On the vast plaza outside Audi’s Ingolstadt headquarters, a single matte-blue Audi R8 LMX is seen as the holy grail by owners coming to collect their cars from the factory (which most Germans do) and countless tourists filtering through the museum and café.
Among a flood of parked ‘A’ models, they stare and point and press faces against the side glass of this ‘R’ model that has been on the market for eight years barely changed. This flagship coupe has perhaps been most integral to the brand image improvement of Audi and has proven its longevity, with a catwalk career that exceeds that of most supermodels. This is the grand finale before the next-generation arrives – the Audi R8 LMX, which stands for Le Mans Exclusive.
It perhaps could have been named the R8 BLB, or BMW Laser Beater, as strong rumours flowed that production of what Audi thought would be world-first laser headlight technology was pulled forward after hearing BMW would rush its i8 supercar to market first with the technology. Of course, such rumours are denied (if only the HQ walls behind us could speak). You can read our full test on the laser headlights in our R8 LMX night drive here, as this review will focus on the daytime drive of the car that occurred around the hills towards Munich the following day.
Driving is what you want to do with the Audi R8, no doubt. It is probably the supercar this tester has had most experience with, so it’s good to settle back into familiar surroundings having punctuated time since with a drive of the Ferrari 458 – the R8 LMX, with three of a total 99 examples built coming to Australia priced from $440,000, is within striking distance of a $527K 458.
In addition to the laser headlights of the R8 LMX, its $31,800 premium over the R8 V10 plus is also made up of lots of carbon fibre – on the front lip spoiler, fixed rear spoiler, side ‘flics’, engine compartment cover and rear diffuser. Inside there’s yet more carbon fibre, diamond-pattern velour rooflining, Nappa leather and hard-backed seats.
Yet it’s inside that you most feel you’re sitting in a 2006-era Audi. The trip computer screen is monochromatic, where even a middle-grade Audi A3 gives you colour these days. The MMI navigation system has chunky buttons bordering its now-small 7.0-inch screen, and the (admittedly lovely, knurled silver) climate controls are shared with the Audi A1.
It might come as a surprise to someone who has just spent $440K on a supercar that they need to manually adjust their steering wheel and seat position. There’s little storage, either, only small door pockets and a couple of shallow cup holders.
Not that anyone is counting coffee storage between Audi and Ferrari at this end of the market, of course, and there are lovely touches to the R8 LMX interior, such as swathes of leather over the dashboard. The driving position is spot-on, too.
Likewise the position of the 5.2-litre non-turbo V10 engine, right behind your head. In the R8 LMX application it gets a freer exhaust to help liberate 419kW at 8000rpm – 15kW up on the not-poorly-endowed R8 V10 plus. Torque is unchanged, with 540Nm produced at 6500rpm.
After most of the world has switched to turbocharged performance, and in turn forced induction sports cars are the ones I’ve mostly been driving lately, it’s a strange experience jumping back into something like the R8 LMX. That’s because to truly feel fast in this car, the tachometer needle must be showing at least 5000rpm, or about the point at which a turbo engine would be starting to taper.
No wonder the launch control function holds revs high before dumping its clutch and shuffling through tightly packed ratios to ensure the 3.4-second 0-100km/h claim is met on the way to a 320km/h top speed (if the autobahn is empty, which it sadly wasn’t).
A seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is indeed the only choice for the R8 LMX, so thankfully it’s a good one, despite a 'less-good' driver initially upshifting too early to make the R8 LMX feel surprisingly not quick.
The difference in engine delivery between 3000rpm and 5000rpm is staggering – transitioning from tractable, a gradual build, to manic and electrifying. Between the latter point and the 8500rpm cut-out, there’s hard-wired responses from the throttle and a baritone yet sprightly shrill that just makes you want to stay in that zone forever.
The auto is such a great one, alert and intuitive in sport mode, yet so smooth and imperceptible the R8 LMX could easily be used as a daily driver. That was not always the case with the lurchy, Lamborghini-derived single-clutch auto that came before a facelifted V10 last year. Yet when you grab the right paddle shifter behind the steering wheel as the engine approaches cut-out, the auto thumps home into the next gear with surprising (and likeable) aggression.
Carbon ceramic brakes are standard in the R8 LMX, and their initial pedal travel is so immediate that it takes you by surprise. Even the best ceramics feel a bit wooden, or for an analogy that matches the sound they can make, like pushing a brick into another brick. But they are fabulous, as is the steering that is as quick, connected and incisive as they come – traits not always associated with Audi steering.
If there’s a chink in the R8 LMX armour, it’s the response of its front-end. Sure, there’s prodigious grip from the 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, but you can’t treat this chassis as you would a Ferrari 458 (or even a Porsche Cayman). You can’t simply enter corners at great speed, smearing the front end into the tarmac, before applying throttle pressure and balancing it out. The R8 LMX needs to be properly set-up, and that means washing speed, sometimes trail-braking, feeling through the steering when the front finally starts to bite.
Despite its all-wheel drive with only 60 per cent rear bias, the R8 LMX will permit the occasional slew of oversteer on corner exit if you’re high enough to peak power and tingle the throttle a bit – because, let’s face it, 60 per cent of 419kW in a 1595kg car is still 251kW.
With fixed dampers, the ride of the R8 LMX is exemplary, exactly matching the firmly decisive finesse of the transmission to reinforce it as the great everyman’s supercar, the do-it-all contender, as ever.
The Audi R8 has had a wonderful run, and we eagerly await the next generation. In its interior detailing and ultimate dynamics, the R8 doesn’t quite feel $440K worth, and the Fazz drives quite a bit better, as lovable as the Audi is. Still, there’s no doubt the three example of R8 LMX coming to Australia will go as quickly as the flash of its laser highbeam.