Audi R8 Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Saturday 30th September


What is it like to drive?

It’s the R8’s duality that sets it apart from its rivals. Others – McLaren’s 570S, the AMG GT, Porsche 911 GT3 – are crisper, edgier and more exciting to drive. But none hits the high notes of everyday usability and trackday larks quite as completely as the Audi R8. In fact only one car, the Porsche 911 Turbo, does a better job of being a daily, and that, for all its speed and potency, doesn’t feel as special as the R8. Because make no mistake, a mid-mounted V10 is a very special thing.

But also quite a docile one. Always noisy at start up, yes, but this is a V10 of rare ability, so calm and tractable is it when just pottering, letting the engine warble to itself and the twin clutch gearbox self-select the ratios. If you want to maximise this side of its character, have the optional adaptive suspension, which really does soften off the ride around town, although it also brings in an odd porpoising over speedbumps. Personally we enjoy the more natural feel of the standard suspension. And we’d do without the optional Dynamic steering too.

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Audi has persevered with this variable ratio system (a gear on the steering column allows the steering ratio to be changed, so you need less lock to go around corners). It used to be oddly artificial, but the latest version is much more convincing. Ultimately all it’s doing is saving a bit of armwork, and still robbing a bit of feel from what is otherwise a very good set-up. It’s another box we’d leave unticked.

The centre diff is electronically controlled, ensuring it’s a rear-drive car for agility unless it needs a dose of front-drive for security. Configure all these systems into their sportiest modes and the R8 gets super-reactive. It’s not a car you slide extravagantly, but you feel the small tyre-slip angles in vivid detail.

How's the handling?

The main dynamic criticism of this second generation R8 was that it lacked a bit of bite on turn-in. The suspension adjustments have been targeted at improving that, and have partially succeeded. The nose feels a little keener and grippier, both in terms of steering response just off centre and the car reacting as the suspension compresses. Previously there was this fractional delay and a sense that the car was understeering even before it was. Now it’s slightly keener, if still not in the same league for adjustability and sharpness as the McLaren 570S.

Blame the weight. Despite using a hybrid carbon-aluminium chassis, the two-seat R8 weighs 1,660kg unladen – about 200kg more than the McLaren. The R8 is very nicely balanced through and out of corners. Its preference is to understeer very slightly, but you need to think carefully about coming off the throttle if you’re running wide towards the exit – it can bite back.

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But all the time you’re playing tunes on this awesome V10. It emits a glorious, baleful warble that grows in intensity as it hones in on the 8,700rpm cut out. Its high-rev reactions are tack-sharp, epically forceful, and sounds like the opera of the Gods. It's a real point of differentiation. Do you notice the extra power? The additional titanium valvetrain components? Of course not. You’re too occupied being blown away by what a great engine this is to be that analytical.

The brakes are unchanged – steel wave rotors on the standard R8, carbon ceramics for the Performance, but Audi is claiming a reduction in braking distance (by five metres from 124mph) due to a new compound for the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres.

What about the RWD one?

If you just went about your business in the RWD at six-and-a-half tenths, you might never even notice the front wheels aren’t powered. It’s a very stable, friendly mid-engined car – it doesn’t have that Eurofighter-style ‘only the computers are keeping us straight’ flightiness of a Ferrari.

But it’s absolutely not boring. We enjoyed it best in Performance Dry mode (there are also Wet and Snow settings for brave people), because here, the stability control is backed right down, but not fully switched off. 

It’ll slide so much, you’ve got to properly catch it with the steering, or the car might just spin out if you're feathering the gas. Get brutal on the (very) loud pedal and the ESC goes ‘oh, you’re just being daft’ and shuts down the slide. So, it rewards delicacy and ambition, but won’t allow the talentless to crash.

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