Colin Hubbard drives the Audi R8 V10
When the Audi R8 was launched in 2006 it was only available with the 4.2 litre V8 engine from the RS4. Now you can buy one with a 5.2 V10 borrowed from Audi's Italian cousins - Lamborghini.
The R8 is based on a Gallardo platform, with an aluminium monocoque and features a dry sumped V8 meaning it can be mounted lower down than a wet sump where the oil is stored underneath the motor. In a dry sumped car the oil is stored in a reservoir at the side which means the motor is never starved of oil under hard cornering. And cornering is the R8’s party trick, being four wheel drive but with heavy rear bias. It can remain playful yet the powered front wheels always give that extra level of traction through the corners.
The V10 was launched in 2008 with the Gallardo derived 5.2 litre V10 engine which was re-tuned to produce 517bhp and 391 lb/ft of torque, presumably to put some distance between the howling mad supercar maker and the rather sensible luxury car company.
As the V10 engine is longer than the V8 it stretches out toward the cabin so there’s less of a shelf behind the driver which alters the centre of gravity. Other differences are that the front and rear vents have less blades, the side scoops are more pronounced and open out to suck in more air and there are 2 large diameter exhaust outlets as opposed to the V8’s 4 smaller circular outlets. Along with some Spider design alloy wheels and a standard fit Bang and Olufsen hifi that completes the V10 package.
Oh, and the world's first all-LED headlights.
I took a walk around the car to take in the proportions, shapes and details of this sensible supercar, which has always given me a warm feeling inside. The first thing that struck me is the height. It’s a low car with only a few inches of ground clearance.
I wondered whether this will clear the speed bumps on the way out of the car park. The next is the side blades which I didn’t really get the point of at first. I always thought that if I could muster up the money to buy an R8 I would have them painted in body colour, but in the flesh and in bare carbon they add some drama, some jewellery to the car and help disguise the longer rear section of the car where the engine is buried.
The glass engine cover is essential for a supercar so you and spectators can see where the money's gone and show off the heart of the beast. Buyers of the V10 get the best view with longer cam covers and silver grills at the side.
Front and rear views have very similar make up with large vents each side with the lights sitting on top. The front is low and snarly but the rear slightly more upright for a more aerodynamic and downforce influenced shape.
Something tells me Audi spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel perfecting the shape so the finished product didn’t rely on external aero.
Yes there’s no sticky-out spoilers or low splitters on the car, just a small pop-up rear fin and integrated aero leaving the attention grabbing to its psychotic Italian cousins. The front arches and rear haunches are creamy smooth with a ridge running from the front light, over the front arch, toward the top of the doors, over the rear arch and finishing at the outer edge of the rear light. It’s a smooth operator, very calm and collected.
The colour is Sepang Blue Pearl and has a deep shine which looks great draped over the German curves complimenting the carbon side blades.
The angry looking wheels contrast with the smooth sleek lines of the body and are shod with 235/35ZR19 front and 295/30/ZR19 Continental rubber. Peeking through the spokes in the wheels are vented wavy discs and multi-piston black callipers with red R8 logos.
The door is opened with a handle close to the flared out side blades and makes a quality pop as it eases open. As you sit in the car you seem to drop further than expected, due to the seat height being equivalent to the sill height. It’s a comfortable driving position and a quality, restrained cabin.
It doesn’t shout supercar in here. Yes it’s a fine place to be but it could have more drama and, having driven the rest of the Audi range, I know they can do better. To be fair it’s coped admirably for 7 years without any facelifts but it’s about time they injected a little charisma inside, especially with the info system which uses the older style double din size nav with integrated reversing camera screen.
The wheel is a familiar Audi unit with a flat bottom and features the usual thumb controls and high quality leather. The instruments are openly visible through the wheel and are clear and again fairly familiar Audi territory.
This car is equipped with a 7 speed S-Tronic transmission and as such doesn’t have the lovely open gate manual selector but an auto selector with left for manually selected up/down and right for neutral and reverse - but it does have the same feelsome gear knob.
Start the engine with a proper key while noticing the high quality highly polished carbon fibre trim dotted around the cabin, in a bid to differentiate it from the lower model range. It starts with an excitable whizz and settles to a grumbly tickover.
Pulling away is a doddle. There’s lots of power low down. Being an auto means you can’t stall it and look like a complete pillock, which is by far the most embarrassing thing you can do in a grabbing supercar.
I was amazed how it glided over the speed bumps on the way out of the car park with such low clearance.
After a long run down a private lane (giving the engine a blip with the window down under a small bridge) and I came to my first junction. Visibility is great and forward view’s better than my own TT as there’s no engine out front and the pillars seem to be narrower.
A tight left turn and the front diff groans and twitches as I eased out onto the main road on full lock and take it easy at first as 517bhp powering 1,645 kilos takes some focus.
It rides very well on the all-round double wishbones and is a cinch to plod along in. My Nan could easily drive it if she were still here, although she couldn’t be trusted with such a powerhouse.
Rear visibility is fine and the rear-view camera helps when parking but the rear three quarters are completely missing, obstructed by bodywork. I don’t like to use the words van and supercar in the same sentence but they have comparable driver’s views, only differing in height.
The first roundabout and I did a few laps to get a feel for the weight transfer and slow speed handling. It’s a little wet but the car stays in line, the rear end wanting to push out. The placing of the engine and occupants inside the wheelbase means it has a weight distribution advantage over front engined cars. The front end is light, agile and pointy with no noticeable understeer.
I accelerated near flat out leaving the roundabout and it picks up exceptionally well, the four wheel drive traction and modest weight helping pour every horsepower onto the road. This time with more revs than before and the V10 made a proper, exotic noise - the 5 cylinders per bank slightly out of balance making a double warble exhaust note.
The 5.2 litre engine has direct fuel injection and variable valve timing so its peak power is developed at an astonishing 8,000 revs and red lines at just 500rpm more. It’s mated to a twin clutch gearbox providing pretty much continuous forward motion.
Beyond 5,000 revs and the previously tractable engine gets so much more urgent and requires more attention to the process of driving, your responses require immediate attention.
The brakes are up to the task. They're steel disks and provide smooth modulation with strong stomping power, diminishing speed in a flash.
I played with various settings. The he first was a button marked with a damper which selects the magnetic suspension setting that runs a charge through the metal heavy fluid in the damper so its properties can be controlled by a computer. This firms the ride up - not unbearable but less pliant than before but as a benefit it grips the road so much better that they should have a picture of an Octopus on the button. It’s not at all crashy and deals with bumps and compressions with sublime body control. It’s just a case of point and squirt.
Next up I swallowed 2 brave pills and press the button marked Sport. This sharpens up the engine mapping, provides engine blipping on down changes, slackens off the ESP and automatically selects magnetic damping. It reacts instantly knocking the gearbox down a gear so the revs flare ready for action and it feels more urgent, more alive.
Pin the throttle on a long straight and it feels faster too. The noise is transformed into a dirty sound, the high pitched V10 clearing it’s lungs whenever it has the opportunity. When slowing down the engine automatically blips the throttle to keep the revs up ready for instant acceleration. It’s completely over the top. If you selected Sport in a built up area everyone would look at you.
Corners are taken with more aplomb as your reactions are heightened to the aggressive engine mapping and rev-flaring down-changes. When exiting corners the high power can sometimes completely overwhelm the ESP and power is aggressively dulled. Mostly though the chassis is playful and allows a little slip so you can enjoy the experience more.
The steering is well set up and provides plenty of feedback through the wheel via its hydraulic rack. The front tyres inform the driver exactly what they’re up to.
Towards the end of the drive I turned off Sport mode to calm down as I felt mentally and physically tired after the experience. It saps your energy but gives you a buzz, a natural high like a supercar should. Even now, thinking back, it gives me goosebumps.
Park up and the exhausts tick tick away, the heat escaping from the metal.
The boot is a usable size and combined with the shelf behind the seats offers reasonable space for a weekend away - comparable to an F-Type. The glass engine cover is heavy but opens up to a lovely view of that V10 powerhouse, a purposeful looking engine not littered with pipes or turbos.
So, I have experienced the R8 and confirm it lives up to the hype. It’s been tweaked over the years to keep up with the likes of Porsche and Lamborghini but stands on its own as an exotic daily driver.
Now that Audi has fully proven they can make a supercar with firm foundations they can afford to go a little wilder, that bit sexier. I hope that the next generation of R8 gets a more glamorous interior and a sharper, more dramatic body to compete with the likes of the Ferrari 458 and McLaren 12C and 650S.
The Audi R8, the sensible supercar in a striped suit (until you hit the Sport button then it goes completely mental!)
Price - £115,000 (£121,580 as tested)
Engine – 5.0 litre, V10, petrol
Transmission – 7 Speed S-Tronic
0-62mph – 3.6 seconds
Top speed - 195 mph
Power - 517bhp at 8,000rpm
Torque - 391lb ft between 6500rpm
Economy - 21.6mpg combined
CO2 - 305 g/km
Kerb weight - 1645kg unladen
Review by Colin Hubbard