Much like the Audi R8 itself, a decade goes by in the blink of an eye, especially when you’re busy trundling across the globe testing some of the greatest automotive offerings of our age. Inevitably, some new or refreshed cars are not so great, but ten years ago when I drove the first R8 in Las Vegas it blew me away, and now that I’ve had a crack at the latest iterations of the most superlative Audi, all that has changed is that my appreciation or the car is perhaps that much richer for having watched the model grow up. Not that the setting was all that grown up – we put the R8 through the paces amid the carnivalesque atmosphere of Faro Portugal. Matt the accelerator in the 602bhp V10 Plus iteration of the car, and you’ll feel the years melt from your face. No wait, that’s just the pure accelerative force of the car pulling at your slackening skin, loosened by years of living. Ever wonder how Clarkson earned his jowls? It’s the effect of too many super cars, I’m sure of it.
Anyone familiar with the previous iteration of the R8 you’ll notice the improved transmission right away— a lightning fast dual-clutch DSG tranny has replaced the distinctly unlovable R-tronic robotised manual gearbox, and that’s reason to celebrate. Someday, somewhere, an R-tronic apologist will cry crocodile tears into his or her tea over this soon to be vanquished bit of technology, but for now we can skip the instant nostalgia and simply agree that two clutches are always better than one. There’s a reason that the mighty ZF 8HP is a staple in so many excellent cars. Not here though, this 7-speed box is an Ingolstadt original, and it’s quite good. Or, for the OGs among us, the 6-speed manual represents another appealing option.
Take a walk around the car and you’ll notice— this made-over beauty differs subtly from the old model. The finish is matte in a few more places, while the signature headlight squint is LED bedazzled, as are the taillights, so that there’s something a tad more au currant in its Clint Eastwood impression. (Note to Hollywood: we’re going to need some fresh tough guys sooner than later). The grille is reworked as well, and the car now features rounded exhaust tips.
Contrasting all those matte sections, Audi has increased the colour palette, offering more tonal combinations than ever— at least I think that’s what this means: “Audi offers the R8 in the two solid colours Ibis White and Brilliant Red, in four metallic shades and with five pearl effect / crystal effect coatings. For the R8 V10 plus a matt effect colour is available as an exclusive feature. The side blades on the Coupé come in eight colours.” The V10 Plus is further differentiated with ultra-light CFRP body panels to help offset the hefty power plant.
There are more colours, but fewer entries in the R8 line-up, which now includes two versions of the coupe´ that look quite similar— the V8 or V10. The range-topping R8 V10 Plus is the quickest Audi ever built, keeping up with the Italians while gripping the road with the added peace of mind afforded by Audi’s four-wheel drive quattro chassis. What that means is that, while the R8 V10 Plus does the 0-100kph dash in 3.1 seconds, thundering up to its 318kph top speed, you feel like all that power is working for you, and never against. This is a supercar that will suffer fools as well as fiends, and that’s clearly a compliment.
At a commute-from-Sharjah crawl, the R8 retains the easy feel of a good daily driver, steering and braking without any of the compromises that plague many super cars at super low speeds. The ride is, necessarily, on the harder side – but the trade off in handling is so rewarding that I almost took a perverse pleasure in the bumps. The S-tronic upshifts smoothly here too, so you don’t have to jerk your way through those brief moments when traffic flows.
Normal mode helps the R8 remember its manners around town, but flick on Sport mode and the throttle becomes a merciless hair trigger, releasing the R8s considerable thrust as the transmission reaches low for torque, dipping down as many as four gears (not all dual-clutch jobs can manage this feet) in a blip to find its happy place.
If you’re in a traffic and pedestrian free zone, you can give launch control a shot— the S tronic hovers at 4500 rpm before dropping into first and shooting down the road. According to the R8 owner’s manual, this feature could attract a few onlookers, which in Dubai, is half the point. The R8 is incredibly nimble to match its speedy capability. Push into a turn and it holds on like George Clooney’s wife during their courtship, hanging in well past what seems plausible. Unless you’re a certified track captain, this is the kind of car that will help you find your limits, and not the other way around.
Inside, not that much has changed – splinters of chrome are now more abundant, there’s more leather on the dash, but the overall layout is classic R8. Sit back in the premium cross-stitched leather seats and you’re in the power position, figuratively and literally. You have the standard nav at your fingertips, along with Audi’s MMI infotainment system. In higher trim levels you get to alternate between listening to the bangin’ B&O system comprised of 12 loudspeakers, 10 amplifier channels combining for 465 watts of euphonic sound, or the techno-howl of the R8’s exhaust note.
Another highlight for me was a midnight run around a closed course in this amazing car – the neon sky echoing off the cars reflective surface seemed to dance as I circuited the tarmac. It felt like I was channelling the spirit of Le Mans, albeit in a car you can drive everyday, possibly for twenty four hours if need be. Also unlike the actual Le Mans cars, this one isn’t a tweaky maintenance hog. That means ownership of the R8 should be relatively hassle free compared to the more rarefied stuff, but then, owners of the more rarefied stuff have been known to ship their supercars all over the globe anyway. In any event, this is a car that we can all love, even if we can’t all afford to own one – if you’re a journalist for instance.
Audi offers the R8 in the two solid colours Ibis White and Brilliant Red, in four metallic shades and with five pearl effect / crystal effect coatings. For the R8 V10 plus a matt effect colour is available as an exclusive feature. The side blades on the Coupé come in eight colours
Normal mode helps the R8 remember its manners around town, but flick on Sport mode and the throttle becomes a merciless hair trigger, releasing the R8s considerable thrust as the transmission reaches low for torque, dipping down as many as four gears in a blip to find its happy place