Audi R8 Review: Model | R8 | Car Buyers Guide

2009 Audi R8 Review

The A397, linking the A-15 just west of Marbella with the small town of Ronda in Spain, is simply an amazing road. It makes its way across the Sierra Blanca Mountains for 80km and presents the driver with just about every conceivable type of bend, curve and corner imaginable, with the exception of a full hairpin. Shortly after we leave the A-15 we begin our climb, but it’s a gradual ascent, taking 40km to get to around 1,500m above sea level. As the road rises, the views become spectacular, particularly where there are breaks in the Armco. But it’s also a major arterial route, so it’s wide, well surfaced and boasts a great line-of-sight. Unfortunately it’s also very, very busy.

         

Normally, this isn’t a problem. There are plenty of straight stretches to overtake sluggish motorists on, and because carmakers generally save this road for powerful cars, we’re better equipped than most to take advantage of the smallest of gaps in traffic. You do get the odd nutter in a wheezing supermini that tries to give chase, but for the most part, it’s a fast, fun and challenging road.
         

It’s here we find ourselves in Audi’s new R8 V10, the company’s new sporting flagship and its fastest (if not its most powerful) ever model, but on this occasion we’re not giggling uncontrollably. We’re downright grumpy. Marbella has an average of 230 sunny days a year, but today isn’t one of them, not by a long shot. Moments before we were to get our first taste of what Audi’s 5.2-litre V10 felt like nestled in the R8’s delectable chassis, the heavens opened and didn’t stop for any more than 30 minutes over the next 24 hours. That meant our very first encounter with a 525hp, 530Nm supercar would be on an already dangerous road in absolutely treacherous conditions. That’s like visiting a wildlife park wearing pants made of meat.
         

We should have turned around, driven back to the hotel, climbed into bed and curled up in a warm duvet, but the desire to get photographs with clouds in the background so I could use my witty headline was too strong, and there was always the off-chance we’d climb high enough to pop out through the low-lying clouds into glorious sunshine. So we pressed on, nursing the R8 up the hill as delicately as possible, picking off traffic with care and working hard to avoid sticking it in a barrier within the first hour of getting behind the wheel. Later, when talking with Audi’s Le Mans winner and all-round top bloke Alan McNish, he mentioned that you can learn a lot from a car in the wet – not necessarily how much grip or outright pace it has, but how composed and communicative it is. As it happens, we’d figured that much out for ourselves earlier in the day.
         

Shortly after getting our photography sorted, slap bang in the middle of the A397 we encountered a long-ish line of traffic and, as is normal, we began to pick our way carefully up the queue. It’s mostly MPVs, off-roaders and hammered family cars, none of which have the power to overtake the two trucks in close proximity chugging gamely up the hill in front of us. It takes a few minutes, but we eventually slot in behind the car nearest to the trucks, at which point the driver sees the R8’s piercing LED lights, goes what can only be described as “batshit crazy” and decides he’s going to overtake both trucks. Right. Now. He pulls out and disappears into the trucks’ tyre spray, around two blind bends, with his late-model Golf 2.0 TDI spewing out clouds of black smoke as he thrashes every last horsepower out of it.
         

Relieved that he somehow made it around the trucks safely, we think no more of it and eventually get past the two trucks before continuing our own cautious assault on the Sierra Blanca. A short while later, we once again caught up with our Golf-driving lunatic, who was still giving his TDI the beans, but he was driving rather erratically and using every inch of the soaking road, cutting corners and generally making a nuisance of himself. He had a point to make, I presume. When it finally dawned on him that his 140hp Golf wasn’t going to outrun the R8 V10, he re-attached his brain and slowed down a little bit. We chugged along for another while until a short straight between two corners appeared and I decided to use it to slip past him. I pulled out, squeezed the R8’s throttle and we were away. All was going swimmingly until, right at the point of no return, a Renault van came barrelling around the corner in the opposite direction. There was no panic, though, as I had given myself enough space for just such an eventuality. I simply stoked the R8’s boiler and summoned up more power to make the pass cleanly. And that’s when it happened.
         

Suddenly and without warning, the R8 lost grip at the rear and snapped sideways, forcing me to snap the throttle shut and counter-steer sharply. Even now, as I recall the event, I’m still amazed at how fast it stepped out. To be fair to the R8, the road was very, very wet but, in my defence, we hadn’t even seen the ESC (ESP in Audi-speak) light come on up to now, so I assumed that the all-wheel-drive R8 had the traction to take a little more juice. Perhaps we hit some standing water that I didn’t notice while I calculated my escape route. Perhaps it was a slick or oily patch of road. Perhaps the R8 is not the pussycat I remember or perhaps the V10 simply has a darker side. Or perhaps I simply gave it a little too much throttle and the laws of physics took over.
         

There was no time to dwell on that, though, because the R8 was still slithering around and that Renault badge was closing in fast. As quickly as it snapped right, the R8’s back end then kicked left, forcing me to dial in another armful of opposite lock but now both time and space running out rapidly. Then, as soon as it had began, it was over – the ESC kicked in, pulling the errant R8 straight, allowing me to feed in the throttle once again and zip in front of the Golf without further drama. It was a heartstopping moment. I learned more about the R8 in those few seconds than I would have in a week of dry driving. I learned that the R8’s ESC system allows a lot of sideways slip before kicking in, but when it does kick in it works wonders. I learned that its steering is pin-sharp and super-fast, allowing me to do my bit to catch the spin. I also learned that despite its all-wheel-drive chassis, the R8 is no point-and-squirt car. It demands respect and a delicate touch or it will bite back. It’s every bit as edgy and exciting as its styling would have you believe.
         

I also learned that while there’s plenty of weight and, as mentioned, sharpness in the steering, I personally don’t think there’s quite enough feedback through the chassis. When you enter a corner in the R8 V10 you can’t palm your way around like you can in, say, a 911 Turbo, so you have to throw it in and wait to see what the car will do. This makes it a difficult car to push close to the limit because you’re really not sure where those limits are – not in the wet, anyway. You exit most corners wishing you’d given it a little more, but when you do get a surge of bravery it squirms around menacingly and makes you ask yourself what the hell you were thinking. It’s confidence-eroding, to be honest, and not at all what you want in a car like this.
         

Later, with my underpants shovelled out and driving a different R8 manual on the Ascari Racetrack, I deliberately pick another fight with the R8 V10 by lifting off in the middle of a long sweeper. Again, the R8 steps out and again, my counter-steer and the ESC combine to bring the thing smartly back in line. A lap later, it surprises me with another tank-slapper as I cross a river of excess rainwater streaming across the track. Man, this R8 V10 is twitchy. In the dry, I bet it’s a hoot; playful, tail-happy and a bit naughty. But in the wet it’s a real handful – even the instructor-driven R8 in front of me had a few ‘moments,’ and I doubt he was driving any harder than seven-tenths.
         

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the V10 versus the V8, I just suspect the extra power and weight has upset the R8’s balance a little bit, knocking it ever so slightly out of its sweet spot. After all, only minor tweaks were made to the suspension to accommodate the V10’s extra weight, which means the engine is basically the only thing that’s different about this new model. Perhaps given that this is the first time I’ve driven the car in these kind of appalling conditions, this is a characteristic of the R8 I simply didn’t notice before, but regardless of whether it’s an old handling issue coming to the surface or a new one that comes from having slightly more weight and a lot more power, I still think Audi needs to work on the R8’s chassis make it a little more predictable and readable.
         

The heart of the R8 V10, its engine, really is quite something though. If you could only hear the sound it makes at full chat you’d understand why Audi went to the trouble and expense of giving the car its own launch. It’s basically the same as the engine that slots into the R8 Le Mans car (only a software upgrade is required) with direct injection and dry-sump lubrication, and it’s built to take a serious pounding, as any engine used in 24-hour endurance races has to be.
         

As with the V8, two six-speed transmissions are available, an old-style, single-clutch, automated manual called R-Tronic, as well as a standard three-pedal manual, and both send drive to all four wheels via Audi’s latest electronically controlled ‘quattro’ system. In normal driving, the R8 has a 15:85 rear-wheel drive bias, but that can be varied up to 30:70 front to rear if required. As you’d expect, the R8 V10 corners flat and hard, but because of its predominantly rear-wheel drive bias, it’s best not to think of it as a quattro car and treat it like a rear-drive car instead. I think this may have been the cause of my near comeuppance on the mountain. Had I been driving a rear-drive car with similar power, such as a 911 GT2 or Ferrari F430, I might not have attempted that same manoeuvre, but seeing that quattro badge on the dashboard must have made instilled a bit too much confidence in me.
         

Although the vast majority of R8s sold globally (and up to 80 percent of Irish R8s) are sold with the R-Tronic gearbox, the manual’s far better. It’s got an open gate and it clack-clacks between gears, making it a deeply satisfying ’box to use. The R-Tronic, on the other hand, is completely outclassed by Audi/VW’s own twin-clutch system. In automatic mode passengers lunge forward with every sluggish upshift, while in sport mode it feels as if a sledgehammer is being used to bang it into gear. A little lift smoothes things out a tad, but that disrupts the acceleration, and even then it’s not exactly a silky transition between cogs, while downshifts are executed with more finesse and a satisfying blip of the throttle. Not nearly as satisfying as doing the heel-toeing yourself while working the manual ’box, mind.
         

Somewhat disappointingly, the visual differences between the V8 and V10 are absolutely minute, although the Audi anoraks out there will relish being able to distinguish between the two. For the record, the grilles and rear diffuser are slightly different and the ‘sideblade’ air intakes are larger too, although purely for aesthetic reasons. There are unique 19-inch alloys and small V10 badges on the front wings and there’s a unique colour, Sepang Blue, too. The cabin is pretty much the same as before, with the exception of some V10 logos and more standard equipment like sat nav and a Bang & Olufsen stereo. Other standard features include adaptive dampers, bi-xenon lights and leather trim, with a long and tempting options list including extra sideblades so you can change the look of your car depending on your mood. Apparently, they’re pretty easy to swap.
         

While I might sound underwhelmed by the R8 V10 overall, I think that it’s the conditions, more so than the car, that’s to blame. How do you test a 525hp, mid-engined supercar to its limits when it’s bucketing down? When we did eventually find its limit it was unintentionally, and it was a rather unpleasant experience that left us shaken and annoyed. As you can imagine, the R8 V10 is an amazing machine, with one of the best engines (and engine notes) of any car I’ve ever experienced. It’s brutally fast yet incredibly comfortable and well appointed. Even so, I still don’t think it’s for me. I love the R8 V8 – it has just the right amount of power, which, in turn, makes it more manageable and accessible than the V10, particularly in the wet. The R8 V10 smacks of performance for the sake of performance, when what the R8 really needs is to be a little more communicative. And there’s also the value issue – is it really worth the price of a well-equipped TT TDI extra to have two more cylinders, 16 extra km/h and reach the speed limit 0.7 seconds sooner? It’s a fine showcase for Audi’s technical, motorsport and engineering prowess, but as a driving experience the R8 V10 simply didn’t enthrall me as much as I’d hoped it would.

 

 

SIDEBAR

TALKING POINTS

– The R8’s design was previewed by the Le Mans Quattro Concept Car at the ’03 Frankfurt Motor Show. It was so called to commemorate Audi’s third successive Le Mans victory with the R8 racing car.

– Audi has a habit of putting its concept cars into production. The Le Mans Concept had a twin-turbo V10 that produced 610hp and 750Nm of torque, but the normally aspirated version isn’t far behind.

– Despite the rumours, the R8 V10 was never intended to have the twin-turbo V10 from the S8. The V10 prototype that famously burnt to the ground at the Nürburgring in 2007 simply had a broken fuel line.

– The R8 V10 is closely related to the Lamborghini Gallardo, sharing much of its chassis, engine, transmission and suspension. Audi bought Lamborghini in 2001.

– A total of 20 R8s have been officially sold in Ireland, with around 80 percent of those having the R-Tronic ‘box.

– The R8 is the subject of one of Audi’s best TV ads: The Slowest Car We’ve Ever Built, referring to the painstaking work that goes into hand-assembling the R8.

– 5,000 parts are hand-assembled by 70 workers to produce 15 cars a day. 95 lasers inspect the entire car to ensure that 220 measurements are within 0.1 mm parameters.

– 99 meters of welding seams, 782 rivets and 308 self-tapping screws hold the all-aluminium body together.

– Audi has covered 8,000km on the Nürburgring Nordschleife alone, fine-tuning the V10’s handling characteristics.

 

 

Info

Audi R8 V10

 

Engine

5,204cc V10

 

Output

525hp, 530Nm

 

Transmission

6-sp manual/6-sp seq, AWD

 

Acceleration

0-100km/h 3.9/3.9 seconds

 

Top Speed

316/316km/h

 

Economy

14.7/13.7 litres/100km

 

CO2 Emissions

351/327g/km

 

CO2 Tax Band

G (€2,100 p.a.)

 

Weight

1,620/1,625kg

 

Boot Capacity

190 litres (front and rear)

 

Base Price

€229,815/€241,670

 

For:

Staggering pace and presence

 

Against:

Eye-watering cost, scary in the wet

 

Rating:

8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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