Audi R8 V10 Plus

Next-generation atmo hero capable of taking your breath away

MICHAEL STAHL

IT WAS right about when I noticed the speedo climbing past 265km/h over the crest on Conrod Straight that I reflected, briefly, on the wisdom of launching a new road car on a racing circuit. Especially this circuit, just a day after it hosted the Bathurst 12 Hour (won by McLaren).

Race circuits generally humble even very good road cars. But the new R8 V10 Plus is clearly in its element. That speedo reading I see Ė with possibly another 10-15km/h to add before Caltex Chase Ė makes the R8 road car as fast, or even faster, on Conrod than its R8 LMS racing equivalent (though the race carís speed-penalising aero more than compensates everywhere else).

For the moment, there are two versions of the new-generation R8 road car, starting with the regular V10. It carries over the previous 5.2-litre V10 engine, albeit with FIRST TRACK DRIVE higher outputs of 397kW/547Nm (up 11kW/17Nm), driving through a seven-speed S-Tronic and quattro all-wheel drive.

Then thereís this V10 Plus, which is about $30K dearer. The Plus chuffs out 449kW and 560Nm and with a 40kg lighter kerb weight (1630kg) covers 0-100km/h in 3.2sec, three-tenths quicker than the stocker. The Plusís extra power comes solely via software, the weight through features including forged 20-inch wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes.

The new R8 is tougher to the core, its structure now comprising carbonfibre and aluminium sections. The structure, shared with Lamborghiniís Plus-engined Huracan, is claimed to be 40 percent stiffer.

The new car, fractionally longer on an identical wheelbase, has had a lot more motorsport attention to its chassis, suspension and aerodynamics.

The rear guards, for example, now contribute up to 40kg of downforce, while the rear wing adds another 60kg downforce.

The cockpit is supremely comfortable and ergonomically sorted, with the purposeful feel of a GTi more than a snooty supercar.

With the chassis electronics set in Dynamic (one of four modes), the glorious, roaring V10 gives a gorilla-sized shove. The low-three standing sprint club is a fairly tight one, but few other members are so unfussed about it.

The track doesnít hobble this carís capabilities, it highlights them. The R8 is so much sharper, more intuitive and more stable than before. The steering is comfortably quick without a hint of nervousness. Turn-in confidence and overall grip are amazing, yet when tyre heat knocks the edge off the grip after five hard laps, it only underlines the predictable responses of the chassis, with gentle understeer into the Cutting and the Dipper, and subtle signals from the tail in the downhill direction changes of the Esses.

The acceleration out of Forrests Elbow onto Conrod still fails to convey the actual speed youíre doing. It goes light over the crest, just enough that you feel it tensing its toes deep down in its argyle socks. Then its suckeddown stability into the Chase, and the massive braking power into the left-hander, makes you push even harder next lap.

I canít right now think of another car thatís this easy to drive this fast. Certainly not the aero-steroided R8 GT3 LMS.

The R8 V10 Plus will do everything expected of a hardedged supercar, without risk of regular laceration from those hard edges. And it offers the docility and road-going comfort of a GT, without the need for a bladder stop and lie down after a few hard laps of a track.

Road versus race

The latest R8 V10 LMS has even less street/circuit commonality than its predecessor. The new GT3 race car shares 50 percent of components with the road car compared with 54 percent previously, due mainly to a racespecific suspension, and a simplified ECU, made possible by ditching the port fuel injection system on the race car (the road car has both port and direct EFI). Otherwise, the engine is essentially the same.

McLaren 650S $459,250

Convincing re-jig of the earlier 12C, with more power squeezed from the spookily smooth twin-turbo V8 and a lower, tauter chassis. If GT3 race cred counts Ė and it does Ė the McLaren currently has the advantage over the Audi.

Lamborghini Huracan LP610/4 $428,000

Identically powered and skeletally similar to the R8 V10 Plus, yet impressively more than 130kg lighter, the carbonfibre-intensive Lamborghini is more lairy but slightly less liveable than the docile, dual-personality Audi.

Quattro just got smarter with a new electro-hydraulic multiplate clutch pack. Along with a tweaked mechanical diff lock, it can now deliver up to 100 percent of drive to either the front or the rear.

Audiís Virtual Cockpit is a natural fit for the confines of this supercoupe. MMI Touch is standard. More switchgear has been moved to the steering wheel, including a one-touch Track button.

Laser headlights are an option on R8 V10. At beyond 60km/h, lasers cast light up to 600m, while matrix technology detects and steers the light away from oncoming traffic.