Portimao, Portugal -- Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sample one of Audi’s highest-performance vehicles at Autodromo Internacional Algarve in Portimao, Portugal.
Actually, it was of the two-wheeled variety, a 205-hp Ducati 1299 Panigale, and if you’re a true Audi-phile, you know that the German automaker bought the Italian bike-maker in 2012.
This time I returned to Portimao to drive the company’s highest-performance four-wheeler: the 2016 R8 V10. In fact, the R8 V10 Plus is the fastest, most powerful production car Audi has ever built.
For 2016 Audi redesigned its hero car, and although it doesn’t look like much more than a mild facelift on the outside, peel off the R8’s sexy skin, and you’ll find a completely new chassis.
Audi added carbon fibre to the construction of its aluminum space frame, which is 15% lighter (10kg) and 40% more rigid than before. The composite material is used for the drive-shaft tunnel, rear firewall and B pillars.
The hydraulic power steering has been replaced by a variable-assist electromechanical system to reduce fuel consumption. The good news is that it saps less power; the not-so-good news is that although it is direct, it has lost some feel.
Most of the external dimensions haven’t changed from the current model, except the width; the new R8 is 40mm wider.
Move inside and the changes become more apparent; the interior is completely redesigned. Gone are the twin analogue gauges, replaced by a configurable, high-definition virtual cockpit.
The centre console is much cleaner; the virtual cockpit means no need for a central screen, and with an electrically activated handbrake, the lever was deleted, its space now occupied by the MMI control knob. Aside from that you’ll find the shift lever and the climate controls.
Then there’s the steering wheel: In the V10 Plus (optional on the V10) it is attractively leather-wrapped with a series of satellite buttons between the spokes that select drive modes, exhaust sound, and start the engine. It is unfortunate that Audi didn’t make the steering wheel removable; it’s something you’d probably want to take off and hang on the living room wall any time the car is parked.
The naturally aspirated 5.2L V10 produces 532 hp in the standard model, and 602 hp in the V10 Plus, up from the current models’ 525 and 550 hp. That’s enough to take the R8 from zero to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds, and the Plus in 3.2 seconds. The new engine has been tuned to spin up more quickly than before, and it revs to 8,700 rpm.
One big change is within the injection system. Intake manifold injectors have been added to complement the direct injectors. At lower revs only the manifold injectors provide fuel, with the direct injectors kicking in progressively from midrange on.
The new engine also includes cylinder deactivation (which cuts one bank of cylinders at low loads), a coasting mode (which disengages the clutches to allow the car to freewheel when coasting), and a start/stop function, which all combine to reduce fuel consumption by 13%.
The engine drives an all-new Quattro system that can now transfer up to 100% of the torque to either the front or rear axles depending on the demand. The only transmission available is a dual-clutch 7-speed with automatic and manual modes.
Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual drive modes return, but Audi introduced a trio of Performance modes (dry, wet and snow), standard on the V10 Plus and optional on the V10. These Performance modes (selectable via the chequered flag button on the steering wheel) further adjust engine, transmission, suspension, and torque bias for specific conditions.
Relaxed freeway cruiser
My test drive began in an R8 V10, and I selected Comfort mode, which according to Audi literature turns the R8 into a “relaxed freeway cruiser.” Audi claims that 55% of the parts on the new R8 are shared with the firm’s R8 V10 LMS GT3 racecar. In fact, the engine is said to be almost identical. Freeway cruiser, indeed…
The R8’s suspension is firmer in comfort mode than most sports cars are in their sport modes. This doesn’t mean it’s uncomfortable, and there’s no harshness in the ride, but I suspect that back on our Canadian bumpways you’ll be in a never-ending pothole-avoiding slalom.
Switch to Dynamic mode and the suspension gets racetrack-rigid -- and note that the Plus model is firmer still.
The sound also changes from a subdued, melodic rumble to a raspy, symphonic roar, augmented by internal flaps, not the sound system. Lift off the gas and your ears get a proper aural massage from its burbling and popping exhaust.
Where it counts
At the track I switched to the V10 Plus, where the added horsepower and firmer suspension were immediately noticeable. With Dynamic and Performance modes selected, the R8 carved corners with the precision of a skater on ice.
Due to the newly tuned Quattro system, the corner-exit understeer of the current model was completely absent, replaced by a rear-biased torque delivery that produced slight, yet easily manageable oversteer.
In Performance mode there’s still some stability control intervention, but it is pushed beyond the tires’ capability to grip, so high-speed, four-wheel drifts with the rear kicked out a tad are simply a matter of speed and throttle control.
The R8 has a confidence-inspiring feedback, and you never feel out of control. And you can generate a lot of speed; the V10 Plus will sink you deep into its sculpted seat until you lift off the gas.
Manual gear changes are direct and quick, and there’s almost no delay between the time your fingers pull back on the paddles and the time the next gear is selected.
All of our test cars were equipped with carbon-ceramic brakes (optional on the R8, standard on the V10 Plus), and they slowed the car hard with little discernible fade and a firm pedal.
You’ll have to wait
If you’re itching to get a feel for the new R8 V10 you’ll have to wait until next spring, and at the time of this writing it was yet undetermined if it will come in as a 2016 or 2017 model. Pricing will be released closer to its arrival, but the current R8 V10 starts at $182,000; the V10 Plus at $201,000.