A mid-engined supercar from Audi – how extraordinary...
Make no mistake, this is a seminal motoring moment. The R8 is Audi’s first mid-engined supercar, designed to prove that Ingolstadt can mix it with pedigree sporting brands like BMW and Porsche.
The launch version – running a V8 – costs £77k, a chunky price tag which illustrates Audi’s three-decade transformation into a true luxury car player. And with a 187mph top speed, it’s also the fastest production Audi. All very exciting – but does the driving experience live up to this billling…
Cut to the chase: does it handle?
Yes – better than any current Audi. With the 414bhp 4.2-litre mounted amidships in a beautiful carbonfibre cradle, the R8 eliminates Audi’s typically nose-heavy dynamics.
Only 44 percent of weight is up front, although the massive overhang could fool some into thinking the lump hangs over the front axle. Until you peer into that glass display case up back, the trademark of an Italian exotic.
It’s like a Lamborghini then…
Funny you should say that. The R8 has the same aluminium spaceframe construction as the Gallardo from Audi’s Italian outpost, and it sends power to all four wheels, too. But the R8 is a very different beast. It’s 131mm longer overall, and the R8 is pitched as an everyday supercar, with heaps of space for two and no fear of claustrophobia.
Visibility is unusually good for a sports car, too. And Audi claims there’s room for two sets of golf clubs between seat backs and bulkhead (although you might wish to take your set to the showroom before buying), and the undivided front boot is more practical than a Gallardo’s.
The cockpit has neat design touches like asymmetric door handles and bright white instrument graphics, and the materials are fabulous. It’s certainly superior to its Lamborghini counterpart, despite an asking price some £30k cheaper.
Grippy four-wheel drive? Hardly a sideways machine, then…
Oh, it can be. First, hold down the stability control button for three seconds, and the system is deactivated. Second, find a slippery road surface – the dusty twisties of the Nevada desert (where the R8 was launched) were ideal. Third, swing the flat-bottomed wheel eagerly and boot the right pedal.
The back end swings out of line, and the slide can be choreographed nicely with the throttle. It won’t endlessly powerslide like an M3, but it’s fun enough to bring out the devil in you. And how many Audis can you say that about?
Are the controls more communicative, too?
The hydraulic rack takes three turns from lock-to-lock, but it’s quicker than it sounds. And you get a decent feel for the undulations of the scarred Nevada tarmac. Carbon ceramic brakes are available on the R8, but the standard steel ones – clamped by eight pistons up front and six at the back – are so aggressive, you can save your cash.
Don’t go for the sequential R-tronic box, either. A tweaked version of the Lambo’s e-gear transmission, it’s neither Ferrari F1 quick nor DSG smooth and is prone to judder in traffic. And the paddles are too small, so opt for the manual instead.
It's quick, I take it...
Of course, but acceleration doesn’t feel ballistic. Indeed, in today’s climate of nutty Q-cars, the RS6+ Avant is as fast as an R8 with a shared 4.6sec 0-62mph sprint. But here the V8 – the naturally aspirated, high-revver from the RS4 saloon – is perfectly positioned to make the hairs erect on the back of your neck, rather than being slung out up front.
Yet the R8 sounds curiously quiet, unless you’re wringing its neck. You’ll have to drop to third or fourth for rapid progress at higher speeds, because the V8 is quite peaky. The forthcoming V10 version should address these quibbles, though.
I’m going off it…
Don’t. The R8 doesn’t feel staggeringly fast partly because it’s so refined. It’s not just the muffled engine, but the lack of wind noise at UK motorway speeds, and well-suppressed tyre noise. Wind the car up to 150mph and the R8 feels so well planted, so solid, that you could probably press on to the 187mph top speed without breaking sweat.
The ride quality is also sensational. The R8’s double wishbone suspension eliminates Audi’s typical loping gait, and the magnetic ride suspension option is a work of magic. Applying an electrical charge to magnetic particles in the damper fluid stiffens them, tying down the body while maintaining comfort levels.
An Audi supercar was a big risk, even though it was ameliorated by piggy-backing an established heavyweight like Lamborghini’s Gallardo. But Ingolstadt has pulled it off – spectacularly.
The R8 is handsome, dynamic and its refinement level carves out a new niche. If you want a supercar that rides well, and won’t wear you down on a long motorway drive, the R8 is your car.
• READ OUR 17-PAGE DRIVE OF THE AUDI R8, SHOT ON LOCATION IN NEVADA, IN THE MARCH ISSUE OF CAR. IT HITS THE SHELVES ON 31 JANUARY
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