Naturally aspirated V10s are all but dead, but Audi has kept the dream alive one more time...
The second-generation, 2016 Audi R8 is arguably the best everyday supercar money can buy, but that depends entirely on your definition of what makes a car super.
Since its launch in 2008, Audi Australia has sold an impressive 427 of the original R8s, making it one of the most successful cars in its segment to date. In many ways, it was the R8 that started a revolution amongst the other two German luxury marques to create their own halo supercars. So in that regard, the second generation has a lot to live up to.
Fast-forward to the new 2016 Audi R8 and the world of supercars isn’t what it used to be. Porsche and Ferrari have both ditched naturally-aspirated engines in favour of turbos (bar the GT3 and GT3 RS) and even Aston Martin is buying turbo engines from Mercedes-AMG. As it remains, it’s just the Audi R8 and its sister-car, the Lamborghini Huracan, that still present a choice for those that wish to buy a modern naturally aspirated supercar.
Gone is the popular (and cheaper) V8 version of the R8, now replaced with two powerful V10 models - the R8 V10 ($354,900) and the R8 V10 plus ($389,900). Both are powered by identical 5.2-litre V10 engines (albeit in different states of tune) that were once the hallmark of Lamborghini. The engine itself, while somewhat unchanged from before, has gained dual injection (port and direct) and, to save fuel, the ability to turn off half its cylinders when coasting (not because owners were concerned about fuel, but mainly to keep the Greenies happy).
That and a few other technical modifications has seen power rise to 397kW (+11kW compared to previous model) and 540Nm (+10Nm) on the V10, and 449kW (+45kW) and 560Nm (+20Nm) on the V10 plus. If you opt for the more powerful model, it will go from 0-100km/h (with launch control) in 3.2 seconds, add another 0.3 for the standard V10.
From the outside, the old and the new R8 are not all that easy to tell apart, in typical Audi fashion. That’s a good thing, though, as the R8 still looks good 13 years after it first debuted in the form of the LeMans Quattro Concept.
It’s on the inside that the real changes have taken place, with the 12.3-inch virtual cockpit taking central focus for the driver while the rest of the interior has been given a huge update with flash switchgear and a more modern design.
It certainly lacks the dramatic fighter jet-like cockpit of the Huracan, but having stepped out of said Lamborghini to jump into an R8 back-to-back, this lucky writer certainly appreciated being able to store a cup of coffee in the Audi. Also, where the Huracan’s switchgear feels a little cheap to touch and flimsily put together, the R8’s is anything but.
The seats are comfortable and there’s enough room behind them to fit a golf bag (though you couldn’t fit much in the front boot) and, if set in the right modes, the R8 puddles along comfortably amongst most roads.
Ultimately, though, it’s how the 2016 Audi R8 drives at speed that puts it in contention for supercar status.
Having ditched the old Quattro all-wheel drive system for a new one that can alter the engine’s might from front to rear from zero to 100 percent, the R8’s super-stable character remains the same, but massively uprated, bettering that of its Italian cousin, too.
Around the twisty and empty roads of Jindabyne, we put the new R8 through its paces, desperate to find its limit. Where before the R8 was easy to force into an understeer, the new car is far better composed.
Simply dial up all the settings to dynamic, (there’s a toggle on the performance wheel on the V10 plus, otherwise a button in the centre will do) and away you go. Although Audi Australia has opted to bring all R8s with the sport exhaust standard, the V10 heart that beats in the German is far more muted than its Italian equivalent.
The overruns and the crackle from the exhaust felt like a whimper in comparison to the loud-mouthed Huracan. Then again, that may be part of the Audi’s appeal, or if not, there’s always a third-party exhaust that will fix that in no time.
What makes the new Audi R8 so amazing to drive at jail-worthy speeds (we speak hypothetically, of course…) is the grip. We liken it to a Nissan GT-R in that you can push it as hard as you want without the fear of God, and it still goes exactly where it’s told. Unlike its Japanese counterpart, though, the R8 feels alive to drive. It builds your confidence, step by step, and never lets you down.
The difference between the V10 and the V10 plus is very noticeable on a straight line, where the latter easily pulls away, despite just small percentage gains in torque. On the twisty sections, though, it’s hard to tell them apart.
Even so, our advice is to forget the standard V10 model and go straight for the top - considering that for just $35,000 more, the V10 plus comes with significantly more equipment. Notably the performance steering wheel, carbon ceramic brakes, carbon wing, diffuser and side blades - not to mention it will most likely hold its value far better in the long term.
Having finished the official launch program for the R8, we borrowed one of Audi Australia’s V10 plusses and took it back up a very twisty section of road to figure out where it gives up, only to note that, ultimately, it’s the tyres that give in before the car, which undoes itself in the form of mild and very predictable understeer. With optimal temperature tyres, there is just so much grip that it’s hard to fathom the physics of it all.
Despite damp roads and the occasional light shower, the quattro system and the linear delivery of the naturally-aspirated V10 made driving Audi’s fastest ever production car at speed feel like child’s play. The seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission was smooth in comfort and rapidfire in dynamic. It doesn’t have the hammer-like and dramatic jolt you’ll get in a Huracan running Corsa mode, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Entry and exit speed in and out of corners is beyond what most would believe possible and with a 42 per-cent front and 58 per-cent rear axle load distribution and the mid-engined layout, the R8 provides driving characteristics that prove Audi’s enormous motorsport heritage has translated to its roads cars.
On that note, it’s actually worth realising that the R8 LMS racecar has the exact same engine as the road version (albeit with less power!) and both share near identical Audi space frames (13 percent carbon-fibre reinforced polymer, 79% aluminium). The new R8 has 40 per-cent better body rigidity than the car it replaces.
So, the new Audi R8 drives like a supercar. Of course, tick a few options and it’s well and truly into supercar territory - in terms of price. Why, then, did it not feel like a supercar behind the wheel?
Audi’s argument for the R8 is that it’s meant to be an everyday supercar, a vehicle that one can drive from Sydney to Brisbane without having to worry about the implications and discomfort that comes with similar high-performance cars. In that regard, Audi has nailed the brief. The R8 is among the best supercars you can drive, day in and day out, without a worry in the world (with the Porsche 911 Turbo S a pretty darn good contender as well).
On the other side of the spectrum, the R8 lacks drama. We don’t dare use the ‘B’ word, but it’s close. It’s the German personality that 'shines' through. The R8 is subtle, inside and out. And, considering that for about an additional $50,000 you can find yourself in a nearly-identical Lamborghini with more drama than a Kevin Spacey monologue, the R8 is clearly positioned to seek a certain type of buyer that is content with having the ultimate in naturally-aspirated V10 performance in a package that doesn’t need to shout about it every second of every minute.
The question is, though, isn’t a supercar meant to be impractical and loud? One that is uncompromising on comfort but makes you feel like a fighter pilot on a mission to conquer the next bend? Sweat-inducing to drive fast and instilling that sense of fear that at any point it may bite?
Realistically, that’s our one and only criticism of the new R8 - that for all its incredible dynamic ability, it lacks the accompanying drama. But that’s deliberate and certainly no different to the car that it replaces. That aside, then, the second-generation new Audi R8 is the ultimate naturally-aspirated everyday supercar money can buy.