In the early 2000s, a few car manufacturers were toying with plans of introducing a supercar. Concepts were unveiled, but Audi was the first to market. It has already been over ten years since the 4-ring brand unleashed its knowhow under an impossibly sexy shell. In that time, the impact of the R8 has done loads of good for the luxury car company.
The R8 was immediately met with praise and drool. Not since the Ur-Quattro had Audi injected the bulk of its technological expertise into one car. The Quattro turned into a test-bed for Audi, demonstrating and proving the superiority of AWD on a racecar, and eventually, on a production car.
Like the Ur, the R8 happens to be a car that is privy to the latest gadgets as well as driving technology. The difference between the two is certainly in design and delivery: The R8 is a world-class, hyper-performance luxury supercar with a price tag to match.
There are too few adjectives in the Queen’s English to properly describe the event that is the awakening and roaring of the sublime and delicious 5.2L normally aspirated V10.
The regular Audi R8 V10 makes do with 540 horsepower while my tested V10 Plus is gifted with a mind-blowing 610 horsepower at 8,250 rpm. Torque is equally prodigal with 413 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm. The ferociousness and the dedication of this engine to rev are uncanny―even an atomic bomb could not stop the rush towards the redline.
Like most non-boosted engines, power delivery is linear, but unlike the others, this V10 sounds as though it has no survival instinct. Crush the go-pedal, and the madness of a 7-3 downshift at a little over 100 km/h (in order to get the final 500 rpm before the cut-off at 8,700 rpm) is almost scary. I braced for impact every time.
From a standstill, the power behind a launch is comical and heart-stopping. Official specs note 3.3 seconds for 0-100km/h sprints, yetMotor Trend’s World's Greatest Drag Race 6 calculated a 0-60mph (96km/h) time of 2.6 seconds, which lands in Bugatti Veyron territory.
The beauty of quattro
Audi’s legendary AWD system is likely the single greatest asset handed down from the flagship cars. From the early manual-locking centre differential to the current R8’s fully variable torque distribution system, the evolution has taken a number of different configurations.
Over the years, various torque splits (50/50, 40/60, etc.) have had a direct impact on traction, cornering speeds, and overall grip. The 2017 Audi R8 V10 features the most versatile and adaptive version yet, able to send 100% of the power to the front or rear wheels; maximum forward traction is always an option.
Under hard acceleration, the rear end of the R8 will squat slightly, but the system manages not to waste a nanosecond sending sufficient grunt to the front axle, therefore avoiding any kind of loss in a launch. In normal circumstances, quattro works invisibly with the same degree of refinement you’ll find in the A8 full-size sedan.
For the moment, the new Audi R8 is not offered with a manual gearbox. Odds are that it won’t make a comeback because very few buyers opted for this transmission. In its place, the 7-speed dual-clutch S tronic takes care of all shifting duties.
The beauty with this technology is the ability to set the transmission in automatic mode and forget it. The “sport” mode sharpens shift patterns, but for a true bout of fun and involvement, manual mode lets you paddle-shift at will. I must admit that this is the only way I can drive an R8…
The fact that a single transmission can seemingly glide from one gear to another or crash through multiple gears with Hurricane Matthew force is impressive. It also plays a role in a possible fuel consumption average of 12L/100km. I did not manage that. Not even close. But it is possible. That’s progress.
The S tronic’s gearing is perfectly matched with the V10’s peak power, sustaining trauma beyond comprehension as engine and gear revolutions climb creating a noise capable of shattering the Earth’s crust. It’s magical.
A magnetic ride
My $223,395 Tango Red R8 tester featured the optional Magnetic Ride suspension. This technology has existed for a number of years, but the complexity and cost limit its feasibility in less expensive cars.
The principal compromise comes from low speeds where the dampers are easily troubled by repeated amplitude changes, even in comfort mode. What this means is that the car must be driven fast and hard at all times.
When doing so, the R8 gives me the impression that it is pulling the road’s surface towards it. The engine’s mid-rear positioning instills balance and neutrality, upping the car’s ability to make grip. The suspension works best when throttle inputs are smooth and sustained; the Audi R8 squats and holds and holds. The velocities you can achieve through a corner can be frightening.
As part of the Le Mans package, dynamic steering brings a dose of sharpness that must not be underestimated. A quick jerk of the wheel will have the car promptly change lanes. This system is available in a number of Audis including the S4.
Lightweight materials are becoming quite commonplace in lower-priced cars. The 2017 Audi R8’s partial carbon fibre floor and bulkhead certainly are exotic and explain in part its exorbitant price. The new model is in fact 25kg lighter and 40% stiffer overall than the previous generation. Aluminium body and chassis components are common, too―as strong as steel, yet infinitely lighter.
Right now, laser headlights are exclusive to the R8 and TT, but expect them to make their way downstream. The best way to describe how well they work is to say that I never noticed them. When driving at night, we adapt and concentrate a little harder. I don’t recall doing any of that.
From a pure design standpoint, the new R8 takes your breath away from every angle. My sole negative comment is the now sectioned blades―the original were a signature styling cue.
The cabin is honed with the driver in mind. The new steering wheel is the closest thing to an F1 layout this side of a Ferrari. After briefly pressing the start button and verifying that the exhaust system is set to “sport,” anything is possible. As for infotainment and safety technologies, the 2017 Audi R8 is on par with its siblings.
Testing the waters
The new R8 is a phenomenal car and renders a number of favours to Audi. It certainly draws attention to the showroom, but it also serves as a test-bed for state-of-the-art components and systems. Thanks to cars like the R8, our daily rides are far more enjoyable to drive than they might have been.
Audi has done another tremendous job of upgrading their supercar. The next chapter, oddly enough, will be shoehorning a boosted engine under the glass bonnet lining it up with the other lesser Audis.