Autumn is here. And autumn is a season that suits the Audi R8. Not just because the Vegas yellow paint does a great job of blending in with all the leaves, but because this is an every-season supercar. Four-wheel drive, supple ride, smooth control actions – it’s got you covered when the roads are slick with leaf mulch.
This is the fourth update we’ve done on KR16 UYB since it arrived back in June (most recent here). It’s done over 9,000 miles now and is still on its original set of Pirelli P Zeros. I’ll soon swap them in for a set of winters, but I have to say they’ve worn really well and still have loads of tread depth.
So here’s what the car’s been up to for the past couple of months, besides appearing in drag races. Oh, and Chris Harris made a film about one, too.
Versus the McLaren 570GT
So recently I drove both the McLaren 540C and the 570GT. The latter is especially relevant to the R8 – it’s got more luggage space and in the spec we had it (light interior, glass roof) it was the first time I’d thought a McLaren’s interior was anything other than just sporty. This one actually looked quite good. Still not in the same league as the Audi for design and quality, but it has a certain ambience.
Just to give you some history, this time last year I tested the McLaren 570S in Portugal against the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo. I gave the win to the 570S because it was the best to drive. And it still is. But this demonstrates the trouble with road testing as opposed to living with a car for an extended period, and that’s what the 570GT helped me with this time round. Because if I was presented with a straight choice between the two, I’d have the R8.
I’d want to have the McLaren, because it feels more bespoke, it’s a more specialised choice and the dynamics, and the actual feel of the car, are better. But if you’re going to drive it most days (or even if it’s only weekends) the Audi’s engine is at least as big a rush as the McLaren’s handling.
Ultimately the McLaren is as fast, but it can’t hold a candle to the noise, response and sheer visceral thrill of the Audi’s V10. It’s the one thing I relish every single day. And it’s so usable because of the R8’s traction, stability and short gearing. Motorway on-ramps, quick squirts off roundabouts, the opportunities to indulge the V10 are always there.
Even slow burbles away from traffic lights take on another dimension in the R8 – it sounds great, the gearbox is peerless and there’s a curious satisfaction in feeling it shuffle up to sixth at 27mph.
And it’s not just the engine. The calm ride, the cabin design, the B&O sound system, the impressively tight turning circle, the seats, the humming smoothness of the thing, the sense it’ll never go wrong, the vast speed it’s capable of, the hard-charger that lurks a couple of button presses away…
They all contribute to making the R8 at once super undemanding and yet massively exciting. It hits a broader spectrum than any rival, whether it’s McLaren 570, Porsche 911 Turbo, Mercedes AMG GT or Nissan GT-R.
How to unleash max attack
These are the buttons to press if you want to wake the beast within. As Chris Harris said in his video, the R8 is a complex car, but actually once you get familiar with it, you can switch between your chosen settings with a couple of button presses.
Drive Select allows you to move between Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual set-ups, controlling functions from engine and gearbox to suspension, steering weight, engine noise etc.
The checkered flag button below gives access to Performance Mode. This bumps the idle revs up by 300rpm to 1,200rpm, and further sharpens the suspension, engine and drivetrain. You can twist the knob to Dry, Wet or Wintry modes to tune it to the conditions, but I almost always go Dry as it seems to feed more power to the rear wheels and sharpen up turn in, too.
It’s amazing how you feel the whole car tense and take on a completely different, much more attacking attitude. It’s transformative, it really is.
But most of the time…
Commuting. The bane of our lives, right? Well, the R8 is very, very good at it. It has no vices apart from an occasional grabbiness from the carbon ceramic brakes at low speed.
But… The R8 is too special for the daily grind. Yes, it does it very well, but it also reminds me that this engine, this chassis deserves more. And this leaves me feeling a bit frustrated that quite often this is the reality.
Before the R8 I ran a BMW M3. For the daily grind it was the better, more adaptable car as its whole set-up, being based on a standard saloon, meant it was perfectly content to trudge about, and then play for ten minutes on the way home. Because the R8 has more personality and a more specialised brief, every time I fail to extend the revs on the way home feels like I’ve missed out.
Chasing a Ferrari F12tdf through Wales
But sometimes KR16 UYB gets to do good stuff. I made sure it came along for our Ferrari F12tdf review because I wanted to drive the R8 on the roads around Bala and Ffestiniog in North Wales. It’s good up there.
And here’s the thing. I had more fun in the R8 than I did in the F12tdf. Now, partly this is because the tdf is an uncompromising git of a car. It’s brutish, intimidating and occasionally terrifying. Bloody addictive, but hard work.
The R8’s engine and gearbox run the F12’s close, simple as that. The V10 can’t match the full blood ‘n’ thunder war cry of the Ferrari’s V12, but it gets very close, and mates that to a chassis that’s so much more biddable and usable than the Ferrari’s.
It was the best drive I’ve ever had in the R8. It felt light, wieldy and properly exciting. I’d still like it to have more of the F12’s turn-in bite and mongoose-agility, but I wouldn’t want to trade in the Audi’s confidence-inspiring handling. It felt bloody wonderful.
As in there’s not much I’d choose over it for another run along that road. To a certain extent that’s because I’ve built a personal rapport with KR16 UYB, but isn’t that what experiences like this are all about anyway?
Seen through the screen
Bumped into this while I was driving up through Wales to rendezvous with the Ferrari. A next-gen Honda Civic Type R. Note the triple pipes. Can’t tell you much more about it other than the fact it sounded quite rorty as it drove through Rhayader and looked pretty agile and slick around corners.
Laser LED lights
I hadn’t had much cause to use the R8’s headlights until the clocks changed, so was struggling to see the benefit of the optional £3,000 Laser LEDS. Well, here’s the benefit. The depth and brightness of the beam pattern is astonishing.
However, a problem: the car won’t let you operate them yourself. Instead you have to use auto high beam, which I hate. So you flick high beam on and when the car decides its safe to go to full beam, it does. But like all these systems, it’s no good at decision-making. It can’t see the projected beams of cars coming the other way until the headlights show themselves, so sometimes blinds oncoming cars. But it does get spooked by reflections from puddles and road signs…
You can see the issue here. I can do much better, so it’s frustrating not to have control of them yourself. That said, get on a quiet road at night, get up above 37mph (below that they won’t work) and relish the sheer quantity of light being flung at the scenery. It’s quite addictive.
Off roading. Ahem.
On even smaller roads now. My best mate lives up a dirt track. It’s become a challenge to see what cars I can get up to his.
I normally draw the line at Porsche 911s and the like, but although the R8 doesn’t have a nose lift system, ground clearance is better than any rival. Honestly, it’s good over speed bumps and it’s good at dealing with rutted gravel tracks.
An appetite for oil and coolant
I don’t begrudge the atmospheric 5.2-litre V10 using a bit of oil. When it swallows £100 of fuel every 350 miles, it seems churlish to complain about having to throw in a litre of fully synthetic oil (£20) every 3,000 miles to keep it happy.
It also likes to slurp at a bit of coolant. Only a couple of litres so far, but it’s a trickier manoeuvre to pour it in as the pipe is tucked up by the bulkhead. Still, you get to look at the V10 while you’re doing it…
Do this at night and a couple of LEDs illuminate as well. It’s the best time to show the engine to people – you have to have the ignition on to open the glass cover, but it pops up on gas struts by itself and everyone coos over it.
Being a hand warmer
On other occasions the V10 and its ancillaries do a bang-up job as a hand warmer.
Meeting the Gordon Murray Design Shell Concept car
And now for something completely different. This wasn’t much of a race to be frank, but it made for an interesting picture as the contrast between the two is so stark. Gordon Murray is of course the man behind the most seminal supercar of them all…
…and this isn’t it. This is the Ox, another photo op I couldn’t resist. This was at Gordon Murray Design headquarters – they’re based near Dunsfold, so I’d gone down to drive the T25 Shell Concept and when I got back, an Ox was parked up outside. It’s fascinating, so utterly plain and simple, and yet so clever in its design. You can read TG’s full OX story here.
My default driving view
Back to the R8. This is how I like the dash laid out. Big rev counter, speed readout and gear indicator in the middle, all other information on the flanks. However, because the R8 has Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, it can be set up…
An alternative view
…like this. Small dials, massive sat nav display. Or pretty much anything else you like, including the latest news, weather and Nasdaq stock prices if I hook up Audi Connect with the built in wi-fi.
That uses my phone’s data connection, but it’s a waste of time – a hassle to hook up each time through the settings menus in both the car and the phone, and reading headlines is just not the sort of thing I want to do on the move in the car like this.
Promise it won’t be so long before I do another one of these. In fact I’ll try to get another one done in about two weeks.
It’s been quite interesting because the Top Gear car park played host to three R8s at the same time – my V10 Plus, a standard V10 and a V10 Spyder. 30 cylinders, 1668bhp and all in perfectly contrasting specs. Makes a really interesting comparison…