Oh Audi, what have you done? The new Audi R8 doesn’t so much arrive with a bang as a carpet-bombing – while we all sort of knew the original was a cut-price Lamborghini Gallardo, presenting it as a V8 initially established such clean air between them that the later introduction of increasingly focused V10 variants never really threatened the established hegemony. Not this time.
Imagine being a fly on the wall when Ingolstadt told Sant’Agata that it would be launching the R8 MkII with the same 602bhp output as the Huracan, charging less for it and including more tech. Publically we’re sure Lamborghini will say the image gulf between the two brands is so vast as to make the situation utterly irrelevant, and perhaps that’s true. But the point is that the R8 V10 Plus is not really a 911 rival any more – if it ever really was.
Rather, the new R8 V10 Plus is a bona fide supercar. And it’s fantastic.
Sounds promising, but does this mean Audi’s thrown away the everyday drivability of the previous R8?
Not at all. This is still a very Audi supercar, which is to say the first thing you notice once you’re inside is the refinement – and the ride comfort. With the optional Magnetic Ride variable suspension in the Comfort setting, puttering out onto the Portuguese motorway network is really no more demanding upon your posterior than it would be in a saloon, even on 20-inch wheels. Big distances beckon not with a grimace but a bawdy wink; it only takes a brief encounter with the further reaches of the accelerator to understand that they will also disappear in no time at all.
As the Plus implies, there is also a regular V10 – a mere 533bhp that one, just the 15bhp more than before – which could be right up your street if the cruiser-like facet of the new R8’s character appeals. There is no V8 at all at launch, and our understanding is there never will be. Though a twin-turbo V6 could prove handy in certain tax-conscious markets such as China…
Audi hasn’t exactly gone to town on the styling, has it?
From the outside, it’s best described as ‘evolutionary’ – hardly a surprise, and hardly something that’s ever done the 911 any harm. Some may complain that the form isn’t as pure as the original, but the taut lines and exaggerated width (really only 11mm greater than before) do amp up its rear view mirror presence. The new R8 is more aggressive, more serious somehow, and from the driver’s seat the way the shoulder lines now divide the ‘side blade’ air intakes to flow uninterrupted until they reach the rear-wheel arches looks sensationally purposeful in the door mirrors.
Under the skin the hand-welded aluminium spaceframe is now enhanced with a carbonfibre centre tunnel, firewall and B-pillars, making it 40% stiffer but 15% lighter. You can feel the difference in the way the car responds to both your own inputs and the road surface. Audi also says the road car shares 50% of its components with the new R8 LMS racing car; the two were developed in parallel this time around. Proof of capability came with victory in the LMS’s inaugural assault on the Nürburgring 24 hours in May 2015.
How do you tell the difference between the regular R8 V10 and the V10 Plus?
Oh, that’s easy – look for the fixed carbonfibre rear wing, which replaces the pop-up aerofoil on the regular V10. The Plus also gets matching carbonfibre door mirrors, side blades and diffuser, and once closer you’ll spot the standard carbon-ceramic brakes.
Together with forged rather than cast 19-inch alloy wheels (the 20s are optional) and shell-backed bucket seats, these bits help make the Plus 40kg lighter while further justifying the price difference. £15k for all this, some extra kit, closer gear ratios and that additional 69bhp? No-brainer, surely.
Enough dithering – how does the new R8 V10 Plus drive?
Like a dream. Like a far out, freaky, fast-forward-engaged, too many e-numbers dream – complete with moments of surreal tranquillity punctuated by extended periods of addictive howling madness and gorgeous g-forces. In other words, it’s pretty fast. In quite a special way.
As all its major rivals move towards turbocharging, Audi is clinging on to that big 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 like the crazy-seeming guy that we all hope will turn out to be right at the end of the movie. If you want an epic wall of torque and the thumping BPM spike that can deliver, go ahead to the AMG GT showroom or the 911 Turbo S dealer. But if you want instant throttle response, a multi-vocal thrash metal symphony and the thrill of chasing the dragon all the way to the 8,250rpm power peak then the R8 deserves your attention.
The engine is magic. Muted on the inside if you just want to cruise, deep-lunged enough to pull easy overtakes in higher gears, and brutal to the point of total justification for the firecracker exhaust noises when fully lit in the Dynamic drive select setting. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is swift, decisive and willing. The updated four-wheel drive system – which can now flash 100% torque towards either axle – reacts so quickly and so seamlessly that you’d have to be going ludicrously hard to unsettle the chassis accidentally on the road. It grips, it turns, it goes, and if you’re committed enough to wake up the front axle the shift in balance and delivery will catapult you up the road.
Yet a quick prod of the steering wheel-mounted Performance button (Performance Dry directs the systems to point more torque at the rear; there are Wet and Snow modes, too, accessed with a twist of the same switch) and the presence of a mechanical limited-slip diff uncovers a playfulness on track that punts the R8 onto an even higher plane. Leaving the ultimate electronic safety net in place, the Audi deftly manages decent slides, easily gathered regardless of whether you were showboating or simply a touch too throttle-heavy on cool tyres.
Very best of all is that the edges seem invitingly soft – as if you can rub up against them without worrying that you’re going to suddenly fall over an unexpected precipice. The carbon brakes, snatchy at first, become superbly progressive and feelsome once hot, while the chassis is controlled and accurate enough to be placed with precision, yet forgiving should you get it wrong. In the old ‘point-to-point on an unfamiliar country road’ stakes, we can think of few cars that offer such a deeply capable blend of reassurance and unhinged performance.
What’s not so hot about the new Audi R8 V10 Plus?
All the cars we drove were fitted with the optional variable ratio steering. This is less immediately unnerving than it is in the Huracan, with better off-centre weighting. But it remains a little light and greasy-feeling, regardless of driving mode, and didn’t come across as entirely trustworthy on track. We’ll be keen to try the standard direct setup.
The variable dampers make a better case for themselves, not least because there’s an Individual setting in the Audi drive select system that means you can have the engine, transmission and exhaust set to maximum attack, and the suspension set to Comfort. We had a couple of instances where Dynamic struggled to deal with dips in the road, and on rougher surfaces in general it tended towards jittery. Again, the standard suspension begs investigation.
What about the new R8’s interior?
On the one hand, this is nicely high-tech. It has the new virtual cockpit screen, complete with high-resolution photorealistic satnav mapping, predictive destination entry, and the ability to display loads of info useful to the driver. We particularly like the colour changing rev-counter – if it ain’t flashing red as you paddle-up, you ain’t trying. Or something.
You can perform almost all major functions from the steering wheel, especially in the V10 Plus, which has four ‘satellite’ buttons (rather than the regular V10’s two); in addition to the usual audio and menu controls, these start the car, change the Drive Select mode, alter the Performance settings and toggle the sports exhaust between loud and genuinely anti-social. They are also slightly squishy under the thumb, like you’re pressing the R8’s actual flesh, which is strangely appealing. Visibility is excellent for a car of this type – fore and aft – and the climate control with its in-dial displays and tap-like toggle switches looks decidedly exotic and premium.
On the other hand, the R8’s interior is also kind of ordinary. Sit in the passenger seat for a while, and you forget there’s anything special about it. The carbon section on the back of what in any other car would be called the dial cluster reflects in the windscreen somewhat irritatingly, and some of the buttons aren’t quite up to the quality mark. Worst offenders in this respect are the stunted little paddleshifters, which are upgraded to ‘aluminium look’ finish in the V10 Plus. Why aren’t they authentic aluminium? They’re one of the most important elements of interaction with the entire car.
Still, at least the indicators are in the conventional place, not wheel-bound like Ferrari and Lamborghini’s. The shelf behind the seats is a useful supplement to the froot (front boot… no…?), and can apparently accommodate a set of golf clubs. Just in case. Though we’re guessing you’re going to need some kind of special Audi R8 golf bag to make the most of it. And for a supercar, the R8 makes getting in and out gracefully more possible than most.
Any other new tech we should know about?
The V10 now operates both cylinder-on-demand and coasting, to save fuel. So it can switch off one bank of five cylinders under light load, and open the clutches to detach the engine from the drivetrain completely when you totally back off the throttle at over 34mph. This is slightly unnerving in a supercar, but to be honest once we switched to manual shifting – which remains engaged as soon as you pull a paddle – it became rather irrelevant.
We were also rather taken with the laser headlights. While these do nothing more than add an extended high beam – there’s no switch to vaporise middle lane hoggers, unfortunately – together with the LEDs packed in around them, they do give you great confidence to push on over unfamiliar ground at night. Just look out for light aircraft mistaking them for a landing pattern.
So about the Huracan, then…?
Yeah. About that. As befits appearances, the Lambo is edgier, rawer, more dramatic in many respects. There’s more engine and road noise inside the cabin, the chassis is perhaps sharper, but certainly less playful – and the steering weights up more in Corsa than the R8 V10 Plus does in Dynamic, with a variable system that comes across as more reassuring on track. We love the Huracan’s enormous metal paddleshifters, infotainment ergonomics and hexagonally obsessed design, just as we are shocked by some of its interior plastics.
The R8 has a more cultured ride – though the Huracan is hardly unbearable in this respect – and offers greater adjustability within its driving settings. This makes it more rounded and demanding of fewer compromises, but arguably less visceral and exciting. The Audi also has cup holders; Lamborghini makes you neck that espresso and haul ass.
Verdict: 2015 Audi R8 V10 Plus
Shopping above £100k for a ‘junior’ supercar? The choice is increasingly impressive – and varied. What the R8 V10 Plus brings that the 911 Turbo S, AMG GT S and in-coming McLaren 570S can’t quite counter is a proper supercar-grade engine: big capacity, exotic cylinder count, no turbos and a high rev limit. Only the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S comes close to competing on this score, and we know which of the two we’d rather take out in the wet.
But that awesome mid-mounted lump is just one aspect of a performance so accomplished it may leave rivals running for cover in all areas. It’s going to be one hell of ride when we get them all together.