The engine, the gearbox, the quality, the cabin design, the noise, the refinement. We could go on
Slightly dead steering compared to a Porsche or McLaren
What is it?
The most everyday of the everyday supercars. Because it’s an Audi, because the cabin will contain 95th percentile people, because it’s ergonomically sound, because it’s reliable and well built and comes from a company that builds approximately 1.8 million other reliable, well-built cars every year.
But it's also about to come to an end. In 2023, Audi will build its final R8. Its last petrol-engined supercar. Whatever replaces this V10 banshee as Audi's fast flagship will be stuffed with batteries and powered by electricity.
What's the highlight?
Without question the screaming 8,700rpm V10. Unusual juxtaposition. Audi, righteous doyenne of the Waitrose class, being one of the last bastions of natural aspiration. When all others are downsizing and turbocharging (to the detriment of noise and response) the R8 persists with a free-breathing 5.2-litre V10. It won’t always be like this. So make the most of this splendid engine while you can.
There's a two-model range, but the Plus moniker has made way for 'Performance' badging. The top-spec car (Performance Quattro) sees power rise from 604 to 614bhp, while the entry-level model (Performance RWD) is up from 533 to 562bhp. If you were hoping to snap up one of the 333 R8 GT special editions, you're too late with your £200k. They're all sold.
What changed at the most recent facelift?
Outwardly you’re looking at new, sharper bumpers at both ends, larger exhaust pipes and those three slots across the nose that hark back to the 1984 Sport Quattro Group B rally car. They’re also on the A1 supermini. Elsewhere the plan has been to fractionally sharpen the driving experience by stiffening the suspension, fitting a new carbon anti-roll bar at the front (40 per cent lighter than the old steel one) and recalibrating the steering – especially the optional variable ratio Dynamic Steering.
Prices start at just over £131,000, which is of course a huge heap of money. And yet, for a supercar, especially one with an engine as special as this one, it's a bit of a bargain.
You'll need tens of thousands more for an equivalent new McLaren or Porsche and the rear-drive cousin car to this (Lamborghini's Huracán Evo RWD) is the wrong side of £160k. So the R8 isn't just unusually fun to drive for an Audi: it's also surprisingly well-priced.
What's the verdict?
Audi’s persistence in sticking with a large capacity, naturally aspirated V10 is increasingly giving it a real point of differentiation when almost all its rivals are motivated by twin turbo V8s (or a flat six, obvs). The engine has only been very lightly tweaked for the facelift, the extra handful of horsepower barely noticeable, but this is still a stand-out, hands-down stunning engine.
And it’s the centrepiece of what remains a very complete supercar. The visual changes have given the front end a sharpness that’s been copied by the mechanical alterations underneath. It’s still not as direct and precise as a McLaren Sports Series or Porsche GT3, but there’s added bite on turn-in and notably improved steering feel (we’ll now not blank you if you insist on having the variable ratio Dynamic Steering, either).
It’s easy to overlook the R8 among newer, fresher, more dynamic rivals with more exotic badges, but rather than feeling outdated, its engine and huge breadth of ability make it feel increasingly special. A supercar that fully deserves its spot at the top table.