Meet the £100k Audi: the R8 V10. Yes, it looks suspiciously similar to the £77k V8-powered version, but spotters can tell it apart thanks to those new 19-inch rims, thicker side blades, revised strakes on the front and rear bumpers and even more in-your-face LED headlights.
So, £20k more and the R8 5.2 V10 FSI still looks the same…
Yes, even inside the R8 V10 looks similar to its lesser-potted sibling. And while that could be a disappointment, the real bonus comes from the new V10 powerplant. It gives the new car a 105bhp/74lb ft advantage over the V8.
If you’ve driven the R8 V8 you’ll appreciate how perfectly balanced it is: a grippy but playful chassis with the bias set so firmly to the rear that it feels rear-wheel drive most of the time; a lovely engine; a superbly satisfying manual gear change; beautifully weighted steering, unbelievably supple ride.
Has importing Lambo's V10 ruined the R8's balance?
My fear was that the extra power could upset the balance. Not so. It simply gives the R8's sublime chassis the extra power it can so easily exploit, and makes the V8 feel ever so slightly pedestrian in comparison – the rest of the high points are all present and correct. But the engine deserves special praise.
The new 5.2 V10 is so smooth and refined, with an effortless surge of elastic acceleration from way down low. Wind it towards the 8000rpm redline, however, and the soundtrack takes on a highly addictive hard-edged wail. So, loads of torque and flexibility and refinement for daily driving coupled with a race-car soundtrack when you’re in hooligan mode. Perfect.
The R8 V10 doesn’t quite have the bonkers pace of the Lambo LP560-4 – despite the stats suggesting otherwise – but make no mistake, this is a very, very rapid car.
£100k is still a lot of money for an Audi...
That it is, and that’s before you tick the option boxes. Our test car had the optional R-tronic semi-auto gearbox (£5090) and ceramic brakes (£6995). Sadly for Audi, I drove the dual-clutch BMW M3 just days before I sampled the R8 V10 and it didn’t make for a flattering comparison. The R-tronic gearchanges feel a tad dim-witted these days and switching to Sport just adds a very uncomfortable thunk through the transmission.
I left it in Normal mode on even the best roads and just couldn’t bring myself to live with auto mode, despite trying my hardest to let the ’box do the work in the name of road testing – it held first for too long in town, and never quite kept pace when I was thrashing along mountain roads. There were times when I was undoubtedly travelling more quickly because I was in manual mode and using the paddleshifters than I would have been with a manual gearbox. Overall R-tronic just isn’t quite good enough to justify a £5k premium when the manual is such a tactile delight.
And the Audi R8's ceramic brakes?
We didn’t sample the regular rotors, but a fellow hack suggested they were a little spongy. The ceramics were fantastic. When cold, they lack a little feedback in the first centimetre of travel, but that’s nothing compared with the difficulty I’ve had modulating a cold Lambo Superleggera’s ceramics (you feel for my plight, I’m sure). Once warm, the R8's anchors were phenomenal with a confidence-inspiring initial bite, ludicrous stopping power and a complete resistance to fade.
The R8 V10 is a simply brilliant car, but there are two opposing ways to look at it. You could say that the £77k R8 V8 is quite enough, that you’ll rarely need more than 420bhp and that the two cars look almost identical anyway. Save the £20k.
Or you could say that the R8 V10 is better looking and better to drive than the similarly priced Porsche 911 Turbo, and significantly quicker than the R8 V8. In fact, you could say it’s getting close to the brilliance of the £140k Lamborghini LP560-4 but costs £40k less.
Me? I’d find the extra cash and side with the latter viewpoint.
>> Wait for the new April 2009 issue of CAR Magazine – out on 25 February – to read our full feature and glorious photography of the new R8 V10