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Audi R8 driven on the Nurburgring
As things get effortless, Sriram Narayanan finds it harder to fall in love with the new R8. But he still thinks it's a legend. Here's why...
The Audi R8 isn’t old enough to be a legend. It isn’t old enough even for a generation change. It is the antithesis of everything that is romantic, everything that is analogue, everything that is earthy in this world. The R8 is the MP3 player among vinyl records. It’s the digital camera among film rolls. It’s the serviced penthouse among creaking castles. It’s the digital screen among blackboards.
You can accuse the R8 of a lot of things. One of them being that it has taken away the sense of adventure that once came with owning a mid-engine supercar. You get into the R8, shut the door, turn on the ignition and drive. It won’t throw cold morning tantrums. It won’t toast your knee because it was resting against the centre console. If won’t soft boil your luggage in the boot in front. And you don’t need a rubber spine to get in or out of the car, or to look around corners or when you approach a junction.
It’s a perfectly normal car. Just that it has a 518bhp 5.2-litre V10. So the only difference between the R8 and a normal car is that it’s, er, faster. But the fastness does not make it stand out much over here. Here, in the sleepy village of Nurburg in Germany. There are around 200 people living here. But the village echoes with the sound of straight-sixes, V8s, even raspy four-pots. The town thrives chiefly because of petrol-heads bringing their machines to lap the 21km Nordschleife northern loop of the 28km Nurburgring.
We only have access to the new Grand Prix circuit, not the Nordschleife – infamously called the Green Hell. And the R8 literally yawns though the track. This car went through a mid-life refresh last year, got itself some minor cosmetic changes and an all-new dual-clutch gearbox. Now, I have driven the R8 Spyder in Europe, and the 542bhp R8 V10 Plus on a track, but never the V10 coupe on a track. Until now. And it turns out to be stupendously idiot-proof.
I am here as part of Audi’s International Sportscar experience. It includes stuff like accelerating to a little over 100kph, braking and changing lanes, a detailed demonstration on entering and exiting corners, and a few hot laps of the circuit where you push the R8 as far as you can. There’s an exercise involving lane changing under hard braking, and I’m disgusted by the way the R8 dispenses with it. It is mind-numbingly effortless. It is like winning in chess against a kid who doesn’t know the bishop from the queen.
The GP Track has some simple sections and some extremely tricky ones. Tricky enough so that when you come up to one, your entire life flashes in front of you and you’ll be sure you’re never going to make it. But stand on the brakes, and the R8 simply slows down, and if you thank it for saving your life, it’ll simply shrug its shoulders and wonder if you’re taking the corner or not.
When the R8 first arrived, it was a fast and clinical car. With this mid-life upgrade and the new transmission, it gets on to an entirely new level. The steering was always accurate, but now it has some fun and feedback along with accuracy. The transmission in Sport mode not only changes gears, it also adds some blips and gasps to the equation. And around sharp bends, the R8 does a marvellous job of providing grip, communication and the sensation of being in utter control of the proceedings.
There are supercars that provide way more thrill and drama than the R8. But they demand much more from you. They demand that you be on the edge of your seat, they sap you of a lot of body fluids, they shoot your pulse rate way up, they test the strength of your heart and your will, they make you realise the worth of your life.
The R8 does none of this. And this is its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. The only way the R8 could get more effortless is if Audi made one that drove itself. And this is what makes it well on its way to being such a legend. Nothing this low, with this much power, with an engine in the middle is so user-friendly and so calm in the face of adversity.
It is still not as thrill-a-minute as a Gallardo, but if you go for a fancy dinner or to your office in the Lambo, you will get out with sweat down your brow, damp armpits, crumpled trousers and a high heart rate. The R8 is the supercar you can take to work, to the shops, to the restaurant and to the track, and still be as fresh as you were when you just got out of the bath.
As someone who works in a magazine where we drive cars for a few days and then return them, I fall for drama. I fall for sensation, for excitement. I fall for a car that will keep me on tenterhooks most of the time. The R8 is for the guy who pays his own money for his own dream car. This is well and truly a legend. And the tale of its greatness is just about beginning.
(Words: Sriram Narayanan)