Less is more with Audi’s R8 supercar
Engine: 5.2 litres, 10 cylinders, normally aspirated
Power: 542bhp @8000rpm
Torque: 398.28lb ft @6500rpm
Transmission: seven-speed paddle, four-wheel drive
Top Speed: 197mph
Recently I drove an Audi R8 for the first time in too many years and was reminded again what a wonderful achievement it is. It may be wider and less practical than a Porsche 911, but it’s the only other car I know that combines such performance while insisting that unless you need the space, there really is no need for any other car at all. It is the opposite of a recreational supercar: it is entirely sensible transport that just happens to be fabulous fun to drive. And that was just the baby of the range: the manual V8 costing £91,575. What would I make of this new flagship, the £127,575 R8 V10 Plus S-tronic?
Power from the V10 has been raised by 24bhp to 542bhp while at last Audi has made available a proper doubleclutch automatic transmission. Carbon ceramic brakes and lighter seats are the main contributors to a 50kg weight loss relative to the standard V10 whose variable damper control has been eschewed in favour of a firmer, entirely passive system.
In reality and much like the Bentley GTC Speed reviewed on page 34, most of my time in the car was spent wondering how much more I’d have enjoyed the entry-level model. Of course it’s ferociously fast and in Sport mode has a wonderful off-beat snarl; but would I trade 120 horsepower for the lighter, better balanced and just as aurally interesting V8? In a heartbeat. And while anyone will see at once how improved the double-clutch gearbox is over the robotised manual in the previous two-pedal R8, I’d still settle for a clutch and the exposed six-speed gate of the manual ‘box without hesitation.
It’s also a car I felt inclined to treat with caution on my usual test route. It wasn’t twitchy, unpredictable or unsafe, but you are aware of the additional mass of the V10 motor behind your head in a way I do not recall from the V8. On the contrary I remember the extraordinary abandon with which the V8 could be driven, power on or off and at angles you’d associate with a well balanced front-engined, rear-drive car, not a mid-engined machine directing its power to front as well as back. The difference between the two may even have been largely psychological, but I felt less confident about driving the V10 in similar fashion.
Then there’s the fact that the interior of the R8 barely looks worthy of a £90,000 bill, let alone something the far side of £125,000. The driving position is a little uncomfortable in the new seats, leaving me feeling somewhat perched on the car rather than settled in it; the navigation unit is previous generation and despite the list price, a digital radio is not standard. Compared to a new A6 costing a third as much, you might even call it rather disappointing.
I admired the R8 V10 Plus, but no more than I should have for a supercar costing this kind of money. And it served only to confirm that just like so many fast coupes from the Porsche 911 to the Bentley Continental, less is almost always more.