Launched in 2007, the Audi R8 quickly won praise for doing what few supercars before it could manage: it was blisteringly rapid, but was as simple to drive as an A3.
For a long while it’s been regarded as the world’s most accessible and approachable supercar, so how does one improve upon that reputation?
Well, by making it even easier to drive. Your grandmother could drive this car, and she could drive it like a demon.
With more power, a myriad of chassis and driveline improvements, a more civilised interior and some pretty sophisticated electro-trickery controlling the whole deal, the all-new Audi R8 V10 is simultaneously a monster and a pussycat.
It’s not here just yet though. Its official launch isn’t until May this year, which is why we’re driving left-hand drive cars that are still wearing German numberplates bearing the “IN” prefix of Audi’s hometown, Ingolstadt.
And it’s also why we’re not driving on the road either. NSW police don’t take kindly to foreign-plated supercars with the driver’s seat on the wrong side of the vehicle, so this preview of the Audi R8 V10 Plus will be limited to the 2.8km North circuit of Sydney Motorsport Park.
Vehicle Style: Supercar
Price: $389,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 449kW/560Nm naturally-aspirated petrol V8 | 7sp twin-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 12.3 l/100km | tested: N/A
On The Track
Drop your bum into those leather-upholstered buckets and straight away it’s apparent that the R8 has grown up. The interior is more polished, with a 12.3-inch colour TFT display replacing the analogue clocks and able to be reconfigured according to driver taste.
Want to know where you’re going? A map overlay with two small tacho and speedo gauges to either side will keep you pointing the right way. Hitting the track? A more performance-focused screen with a large central tachometer and lap timer to the side is yours to enjoy.
The only downside of this system is that the passenger can’t quite see the infotainment screen as easily, but stuff ‘em.
This is a car for drivers – passengers are literally just along for the ride. At least they’ll be able to enjoy the lovingly-upholstered headliner, in all of its diamond-quilted Alcantara glory, and the more upmarket appearance of the climate control hardware.
It might seem gimmicky, but the new R8’s futuristic instrument panel pays dividends out on the track.
There may not be a head-up display to put crucial vehicle readouts right in your field of view, but having the tachometer blown up to full size is the next best thing.
And with an engine that zips to its 8700rpm redline with dizzying speed, the integrated shift light in the tacho is not only hard to miss (yellow to get you ready, flashing red to prompt you to pull the right-hand paddle), it means you’ll never miss a shift again.
Speaking of shifters, the new gear selector (no manuals for this generation R8 V10, sadly) is an entirely new design that occupies less space, looks better than the old car’s tin-can-on-a-stick shifter and is more intuitive to use when switching from reverse to drive and so on.
There’s a few new features as well.
A bright red starter-button on the steering wheel replaces the last car’s keyed ignition (how quaint), power seats take the place of the manually-adjustable pews and, on the V10 Plus that we’re driving, there’s a little button on the steering wheel with a chequered flag on it – the switch that activates the R8 V10 Plus’ new Performance Mode.
We’ll talk about that last feature in a second, but first we need to get out of the pits. Foot on the brake, thumb the starter, pull the gear selector back one notch into Drive and the R8 moves away smoothly. No jerkiness, no shuddering, just seamless acceleration from standstill. Nice.
And that concludes the refinement portion of this particular test. It’s time to light the afterburners.
With the drive mode set to Dynamic and the gearbox left in auto, the R8 V10 Plus accelerates like a fighter jet.
This is a car that’ll hit 100km/h in just 3.2 seconds with launch control activated, and even if you just mash the accelerator pedal without launch control it’ll still hit triple-digits in roughly 3.5 seconds.
In this configuration it does a reasonable job of keeping the engine in its sweet spot above 5000rpm (where the bulk of its 449kW of power and 560Nm of torque is delivered), and the gearbox downshifts rapidly when decelerating for tight corners.
Even if you’re caught in the wrong gear the lightning-fast cog swaps of this twin-clutch trans mean you won’t lose too much momentum, so for most people auto mode will yield the best results.
But if you want to increase your connection with the car, tapping into one of the three Performance modes and using the manual shift paddles is where it’s at. The Performance modes alter the way the engine, transmission and quattro AWD systems respond, and are surprisingly permissive in how much slip angle is allowed.
You can choose from Wet, Snow or Dry via the rotary dial that surrounds the Performance Mode switch, with Snow mode producing the most tail-out attitude, Dry mode having the best acceleration and Wet mode the most control on things like irrigated skidpans.
But even with the electronically-assisted slip angles of Performance mode, the new R8 V10 is always stable and never sketchy.
The old car demanded your full attention on a racetrack. While the previous-gen V8-powered R8 had superb chassis balance, its V10-toting bigger bro was a lot looser at the back and was harder to control at the limit. It may have been the most approachable supercar of its time, but it was still a spiky thing when driven hard.
Its successor is completely different. Audi’s chassis engineers have tamed the R8 V10 and made it feel more like the previous V8, with a predictable chassis that allows you to not only drive right up to the limit of adhesion, but to stay there without much fear of falling off the track’s edge.
How? We think a lot of that comes down to the new quattro AWD, which dumps the old car’s viscous centre coupling for a more direct-acting multi-plate clutch and features a mechanical locking rear differential on the back axle.
The 15:85 front-rear torque bias of the old car is gone too, with the new AWD hardware now utilising a fully-variable and dynamic torque split that can take up to 100 percent of torque to the front or rear wheels. Translation: it’s a smarter system than before, and under power traction is almost unbeatable.
The Plus’ aero kit (front and rear splitter, flat floor and a proper rear diffuser) probably go some way to improving its high-speed stability too.
It’s a lot pointier than before as well, thanks to a tighter steering-rack that enables ultra-fast direction changes. Like most electrically-assisted systems it’s not the most feelsome rack, but it’s weighted well in Performance and Dynamic modes and goes from lock-to-lock with minimal wheel twirling.
And while all of those handling-relating things have changed for the better, the stuff we loved about the old V10 Plus hasn’t been messed with – like its powerful carbon-ceramic brakes and that superb yowling exhaust note from its naturally-aspirated V10.
In fact the latter has been enhanced with the addition of a bimodal exhaust that opens up a set of muffler baffles for an extra raucous noise at full throttle – standard on all Australian-delivered R8 V10s, not just the Plus.
The previous R8 V10 Plus was a hard act to follow, but Audi’s latest mid-engined supercar comprehensively creams it.
It’s so incredibly fast yet it doesn’t scare you like the old car did. It corners tighter, accelerates harder and sounds even better than before, yet it still retains the high-revving naturally aspirated character of its predecessor.
We recognise that things like “safety” and “predictability” aren’t necessarily attributes that people look for when lining up their next supercar purchase, but don’t make the mistake of thinking those words mean the new R8 V10 Plus is dull – it’s anything but.
And at $389,900 for the top-dog R8 V10 Plus ($354,900 for the regular ol’ R8 V10), even the price is easier to deal with than before. That’s a $17,910 saving on the old model, not to mention the fact there’s now more performance, more equipment and a vastly improved interior on offer.