Engine response, world-class manual gearshift, build quality, balance, comfort, we could go on...
Dated cabin gadgets, not as quick as it looks, the R-tronic automatic gearbox is dreadful
What is it?
Audi’s OG supercar. But is it a supercar? Here we go, let’s get the existential debate out of the way early doors. The mk1 R8 has a big engine (a 4.2-litre V8), the engine lives in the middle of the car, and well, look at it. Low and mean. It ticks the supercar boxes. And yet, it’s pleasingly quick rather than where’s-my-mummy fast, it only cost £77,000 when it was new, and it was targeted at the Porsche 997 Carrera and the old Aston Martin V8 Vantage. So, its rivals weren’t supercars. This is the R8’s genius: it’s the supercar experience, with sports car performance, wrapped up with Audi sensibility. And build quality. It’s fantastic.
So, a recap. The R8 mk1 is the production version of the Audi Le Mans concept of 2003. Google it later – it still looks the dog’s danglies. The R8 it spawned, named after Audi’s all-conquering Le Mans racecar, borrowed the naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 engine of the B7-gen RS4, which developed 414bhp and 317lb ft.
Though there was an optional automated manual paddleshift gearbox, we’ll be concentrating on the standard-fit six-speed open-gated manual version here, because a) it was the cheaper, standard equipment and b) the semi-auto gearbox was hopeless and ruined the car with its painfully slow, jerky shifts. If anyone tries to tell you an R8 with R-tronic is any good, you have Top Gear’s permission to laugh at them until they leave in their spoiled car.
Inside, you got two seats, with a generous boot under the bonnet despite the four-wheel drive system – of course, it’s a quattro – eating up room in the nose. The R8 delivered the majority of its power to the back wheels though, to make it handle, well, unlike an Audi. Lots of this know-how was pinched from the Lamborghini Gallardo, which predated the R8 and was a product of Audi taking ownership of the Italian supercar giants. Later, the R8 would inherit the Gallardo’s V10 engine – albeit slightly detuned – but as the V8 is what we’ve been reminiscing in and it’s the sweeter, lighter, more balanced car, it’s what we’ll focus on.
So, does the R8 still stack up 12 years after it launched? Oh yes indeed.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
Usually a big dose of Top Gear maths, a case of booze and an ill-advised late-night eBay browse is required to make purchasing a decade-old supercar seem like a good idea. Not so with the R8. It felt right in 2007, and it’s still bang on the money. Comfy, practical, reliable and what’s more, the market hasn’t really noticed it. Perhaps it’s the badge, perhaps it’s the high mileages, perhaps it’s the number of them knocking around. But the idea one of these could be yours for less than forty grand is surely tempting. With a few grand punted in the ‘warranty extension’ direction.
What makes it all the more tantalising is the R8 itself may soon be wound up in favour of an all-electric e-tron model that better serves as Audi’s technical flagship. When that happens, the R8 V8’s place as Audi’s all-time best driver’s car will be concreted into the fast car hall of fame forever.