Is the 2020 Audi R8 the most accessible supercar? If it’s not, it must be damn close. Perhaps only the Porsche 911 Turbo or Turbo S (which was the previous standard-setter for usability) still pips it at the line. Whichever you prefer though, there’s no doubt the Audi R8 is a mighty supercar that is staggeringly fast, but one you can also live with day-to-day if your pockets are deep enough.
Supercars have been getting more laconic and better behaved by the generation, so it’s a trend across the board regardless of marque, but still the R8 – with its rifle shot gearshift precision and bellowing naturally aspirated V10 – positions itself at the top of the pile. In a modern world of forced induction, Audi continues to preach the naturally aspirated gospel. And what a choir it is…
First up though, the issue of quattro AWD versus RWD. Who said one variant of R8 was enough anyway? This debate alone is an intriguing one and will largely hinge on how you define ‘purity’.
If you assume money is no object of course, which it invariably is. We’ve thrashed out the same debate in the CarAdvice office since Audi released the RWD R8, many times.
For me, purity within the Audi stable means quattro, despite the fact that purity within the supercar space traditionally meant RWD. Again, it’s just an opinion, and you know what they say about those. There is no doubt though, that Audi’s legendary quattro system has underpinned its performance cars for decades and speaks in part to the technology that Audi sprinkles into its platforms.
RWD however, has always been the mark of the pure driver’s car – Valentino Balboni famously said he’d always choose a RWD Lamborghini over AWD if the choice was there, for example. And the pure driver’s car argument is still a solid one, regardless of the earth-moving power on offer.
There is however, an argument in 2020 that to properly harness the power that is being generated – certainly on public roads – you actually need AWD. Even big sedans like the E63 are going to AWD, for example.
Like the rise of the automatic transmission and the slow death of the manual then, as cars get faster, AWD might be the only way forward. For now, though, and so far as Audi is concerned, the choice is yours.
It’s easy to say when you’re theoretically spending 100 grand of someone else’s money then, but it would seem for me that if you’re buying into the pinnacle of Audi engineering, you buy quattro. After all, it’s the point of difference that Audi is best known for.
Therefore, as proficient as the RWD R8 is, and as affordable as it is compared to the quattro variant, if I could pick only one R8 to recommend, it would be the AWD.
Let’s start with pricing – the RWD R8 starts from $295,000 before on-road costs and our launch vehicle has no options beyond that. Stepping up to quattro doesn’t come cheap – our test vehicle starts from $395,000 before on-road costs. Custom badges and trim adds just $700 to the starting price.
You do of course, get the same V10 engine and seven-speed S tronic transmission, but power and torque are different. The RWD makes do with ‘just’ 397kW at 7800rpm and 540Nm at 6500rpm, while the quattro hammers out 449kW at 8250rpm and 560Nm 6500rpm.
On paper, the 0-100km/h times are close too – 3.2 seconds plays 3.7 seconds. I’d wager if you’re buying an R8 you couldn’t give a toss about fuel use, but the RWD uses a claimed 12.0L/100km against 13.4L/100km for the AWD.
Sharper styling is the order of the day for the 2020 model year and the R8 has lost none of its edgy attitude. Devoid of wings and addendum, it cuts a sleek, aggressive figure in traffic, with front and rear light signatures that catch the eye and leave passers-by in no doubt as to what is prowling around them in traffic.
The R8 errs on the side of minimalism inside the cabin, a complete lack of clutter and an interior devoid of unnecessary switchgear adds a touch of understated class. There was a time when premium meant buttons, switches and controls everywhere, but that’s not the case now – and the R8 cabin is all the better for it.
Virtual Cockpit means all the controls run through the driver’s screen – it’s both neat and effective. You can set the display to suit your taste and there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. The controls are executed beautifully too, the start button inside the steering wheel for example. It could look kitsch, but it doesn’t.
The seats – sports seats in the RWD we tested and buckets in the quattro – are supportive and comfortable, and aside from the low seating position, there is nothing about the driving experience that questions everyday usability. Even the fixed bucket in the quattro variant is comfortable despite being firm and more directed at a racetrack.
Despite everyday pretension, not many buyers have practicality at the top of their list when it comes to purchasing a supercar. With that in mind the front boot is decent rather than large, and there’s enough room for overnight bags. Maybe a week on the road if you pack smartly. Still, it’s better than supercars from an earlier generation.
Few things – behind a steering wheel at least – generate the sense of occasion and free-spinning power of a naturally aspirated V10. We’ve written it before many times, but the engine shared with the Lamborghini Huracan is a masterpiece of linear power delivery and relentless urge.
It shrieks up to redline (almost 9000rpm) and seems to find a second wind in the mid-range that just makes you want to push harder. Track days will be your friend if you really want to sample your R8.
The 5.2-litre is both savage and subtle. It’s manic at full noise, firing and crackling on the overrun or on the downshift, booming off the rock walls of our gorge drive, but docile and serene around town.
Effortless but urgent when you push hard, a sensational duality of character that might only be possible because it is devoid of forced induction. The way in which the revs climb to redline is something to behold, and a driving experience we should all be so lucky to be able to afford.
There’s no doubt that a supercar like a 911 Turbo S is truly epic in its broad spread of ability, but there’s something majestic about the way in which a big, naturally aspirated engine goes to work. That’s the case even if you’re following an R8, as we did, in another RS-badged Audi, trying as hard as you can to keep up, if only for the front-row seat to the soundtrack.
Audi representatives have told us before that whenever they speak to R8 owners, sound is the main subject being discussed, so it seems most people – owners or otherwise – are in it for the same reason.
On public roads, it’s difficult to find the edges of the RWD’s performance envelope, such is the grip on offer, but encounter a slick road, and you feel better knowing you’ve got quattro if you’re in the AWD R8. The RWD R8 is still savagely, brutally fast on the right road in the right hands, and as such, it’s tough to come up with a reason not to love it simply for driving two wheels not four.
It doesn’t feel any less special or bring with it any less sense of occasion. The R8 is a car that demands attention and delivers street presence in spades regardless of the drivetrain.
In short, the Audi R8 is as good as it ever was. RWD or AWD, it doesn’t matter. Buy either and you’ll feel like you’ve made a smart and inspired purchase.
It’s such a brilliant all-rounder, it makes you wonder why it took Audi so long to enter the supercar race.