Audi R8

Lacks the ‘Plus’ of big brother, but is that a serious minus?

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THIS isn’t the first time we’ve driven the second generation of Audi’s flagship supercar. It’s not even the first time we’ve driven it on local soil – Audi driven it on local soil – Audi shipped out a bunch of left-hook versions a few months ago, and we promptly belted them around Australia’s toughest racetrack, Mount Panorama (Wheels, April).

But this is the first time we’ve enjoyed some serious seat time in the ‘entry-level’ R8, the V10, which has 397kW/540Nm instead of the 449kW/560Nm in the range-topping V10 Plus.

It also has softer suspension with Audi’s magnetic dampers (the Plus uses a stiffer fixed set-up with larger anti-roll bars), different gear ratios, no carbon-ceramic brakes, and subtler design cues (sans the Plus’s fixed carbonfibre rear wing). At $354,900, it’s also $35,000 less than the Plus.

Not that the regular V10 feels limp-wristed and mealy mouthed compared to the razor-sharp violence of its more expensive sibling. Oh, no; this remains a rabidly fast supercar, dominated by that magical V10. It’s pinsharp, soulful, eager to rev and at full noise feels like it’s hardwired to your spine. It’s a masterpiece.

It doesn’t hone in on its lofty 8700rpm redline with the same ball-tearing fury as the Plus, or have the mid-range punch we’re so used to in this age of turbos, but it remains one of the great modern supercar engines.

The chassis is up to the job, too.

The R8 rides on a structure that’s lighter and 40 percent stiffer than before, thanks to a blend of aluminium and carbonfibre.

Length remains barely changed, while the width expands by 40mm. The handling traits that made the old R8 so great remain – the sense of balance and approachable limits – but this new version is so much sharper and lighter on its feet.

Dial the electronics into Dynamic (one of four chassis modes) and turn-in is crisp, the steering nicely weighted, and on corner exit you can feel the updated quattro system shuffling grunt to the rear axle to deliver tiny but delicious degrees of slip. Push really hard and it will understeer, but it’s gentle and progressive.

At 1610kg, the regular R8 is 60kg heavier than the carbonfibre-festooned Plus, though you’d be hard-pressed to notice the extra heft on the road.

What is noticeable is the more subdued soundtrack. Both versions get a sports exhaust as standard in Australia, but the Plus scores an extra button on the steering wheel that turns the V10’s howl up to 11.

The cabin also lacks the carbonfibre detailing and sportier bucket seats you get in the Plus, though both interiors are exquisitely made. The design is clean, driver-focused and futuristic thanks to Audi’s brilliant Virtual Cockpit display.

The only real letdown is the gearshift paddles. Where other supercars use paddles beautifully hewn from aluminium, the R8’s are small, plastic and feel cheap.

Then there’s the question of value. The Plus’s extra power, carbonfibre bodykit and carbon brakes (almost $20K alone) more than justify its higher price. But the extra volume of that howling V10 soundtrack is also worth the extra outlay, not to mention the step-change the more powerful R8 delivers above 6500rpm.

It shouldn’t surprise, then, that Audi expects 80 percent of buyers to opt for the Plus.

If, however, you’d prefer to save $35K, the ‘entry level’ R8 is so exciting, so friendly and so useable that you won’t be disappointed. On public roads, it’s all the supercar you’ll ever need.

PLUS & MINUS

Styling changes perhaps too subtle; plastic shift paddles feel cheap That epic V10; the noise; chassis balance; easy to drive; raw and exciting Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale el e ren t hyee Audi R8 V10 5204cc V10 (90°), dohc, 40v 397kW @ 7800rpm 540Nm @ 6500rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1640kg 3.5sec (claimed) 11.4L/100km $354,900 Now

FORCING IT 01

Slightly sharper and more angular body might not look much different but generates extra downforce, with 140kg of aero load pressing the R8 into the road at 330km/h.

ON DEMAND 02

Under low loads, the V10 seamlessly shuts down cylinder banks to save juice. The engine is virtually identical to the unit found in Audi’s GT3 racing cars, the only differences being the manifold and air restrictor.

CARBON CORE 03

Chassis is 79 percent aluminium and now boasts 13 percent carbonfibre (used on the rear wall, centre tunnel and B-pillars). New R8 rides on an identical wheelbase, though is 40mm wider.

Growing family

Regular V10 is the baby of the R8 family for now. The old entry-level V8 option is dead, but word has it that Audi plans to add a sub-$300K model to the range in the coming years, possibly powered by a twin-turbo V6.

One certainty to join the local line-up soon is the R8 Spyder, which arrives in Oz early 2017.

Offered solely with the less-powerful V10 (there’s no Plus version as yet), the droptop will be about 125kg heavier, yet will still entry rocket from 0-100km/h in 3.6sec, just 0.1 slower than the coupe.

OR TRY THESE...

Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2 $378,900

Shares 95 percent of the R8’s mechanicals, including that magical V10, but drops the front driveshafts for added rear-drive fun. Italian design flair also trumps the R8’s more understated exterior.

McLaren 540C $325,000

It might be McLaren’s ‘entry-level’ model, but 540C has identical power outputs to the R8 for $30K less.

Looks the business too, although its turbo V8 is no match for the Audi’s V10 in the noise department.