► Testing the regular Audi R8 V10 Coupe
► Comparing it with the pricier V10 Plus
► Road trip from UK to the ’Ring and back
You can no longer buy a V8-engined Audi R8 – the second generation comes with one engine option only (no bad thing when it’s a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10).
But you can buy that engine in two power levels: the regular 533bhp R8 V10 or the 602bhp R8 V10 Plus, both available in either a coupe or a soft-top Spyder body.
So far we’ve published reviews of the V10 Plus Coupe (which we’ve also run as a long-term test car), the regular R8 V10 Spyder and the V10 Plus Spyder, which leaves one gap – the regular, non-Plus (nonplussed?) Audi R8 V10 Coupe.
Earlier this year, we drove from the UK to the Nurburgring 24h race and back in just such a car – here’s an account of how it stacked up as a grand tourer.
See our photo diary from the 2017 Nurburgring 24h here
Audi R8 – the basics
The Mk2 R8 was launched in 2015, replacing the much-loved original that had been around since 2006.
It’s twinned with the Lamborghini Huracan, sharing the same high-revving engine and aluminium/composite platform. Said engine is probably one of the last of its kind; we’re unlikely to see many more ‘mainstream’ supercars with a cylinder count in double digits, cubic capacity starting with a ‘5’, and without turbochargers.
This time there’s no manual version, all R8s using a seven-speed twin-clutch ‘S tronic’ gearbox, and all cars are all-wheel-drive, although very much rear-biased.
Emptying a little interesting mud into the waters, from early 2018 another, limited-edition version called the R8 RWS joins the range (the odd name sounds like rear wheel steering, but actually stands for ‘Rear Wheel Series’ – it’ll be rear-wheel-drive).
That makes the car tested here, the R8 V10 Coupe, the cheapest (relatively speaking) route into all-wheel-drive R8 ownership. At the time of writing, the R8 range looks like this:
- R8 RWS Coupe (limited numbers): £112,450
- R8 RWS Spyder (limited numbers): £121,140
- R8 V10 Coupe: £126,130
- R8 V10 Spyder: £134,820
- R8 V10 Plus Coupe: £141,130
- R8 V10 Plus Spyder: £149,820
[Prices quoted winter 2017]
What's the difference between the regular Audi R8 V10 and the R8 V10 Plus? Apart from the extra power?
Sizeable 69bhp power hike aside, headline R8 V10 Plus upgrades include:
- 40kg weight reduction
- Ceramic brake discs
- Shorter gear ratios
- Stiffer suspension
- Fixed carbon rear wing
- Extra ‘Performance’ driving modes
They add up to a £15k price increase over the regular R8 V10 tested here.
In a previous diary entry in our long-term Audi R8 V10 Plus test, I compared the Plus back-to-back with a regular V10 and in many ways I still believe the more affordable model is actually the better road car. Its wavy steel discs are less over-sensitively grabby than the ceramics from cold, making it easier to drive smoothly around town, and they’re still plenty powerful when you need them.
The regular car’s pop-up spoiler lies flush with the tail when it’s not deployed, which looks a little subtler than the fixed carbon ironing board on the Plus, and you probably won’t miss the stiffer suspension on UK roads.
What you do miss with the regular V10 Plus is bragging rights; it’s ‘slower’ from 0-62mph (3.5sec for the V10 vs 3.2 for the V10 Plus) and at top speed, (199mph vs 205) – if that matters to you.
How good is the R8 at being a long-distance tourer?
Over short distances, the R8 is surely one of the most user-friendly supercars there’s ever been. No speedbump is too high, no parking space too tight, no weather too foul. My main reservations about a long trip, based on many long motorway schleps in our long-termer, is the seats’ lack of lumbar support, and the seriously small boot.
Compared with a Porsche 911, a McLaren sports series, or even a Ferrari 488, all of which have genuinely sizeable ‘frunks’, the space under the R8’s bonnet really is tight – probably partly because of the extra set of driveshafts up front. I’ve previously had to drive our long-termer with bags belted into the passenger seat alongside me, but for the Nurburgring trip the R8’s boot actually managed to swallow multiple squashy bags as well as photographer Tom Chapman’s gear, without having to squeeze too much of it onto the luggage shelf behind the seats.
By the time we leave the Channel Tunnel, however, the interior is already a heaving sea of clutter; water bottles, food wrappers, documents etc. There isn’t a huge amount of space to put things within the cabin, although there are a couple of small cupholders between the seats, doorpockets and a sliding-lid cubby ahead of the gear selector; by supercar standards it could be far worse.
As we leave France and forge a path into Belgium the R8 proves itself to be a very adept motorway cruiser. The wide tyres kick out a bit of road noise but otherwise it’s incredibly well insulated, even by saloon car standards. The optional B&O stereo really kicks, too, although the bass occasionally gets a bit muddy.
One issue I hadn’t noticed in the UK is the sizeable offside rear blind spot, which can make changing lanes occasionally tricky – maybe it would be less of an issue in a left-hand-drive R8, however (we were driving a UK-spec car).
Active cylinder shutdown is often engaged on the motorway, allowing one bank of cylinders to take five (quite literally) when the V10 isn’t under load, and it’s virtually imperceptible in action.
When we stop at some nondescript services somewhere in rural Belgium to clear out several hundred miles-worth of coffee cups, water bottles and sweet wrappers, I’ve got a thoroughly numb back from the seats which don’t quite support me where I need them to, but I’m in less pain than I would have been in a Lamborghini Huracan, which has thinner, less forgiving perches.
Yes, the Huracan – how does the R8 compare with its Lamborghini platform-mate?
The Lambo’s much noisier on the motorway – you’d need to raise your voice to have a conversation with your passenger at cruise where you wouldn’t in the Audi. The flip-side of that coin is that the Huracan sounds even more evocative; the reduced sound deadening shows off the V10’s vocal chords to better effect.
There’s even less interior storage space in the Lamborghini, but a much more dramatic-looking interior, if possibly not quite as high-quality as the Audis – there were a few squeaks and rattles in the last Huracan I drove (although our long-term R8 also suffered from a recurring squeaking noise). The R8’s ergonomics are more intuitive, too, using the same innovative (if distracting) media interface as the TT.
Subjectively, the regular R8 handles better than the standard Huracan, with a sweeter balance and less understeer (although the RWD Huracan LP580-2 has very neutral handling and the top Huracan Performante model is Sonic-pointy).
But even though the R8 is a more rewarding steer, every time I’ve set off in a standard Huracan my heartbeat has been off the scale, while it’s always at a more even tempo in the Audi. CAR’s Anthony ffrench-Constant perhaps put it best in his R8 Spyder review: ‘the Lamborghini still stirs the soul, whilst, ever the perfect host, the Audi merely stirs your Martini.’
So the R8 is missing a little bit of drama compared with its Italian cousin, but it still has plenty of supercar theatre. At the same motorway services, a minibus-load of cameraphone-clutching passengers march over and surround the car. It’s funny how people you’ve never met before act around supercars – most folk are incredibly polite, and some become unusually pushy, almost aggressive.
Back on the road, cars ahead occasionally meander in their lane as they watch the R8 in their mirrors. Despite the relatively demure grey paintwork it clearly still turns plenty of heads.
Later we stop in the strange, beautiful city of Bruges, parking in a giant underground car park. The R8 has a comparatively high roofline by supercar standards but here it looks impossibly low, its tail jutting out of its parking bay at half the height of the nondescript cars around it.
It doesn’t half make a racket when it fires up again. The R8’s one of those cars you wish had a quiet-start function.
As we get closer to the Nurburgring, there’s one more place we have to visit. Spa-Francorchamps is only 90 minutes from the ’Ring, and although it’s getting dark it’s a detour we have to make. Following the sat-nav to the circuit, suddenly the road we’re on looks awfully familiar. Helped by dusk’s black-and-white filter, I recognise that bit of guardrail, the curve of that corner – we’re on the original Spa circuit, from the days when it was a giant road circuit. Proper goosebumps stuff, made all the better by the sound of the barely stressed V10’s mellow bellow echoing off the Armco and the trees.
We somehow talk our way into the circuit and snap the R8 in sight of Eau Rouge, then push on for the final leg. It’s pitch black when we reach the ’Ring.
We managed to park quite close to the circuit, sandwiching the R8 into a space under a tree, its ground clearance and surprisingly tiny turning circle coming in handy again. It really is no more difficult to park than most superminis, rear visibility aside – which is still better than most supercars.
Seems we brought an appropriate car; Audi R8 GT3 cars took first and third in the race, with a dramatic last-gasp win in changeable conditions. If you’re thinking about going to the N24, you should do it; it’s one of the most unique, spectacular race events I’ve been to.
Anything else I should know about the R8?
If you open the door after it’s been raining, water sometimes runs straight off the roof and into the seats – something that also used to happen in our long-termer, albeit a bit less frequently – maybe because this car was cleaner!
The twin-clutch gearbox is occasionally shunty at low speeds, which can be annoying in town, but otherwise works well.
What was the Audi R8’s fuel economy like?
If my maths is right, we averaged 23.6mpg from the UK to the Nurburgring, over a mix of roads (but predominantly motorways) and speeds – quite close to the official figure of 24.8mpg.
The car we drove was fitted with the optional larger fuel tank, which enabled us to fuel up only three times during the trip – once to brim it before reaching the Chunnel, once near the Nurburgring and then once on the way back somewhere in Belgium.
R8 V10 or R8 V10 Plus? So quick is the standard car, you’d be hard-pressed to notice the 69bhp difference in power between the R8 V10 and the V10 Plus on typical roads, but on the wide, open, beautiful Eifel routes near the Nurburgring you actually do feel the extra shove. Still, you’d never describe the R8 V10 as slow. And if you do, you need to recalibrate your senses.
I still maintain that the standard R8’s steel brakes are better suited to road use than the Plus’s ceramics, and its slightly softer springs are no bad thing in the UK. Although the V10 Plus’s status as the fastest R8 of the bunch may recoup some of its £15k premium come resale time, the regular V10 isn’t really a lesser car.
As for the R8’s long-distance tourer credentials, it’s seriously impressive. The small boot is less of an issue than you might expect, as long as you pack light, and use a squashy bag, while its refinement, comfort (unforgiving seat-backs apart), all-weather grip and all-round ease of use make the R8 probably the most user-friendly supercar this side of a Porsche 911 Turbo (which is easier to see out of and can pack more luggage, but also packs a bit less drama than the R8).
The second-generation Audi R8 might not be a car you warm to immediately, but you will. It’s a deeply impressive machine.
Photography by Tom Chapman