly by the fact it had been speced with ISOFIX child seat anchors, necessitating a change from the would-be standard bucket seats to the ‘normal’ R8 Sports seat. The sports seats offer more adjustment, but as a fundamentally more bulky seat I’m certain the bucket seat would be a wise choice for those of above-average height.
Storage in the Coupe model is reasonable, with a well sized shelf behind the seats a welcome addition on top of the frontward ‘boot’. The cabin quality and material selection is very much typical Audi, by which I mean of very high quality but also instantly familiar to anyone who’s driven an Audi of recent birth. In terms of interior fit and finish, user-friendliness, sophistication and connectivity, the German giants are difficult to beat.
On The Road & Styling
So it’s a familiar Audi on the inside, but what about on the road? Well, switch it to comfort mode and it’s no more intimidating to drive than an Audi A3. The B&O sound system is absolutely superb, road noise is reasonable and fuel economy hovers around the low 20’s on a long run – not bad for a big V10. With Audi’s magnetic ride suspension the bumps and undulation are handled well too, all pretty civilised then…
But let’s be honest, that’s not really why you’d buy an R8 is it? Dynamic mode is where this car really wants to live. With the exhausts opened up, the gear changes sharpened and engine unleashed, the animal within is well and truly let loose. Here, the engine’s output is truly breath-taking, with the 3.1 seconds claimed 0-60 time easily believable and the performance attained with such ease, it really does boggle the mind.
Drawing comparisons to my previous R8 experience (a previous generation V10 Spyder of non-performance variety), the uplift in engine performance is staggering. The V10 Spyder was undoubtedly a fast car, but this generation of Performance completely blows you away. I spent the whole 5 days taking friends and family out in the car, with every single one of them lost for breath after their first experience of full-throttle R8 power.
It’s very hard to subjectively assess the handling experience of the R8, partly because the few days I had with it were hampered by bad weather, and partly because it’s just so ludicrously fast, the performance is almost impossible to exploit on the public road. The chassis feels incredibly capable, confidence-inspiring and exploitable, but the UK roads simply struggle to handle/cater for a vehicle offering this much performance.
Outside of its performance offerings, the R8 carries real road presence. Wherever it was driven, heads would turn and admiring looks given.
Audi have turned up the aggression and drama with this generation – aero-surfaces, a large rear diffuser, vents and scoops dominate the exterior of the car.
As part of the Carbon Black trim package, numerous exterior panels were left un-painted, exposing the carbon fibres used in their construction. The side blades, front splitter, rear spoiler and rear diffuser are all key elements finished in this way, adding in a bit of contrast which looked fantastic alongside the Kemora grey paint. As metallic paints go, this is one of the more intriguing colour choices. In dull light, it’s unquestionably grey, but with more light, a real blue hue comes to life. Difficult to explain in words, it’s the sort of paint finish that has to be seen through the human eye and looks fantastic in the flesh.
This latest generation of R8 feels very much like an evolution rather than revolution. The basic recipe remains unchanged – Quattro all-wheel drive, a howling V10 engine and typically fabulous Audi cabin are all present, producing another remarkable vehicle.
It’s as easy and familiar to drive as previous generations, continues to turn heads and even returned reasonable fuel economy during motorway driving. Performance has continued the upward trend, with figures now well and truly in the mind-boggling category. As you can probably guess then, it’s very hard to find fault with this latest R8.
The slight tune change from the V10 is perhaps the only minor downside, but with emissions regulations ever-tightening, it’s hard to blame Audi for this. In fact, I believe their efforts should be celebrated, for in a landscape of supercars where more and more manufacturers are turning towards smaller, turbocharged engines, isn’t it fantastic that a corporation as big as Audi is still sticking to its guns and manufacturing these glorious engines?
It’s hard to say how much longer naturally aspirated V10 engines will be a viable option to Audi, but for all the while they’re available, they’re a thing of beauty and best celebrated.
Bravo Audi, and thank you for producing another wonderful addition to the R8 family.
We’d like to thank Audi UK for arranging our loan R8. Price as tested: £169,880 OTR.