First Drives

15 July 2015

First drive: New Audi R8 V10 Plus

All new bodyshell, four-wheel-drive and a 610bhp naturally aspirated V10. It’s the new Audi R8.

Paul Horrell
Car image

R8 V10 Plus eh? Not a modest name.
Nope. The first Audi R8 was a V8, but when they added the V10 engine, it took more than half the sales. Then when they added the Plus version, it became the biggest seller of all. So, for the new R8, there’s no V8, nor a manual box. You can have an R8 V10 at a generous 533bhp, and the Plus version at a positively bountiful 602bhp. It has no cause for modesty.

You say ‘new’. How new?
The whole bodyshell for a start. It still has a largely aluminium spaceframe and all-aluminium panels. But the whole lower-central section of the tub, and the sills, and the lower B-posts, are carbonfibre. Stiffer, lighter, better. I suspect that carbon section will really help when they come to make the convertible. Kerb weight is 1555kg, which is pretty slinky when you think there are 10 cylinders and four driven wheels.

Where does the power come from?
It’s a naturally-aspirated 5.2-litre V10 that revs to 8700rpm, by which point, it’s howling its nuts off like the Grand Prix engines of a cherished and simpler era.

No turbos?
Nope. It follows that it lacks the easy distain of a high-boost mid-rev punch. Instead you’ve got to concentrate to draw the best from it. You’ll often be stroking a turbocharged supercar along pretty briskly using only 3000-4000rpm. But in this one, you take up residence in the fives. And then, somewhere between 6000 and 6500rpm, something magical happens, a sudden quickening of its pulse, a crazed resolve to arrive at the moment when the clock strikes red at 8700. And throughout, the response to the right pedal has that gorgeously exact and instantaneous quality you just never get with a turbo motor.

So you’re changing gears a lot. Is the shift OK?
It’s a brilliant ally. They’ve gone over the software of the seven-speed twin-clutch box and it’s now eyeblink-rapid and supernaturally smooth, with tiny latency after you pull the paddle. And yet the box also manages to be extremely smooth in comfort or auto mode, burbling blamelessly through town.

I’m assuming the Quattro chassis can cope. But is it fun?
Everything feels sharper and more alert compared with the old R8. Here’s some reasons why. The springs are firmer, and the centre diff isn’t a passive one, but is electronically controlled. So it’s a very rear-drive car on the way into corners (for agility) and then sends urge to the front on the way out (for security). But those shares are more rearward in the sportier driving modes. There’s also an optional active steering system, fitted to our tester, which varies the ratio according to zillions of parameters. Again, the way it does that depends on the driving mode you’ve selected. And the dampers are programmable too (they were on the old car, mind). There’s even a set of additional ‘performance’ modes which lock the steering into a fixed very direct – maybe too direct – ratio.

These alter behaviour according to the weather you dial in on the knob: snow, wet, dry. Or maybe turning the knob actually alters the weather. Wouldn’t be surprised, this car is so clever. Anyway, in the sanity modes, the R8 is ultra-secure, if a bit dull. But the great thing, in spite of all that electrickery, it feels natural. The stoutly unflappable brakes, big carbon-ceramics, only add to the sense of security.

So you get confident and wind the various systems’ wicks up. Plunge into a corner and it taps you on the shoulder, telling you the grip is expiring by gently understeering, clearly felt through the wheel. Then you get the V10 to do its thing and the car just squats and lunges away. It’s all about small slip angles, but you feel and almost taste them in gorgeous detail.

I’m hearing it’s a supercar. But don’t Audi say it’s an everyday one?
They do. But then, that usability that was a USP with the first R8 has been eroded a bit. McLaren’s mid-engined cars are easy to get into and out of, and to see out of, have a straight-ahead driving position, ride well in their comfort modes, and have surprising luggage space. The R8 isn’t quite as supple as the Woking rival, and it also wracks your nerves by putting fat blind spots over your shoulders. But it still benchmarks those other things.

And there’s more. As an all-weather, all-conditions machine the R8 pulls out some huge advantages. Quattro really is something to have on your side when 602bhp meets wet bitumen. And Audi keeps on getting better at headlights. The R8 has multi-beam adaptive LEDs as standard, but optionally comes with blazing laser main beams that all but double the range of night sight.

I trust Audi came up with something pretty special for the cabin?
The theme is much like the old car. You’re bounded by a big 3-d horseshoe that wraps from the driver’s door, up behind the instrument pod, then down towards your other knee. It’s supposed to feel like the cockpit of a single-seater. That’s a fat exaggeration, but its still a nice piece of architecture. And you sit low and deep in the car. That makes dropping down into the seat a special experience every time. The steering wheel is festooned with buttons and controls, but they’re much easier to fathom than a racer’s, fortunately. Pity it has a palm-hostile rim section.

The rest of the wow factors are adapted from other Audis and none the worse for it. You get a widescreen ultra-configurable hi-res ‘virtual cockpit’ screen that replaces both the instruments and the central nav display. The TT climate knobs pop up again here. And it’s got high-speed web connection and a built-in hotspot. So your passenger can go on their tablet while you try to make them sick with the cornering forces.

But it looks like a big TT…
Don’t be daft. OK it shares the family character in its lines and face. But it has the proportions and presence of a real supercar. When one passes you, you won’t miss it. Or be able to ignore it.

Tags: audi, r8, r8 v10 plus, audi r8

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