The new R8 sees the Audi flagship no longer competing with the Porsche 911, instead piling on the pounds and taking a big step up into the supercar bracket, says Tiff Needell in this Audi R8 V10 Plus review
It’s hard to believe eight years have passed since I headed out to Las Vegas on a Fifth Gear mission to join the global launch of the all-new Audi R8 GT. Its controversial ‘switchblade’ styling divided opinion, and even now I’m not sure I like it, its choice of contrasting colour being crucial to its looks.
But it’s the driving experience that counts and I was worried that, with its four-wheel-drive transmission, the R8 wouldn’t match the delicate handling balance of the class leader it sought to challenge – the Porsche 911. Audi’s RS4 saloon looks mighty on paper but, when pushed to the limit, too much power is diverted to the front wheels and the fun is gone.
Of course, this is the safe route to take, as we don’t all have the talents of Hannu Mikkola or Stig Blomqvist, who manhandled their Audi Quattros to World Rally Championship glory back in 1983 and 1984, changing the face of rallying forever. I’d assumed the R8 would go the same way.
Fortunately, despite being in Vegas, I didn’t put money on it and, around a short, tight test track, I saw how wrong I was. With limited power sent to the front wheels, the R8 was indeed a delight.
Now there’s a new second-generation R8. Since the first R8 was launched, Porsche has merged with Volkswagen, and Audi seems to have decided that, as with the 911, it would be a good idea to evolve its shape – so the new R8 closely resembles the old, but smoother.
It is, though, all new underneath, sharing the structure of the Lamborghini Huracán with either a soft version of the epic 5.2 litre V10, producing 540hp and costing £119,500, or the full-on 610hp V10 Plus, that extra 70hp costing an additional £15,000. The interior now features Audi’s ‘virtual cockpit’ design, with the old centre console replaced by commands, either from the steering wheel or a small rotary dial behind the gear lever. There are all sorts of driving modes to choose from and the handling has been softened, with more power heading to the front wheels. But wind that V10 round to its 8,700rpm red line and none of that matters.
Now the R8 is not competing with its new family friend, the 911, there’s no entry-level V8, nor the option of a manual gearbox – loved by some but bought by few. As a result, the starting price has leapt up £30,000 and moved the R8 into the supercar bracket.
While Audi’s rally laurels still rest on the Quattro’s 1980s successes and their prototypes have dominated Le Mans grids for 15 years, it is the R8 that is now their most recognisable shape and one that has already won nine 24-hour GT races and 28 championships globally. This new R8 may well be more exclusive than its predecessor but, as the fastest, most powerful road-going Audi ever built, it further establishes itself as the brand’s flagship.
Audi R8 V10 Plus review
For more information on the the new R8, click here