Six years old and the Audi R8 has barely aged a day. It hasn’t required major surgery over that period, either, with the facelifted supercar introducing all-LED front and rear lighting and a slight nip of the front bar. That’s it.
Its heart hasn’t changed either, but the way it puts its guts to the ground has. Both the 4.2-litre V8 and 5.2-litre V10 are allied to a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic dubbed S tronic, replacing the awful single-clutch automatic called R tronic. For the V10 it’s now the only gearbox option.
The Audi R8 V10 plus tested here is the new range flagship, which adds 18kW of power and 10Nm of torque compared with the regular V10 and subtracts 50kg off its kerb weight.
“Modified engine management” takes care of the grunt increase – now 404kW and 540Nm. Mass reduction, meanwhile, comes courtesy of forged 19-inch alloy wheels, reworked insulating materials, carbon ceramic brakes, a lightweight front splitter and rear diffuser and a chassis made of fibreglass-reinforced polymer.
Earlier this year we tested the R8 V10 plus at its local launch around Phillip Island and on the racetrack by the same name. But in supercar-land things can be a bit blurry, and when $408,200 is the asking price, picking the nuances between rivals often requires a familiar stretch of road.
At that price the “everyday supercar” – as it has long been touted since its 2007 launch – suddenly moves out of primarily Porsche 911 territory, and past the Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale ($364,900) and close relative Lamborghini Gallardo ($399,000), towards the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG ($464,000) and Ferrari 458 Italia ($526,950).
With that in mind the Audi R8 V10 plus needs to impress on roads known to the grain … and roads recently driven in a 911 Carrera S, Lexus LFA and SLS AMG among others. At least in my head, there’s a comparison test of sorts going on.
Outward to a drenched NSW Southern Highlands, the R8 V10 plus does the boring bits with newfound ease. The dual-clutch gearbox has transformed the car’s around-town behaviour, with less aggressive throttle tip-in and smoother first-gear pick-up than a DSG-eqipped Volkswagen Golf.
The V10 is quiet unless the Sport button is pressed. A deeper baritone blur then eminates from the twin-split pipes.
Ride comfort, however, remains the same, because where the regular V10 gets magnetic adjustable dampers the V10 plus gets fixed units. Although firm and a bit thumpy around town, the R8 always stays composed and comfortable. Thank the strong aluminium spaceframe, the all-aluminium suspension reducing unsprung mass, or the high-end damping – whatever, the R8 remains one of the best-riding supercars around.
Only one setting for the hydraulic-mechanical power steering, too. The chunky weight is appropriate for a supercar, but the fixed rack ratio itself is a bit slow. Slightly more than three turns lock to lock, and a slight resistance to self centre, betrays the superb consistency and directness delivered on twisty roads.
When those familiar bends arrive, the R8 V10 plus reveals a newfound menace that the previously driven V8 and even regular V10 never quite had.
Initially at least, the Audi R8 V10 plus feels like the playful puppy that’s earned it that everyday-supercar title. The gorgeous linearity of the V10 engine, which makes its peak 540Nm at 6500rpm and tops out at 8500rpm, makes for sublime throttle response.
It’s a vivid reminder that even the best turbocharged engines simply cannot deliver this sort of driver intimacy. A $100K-cheaper BMW M6, for example, from its two turbos makes 680Nm at 1500rpm; breathe on the throttle and the stability control either stammers furiously or the back wheels want to swap with the fronts.
The stability control in the R8 V10 plus is utterly flawless. In regular mode it is subtle but sure. In Sport mode it “permits safe oversteer when the gas is applied when exiting a curve”, according to Audi. Even in the wet, it remains silent if enough corrective lock is applied to keep its rear only slightly out of shape. It means ESC off can be left for the racetrack, as it should be.
Start to push harder and the R8 V10 plus also starts to distance itself from its nice V8 sibling and that slightly unexciting everyday-supercar title.
With a 43:57 front/rear weight distribution, and about 85 per cent of drive going to the rear wheels in normal conditions, the R8 V10 plus demands respect.
It doesn’t have the sharpest front end of any supercar. When the front starts to shed grip, there’s plenty of warning and communication, but it can’t really be leant hard upon as with, say, the new Porsche 911.
There’s an edginess to this chassis that means pushing on requires both patience and quick reactions, depending on the situation. The nose needs to be trail-braked into line, yet brake too deep into a corner and the rear can step out. Balance the throttle between power understeer and oversteer, and it can be very rewarding.
But the R8 V10 plus is as much of a handful when pushed as it is easy to handle at lower limits. Perhaps that trait is more exemplified with the V10 plus with its hard-shifting dual-clutch gearbox, compared with the V8 manual, because corners arrive so much faster. The brakes are brilliant, though, and it’s impossible to tire of the strident howl of the V10 engine, uninterrupted by cog swapping.
The R8 starts to betray its age inside. It’s all low and snug-fitting, and beautifully finished, with V10 rear speakers and a superb Bang and Olufsen supporting act. But the Audi MMI navigation is a previous-generation unit lacking basics such as Bluetooth audio streaming, and the display between the main dials is a downmarket monochromatic unit. The knurled-silver climate controls are shared with a $30K Audi A1 Ambition, among others.
There’s also plenty of road noise on coarse chip surfaces.
It’s in the detail where the Audi R8 V10 plus can’t match even the cheaper Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, and we haven’t driven the forthcoming Turbo S yet. The 911 is better balanced, with better steering, is just as rewarding, quieter and nicer inside. It’s slower, but also cheaper. Theatre-seekers can, at this price, choose to walk into an Audi or Lamborghini dealership, which makes the decision even trickier.
Staring at the V10 engine through the rear glass hatch while replenishing its thirst – it slurped at a rate of 18.5L/100km – forms a reminder that the Audi R8 is still a masterful exotic that will be a future classic. As lovable as the V10 plus is, though, it’s the $125K-cheaper V8 manual that remains the range favourite…