New, sharper Audi R8 deserves the supercar label
What defines a supercar? Speed? Exclusivity? A seven-digit price tag? Yes, a supercar should tick all those boxes – but most of all, it should combine desirability with a thrilling driving experience.
Nine years ago, Audi joined the supercar club with the unexpectedly brilliant, first-generation R8. Sure, there were those who argued that the R8 was too soft, and lacked drama. But that didn’t prevent 27 000 buyers from opting for the Audi. And anyone who drove the R8 knew it was something special.
Keener, lighter, faster
The Gen 2 Audi R8 features an all-new chassis, an even lighter body, and keener, sharper looks. It doffs a hat to the original shape, but it makes the old R8 look like a tabby next to a tiger.
It’s a trimmer, angrier car with crisper lines and contours. The fighter-bomber that was the original R8 has become a faster, meaner tactical interceptor.
Of course, there is all the usual Audi styling stuff – a hungry single frame grille, LED headlights with a piercing stare, and a smoothly curved roofline. But the shape has been honed for perfect airflow and wind-cheating aerodynamics.
At the rear, a massive diffuser coaxes the air from underneath the car, while the fixed rear wing delivers a hundred kilos of downforce at speed. Huge 20-inch wheels fill the sculpted wheel arches.
That power plant no longer has to stand back for its direct competitor at Lamborghini. The 5.2-litre V10 delivers the same 449 kW and 560 Nm as the heart beating in the Huracan LP610. It’s linked here to a seven-speed S-tronic dual clutch gearbox with fly-by-wire paddle shifts, and a brand new quattro system that can move all the urge between the front and rear axles at will.
The underpinnings are all-new, too, employing a bonded mix of aluminium and carbon fibre-reinforced plastic to reduce weight and improve torsional rigidity. Wishbones all round are coupled to gas-filled dampers, with active suspension an option. To tame the R8 V10 Plus’ considerable urge, huge carbon fibre ceramic disc brakes are standard fare
High tech is the overriding theme of the two-seater cockpit. A thick-rimmed steering wheel frames the virtual cockpit, with its high-res display and configurable instrumentation. The bucket seats are special lightweight designs, and there are carbon fibre accents — although the overall effect is more luxurious than expected.
Not that any of that matters once you’ve dropped in behind the wheel, and hit the start button. The V10 is vocal to say the least, even on start-up, but growl becomes roar becomes scream as you chase the needle towards the red. It’s a sound that makes your heart beat faster.
Fast-shifting S-tronic ‘box
The previous R8 was extremely user friendly, and this R8 is no different. The S-tronic dual clutch gearbox swaps cogs instantly and incisively, especially in dynamic mode, and the engine revs with the resolute smoothness of a turbine.
The steering feels tidy and nicely weighted, even at low speeds, but gets better and better as the speed increases, showing off a real sense of heft and feedback that is rare for electro-mechanical systems.
Audi puts a lot of emphasis on the new R8’s motorsport heritage, and so it’s only fitting that we’re driving the fastest standard production Audi has ever built on the brand new, completely revamped Kyalami Racing Circuit in Midrand. It’s a match made in sports car heaven – smooth, pristine tar, a challenging but varied layout … and not another car in sight!
The R8’s performance stats are impressive. It makes short work of the zero to 100 dash, stopping the clocks at just 3,2 seconds, and nipping past 200 km/h in around 9 seconds. Top speed is 330 km/h, if you can find a road that’s long and empty enough to keep the throttle buried.
But straightline speed is only one of the strings in the R8’s performance bow. The chassis is lively without becoming nervous, the steering is direct and communicative, and quattro always delivers enough grip without spoiling the fun. That V10 sounds fantastic, too, especially between 5 000 and 8 000 rpm.
What’s less apparent when you’re thrashing the R8 around a track like Kyalami is how docile and easy the car is when driving normally. Yes, it’s wide, and rear vision is restricted, but with the driving mode set to comfort and cruise control engaged, the R8 becomes a competent long-distance cruiser.
Best R8 yet?
There is no doubt that the new R8 improves on the original in absolutely every respect – the styling is keener, the chassis is tauter, and the engine has more muscle. The interior execution has gone from old school to cutting edge, and in performance terms, the V10 Plus is Audi’s fastest production car yet.
But here’s the most surprising part: at just under ZAR3-million before extras, the R8 V10 Plus is also a supercar bargain, undercutting its rivals from Lamborghini and Ferrari by up to ZAR2-million …