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The 2017 Audi R8 V10 is at once cool sophistication, elegant simplicity, masterful engineering and mechanical savagery. Before the R8, the marque from Ingolstadt didn’t have a technological flagship of this nature. RS-badged vehicles were capable and fast, but not quite in this orbit.
The R8 is a different beast entirely. As such, the world has been saying thank you, ever since the German manufacturer bought supercar flagship Lamborghini.
On that subject, there is plenty of content sharing under the skin. The platform might be virtually identical, but having driven both recently, there’s genuine difference between the two from behind the wheel. The R8 definitely plays the understated role with more aplomb, regardless of the blinding ‘Vegas Yellow’ that shrouds our test example.
There are subtle differences to the throttle pedal feel, the tuning of the engine, the AWD system and the day-to-day liveability. The R8 for one, doesn’t need a nose lift system to traverse most inner-city driveways and speed humps without even a hint of touching down.
Both are epic supercars, but there’s an overarching sense that seems altogether less intimidating about the Audi. It could be all in the mind, but we spent an enjoyable week trying to work out exactly what it is.
As tested, the 2017 Audi R8 V10 starts from $354,900 plus on-road costs. Our test model has only two options, but neither of them is especially ‘cheap’. The extended fine Nappa leather upholstery and trim package with coloured contrasting stitching costs, wait for it, $25,840. The side blade in gloss carbon is slightly more reasonable at $5000. All up then, you can have this very R8 V10 for $385,010 plus on road costs.
Under the bonnet, there’s a 5.2-litre FSI V10 engine, which in the tradition of all recent Audi performance offerings, throws punches with nasty intentions.
It’s not always an assault weapon though, able to cruise around in surprising quiet, slipping under the radar, until people spot the yellow exterior. Open the exhaust via ‘Dynamic’ mode though – selectable on the steering wheel – and all manner of hell is unleashed the first time you hammer the accelerator pedal.
The engine generates an easy 397kW at 8250rpm and 540Nm at 6500rpm and drives through a seven-speed S tronic auto that shifts with the precision of a gunshot. The gearbox fires through the cogs in rapid order when you want to extract its best.
In typical V10 fashion, the engine is deceptively smooth, even at idle, despite the incredible power it delivers and the heavy blow with which speed is piled on when you really get into it.
The maelstrom is most enjoyable in Dynamic mode, with faster upshifts and downshifts preceded by a furious throttle blip and the associated exhaust madness. It’s intoxicating, if a little loutish. Who cares when you’ve spent this much money, though?
Against an ADR claim of 11.4L/100km on the combined cycle, we used an indicated 19L/100km. That’s without even trying to be efficient in any way, shape or form. You could definitely eke out better efficiency if you really wanted to. We didn’t.
First though, the styling. I may have been a little harsh toward the R8 when I reviewed the 2WD Huracan recently and suggested those that didn’t have the balls to buy the Lambo could head straight to an Audi dealership where an R8 would be waiting. Harsh? Maybe. I’d say fair, though.
The R8 makes a statement, but it isn’t as in your face as the Lambo, which is probably exactly what the German parent company would want.
We love the distinctive front end, with sinister looking DRLs and aggressive headlights that point sharply to the edges of the nose. The rear is tough, broad and low and the stance is perfect. The rear diffuser is a work of art both in styling and execution. You might not need it doing 60km/h around town, but damn it looks good.
Interestingly, the R8 is low, but not too low so it’s easy to use daily, if you don’t have to carry too much luggage, that is. I loved how easy it was to get into and out of driveways, roll over speed humps and raised speed platforms. It adds immeasurably to the R8’s everyday sense of ease.
The R8’s party trick, like the Lamborghini, is that it feels bigger, tougher and more macho than it actually is. Not much bigger than a 911, the R8 is inherently usable, fits into a conventional carspace and is never unwieldy to drive. This is now the equal of the 911 as the thinking owner’s supercar, a fact reinforced every time we drive one.
Storage space, is as mentioned, cursory. You’ll comfortably stuff two soft overnight bags into the snout, and a work case will easily fit into that same space for the daily commute. In the cabin, there’s a shallow glove box, two small door pockets, a decent-sized bin ahead of the shift lever and two cupholders behind the occupants’ elbows under a cover that can be closed. Your phone and wallet can be stowed in the bin ahead of the shifter, or in the door, so it isn’t all unreasonable. There’s a small shelf behind the seats that could also be used for overnight-sized bags.
Getting into and out of the R8 is supercar standard, although you don’t fall into it. The seats will be too firm for some but we found them perfect even after a few hours behind the wheel. Headroom is excellent, so taller occupants won’t feel like they are stooping to fit themselves into the cabin. Visibility is surprising too, if you’re accustomed to old school supercars.
The glass engine cover assists here, with the added bonus that you can see the powerplant from outside the R8. The heated seats are especially impressive, which means you can open the windows even on a cold night to hear the V10 howling on acceleration and cracking on the downshift.
Audi’s exceptional Virtual Cockpit is quite possibly at its best beneath the instrument binnacle of the R8. I first sampled the then new technology in the TT where it also made sense, but opinion is divided in the CarAdvice office as to whether it's a feature needed across the whole Audi portfolio. Some testers love it regardless of model, but I don’t think it’s required in a Q5 or Q7, for example.
In the R8 though, it’s a must. The interactive gauges feel like a race dash, and the satellite navigation display between them is brilliant. You can even minimise the gauges and spread the sat nav right across the width of the display to get a huge map reproduction.
The start button and drive mode button are positioned on the steering wheel and never get in the way of your whirling hands, while at the same time adding to the racecar cred. The decluttered centre console design is beautiful in its simplicity and benefits from the removal of a screen altogether thanks to Virtual Cockpit.
Despite the compact nature of the cabin design, the broad dash, large glasshouse and clean console ensure it never feels claustrophobic. It feels very Audi, but also very comfortable. We knocked over a three-hour drive with zero fatigue. Only the fact that we had to limit the number of kilometres we added to the odometer stopped us from driving on. And on.
The engine and gearbox, which both work incredibly smoothly around town in ‘Comfort’ mode, transform instantly into rabid dogs in ‘Dynamic’ mode. The duality of character is one of the R8’s strongest traits. Even the gearbox is demure at city speeds in comfort mode. It’s a little raucous on cold startup, but once warmed up, it settles into a quiet idle.
The around town ride impressed as well. The R8 is firm, but not harsh or too stiff and manages to soak up most road surfaces easily. You’d still do well to avoid obvious potholes and large ruts of course, but the usual urban fare is a breeze. It’s hard to believe a performance car of this capability can be so docile.
In dynamic mode at speed though, the R8 is a ballistic missile. It rockets off the mark up to warp – and license shredding – speed in the blink of an eye. Public roads are not the place to find the limits of the R8’s performance capabilities. With the V10 wailing behind your ears, and the gearbox firing into the next ratio at redline, you’ll be well beyond the posted limit in no time.
The brakes are monumentally effective and seem fade resistant, certainly on the road anyway, and the steering precision is also noteworthy. Few cars are so rewarding, and effortless to drive at speed, and the R8 does it all so easily.
The Quattro drivetrain delivers outstanding grip and assurance and yes, it might exhibit some hint of FWD characteristics at the limit, but you’re utterly full of it if you think you’ll find that limit on the road. Therefore, most Australian buyers won’t even know about it.
Having driven the R8 V10 on-track at its international launch, I’m well aware of how potent this car is when you get to properly stretch its legs. It might not be quite as fast as the Huracan in outright terms, but it’s blindingly fast when you get a chance to let it off the leash.
Could you live with the Audi R8? Absolutely. Could I live with it? Definitely. Rare is the car you can confidently pilot in traffic every day, but mercilessly beat at warp speed on the track. We’ve done both and the R8 is an exceptional engineering masterpiece.
I’ll never tire of how easy it is to drive a car as fast as the R8.
It is without doubt, a marvel of engineering and one that belongs with the very best of the supercar set.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.