First Drive: 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus
– Detroit, Michigan
Supercars, by definition, are focused on crazy, balls-out antics above all, rarely amenable to commuting in traffic, relaxed freeway cruising, or just running a few errands. But the Audi R8 is – and always has been – different. It’s arguably the best blend of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the supercar space, and for its second generation, the line between cool and wacky is blurred even further... for better or worse.
I honestly think the new R8 could stand to be just a touch crazier. Commuting home from work, it’s as easy to use and as complacent as an Audi A4, with all the same world-beating technology and creature comforts onboard. Even just cruising down the freeway or lazily winding along back roads, the R8 feels more like a V10-powered TT than an exotic supermachine.
But I promise you, that’s a backhanded compliment – the R8 delivers a special driving experience should you choose to open it up. The immense power from the naturally aspirated, 5.2-litre V10 is easily accessible, and in the right drive mode, immediately present right at throttle tip-in. With the Plus model tested here, there’s 610 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque nestled right in the middle of the chassis, with all four wheels ready to put that grunt to the ground however necessary. For $29,900 less, Audi will sell you a standard R8 V10 (the V8 model no longer exists – sadface), but it isn’t as powerful (540 hp), isn’t as quick, and I didn’t drive it, so let’s just save that car for another review on another day.
The gap between normal car and supercar is wider than ever before.
The R8 is astonishingly quick, with a 0-100 kilometres per hour time of 3.3 seconds for this 610-hp version. And that feels conservative. I can confirm that the zero-to-holy-shit-that’s-quick reaction time is about half a second, so factor that in for a more appropriate sense of true acceleration. Full throttle or not, the seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission is always up to the task, whether left to its own devices or being managed via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Gear changes are immediate and always on the driver’s terms, and you can let the V10 sing close to redline for as long as you want. Yes, like you, I miss the hell out of the six-speed manual transmission in the R8, especially with its gated shifter, but Audi’s S-tronic transmission is a very worthy companion for the big 5.2-litre engine, with smooth, rapid-fire shifts – far better than that old, jerky, laggy R-tronic automatic setup, anyway.
Like all new Audis, there’s a Dynamic Select function that allows you adjust things like steering, suspension, and engine/transmission performance between Auto, Comfort, and Dynamic modes. I recommend two setups: either leave it in full Auto, or press the checkered flag button on the steering wheel and let ‘er rip. This special Performance setting, standard on the R8 V10 Plus, puts everything into the most aggressive mode. Quicker than you can blink, that one little button changes the R8 from a comfy cruiser coupe into a proper, amazing supercar. They really ought to paint this button red, for maximum effect.
With the Performance setting activated, the R8 sets its luxury car laurels on fire.
In full Auto, the R8 is light on its feet, compliant over pavement irregularities, and easy to drive. This car is surprisingly agile and visibility is better than you expect, the tiller light and direct, and it really feels no more difficult to maneuver than a TT. But with the Performance setting activated, the R8 sets its luxury car laurels on fire – the engine roars, everything gets louder, and suddenly you’re in a bright red rocketship. The steering weights up with even more immediate response, thanks partly to the variable-ratio Dynamic Steering setup, an option available with the Le Mans Package for $1,900. With it the car seems to rotate around you, rather than pointing and darting ahead. The tires glue themselves to the road, and the suspension stiffens up and keeps the car stable and poised during hard cornering. The car you pleasantly commuted to work in that morning is now a street-legal race car. Amazing.
That said, the R8 V10 Plus is lively and potent enough to be thrilling when left in Auto mode. If you’re liberal on throttle and steering inputs, the car will react, tightening up when appropriate and going a little soft as you decide to settle down. Truly, the gap between normal car and supercar is wider than ever before in this one package, and perhaps more balanced than anything else in the class. The one car that comes close is the McLaren 570S, which does great work as a grand tourer and then turns up the supercar juice when asked. If asked to pick between the two, that’s a tough one – the 570S is arguably a bit more lively, but the R8 is the car I’d want to live with everyday.
The R8 is the car I’d want to live with everyday.
Get in the R8, shut the door, and you aren’t thrown into this weird supercar world where everything seems difficult to use – it’s an Audi, right down to the window switches. Up front, the company’s outstanding Virtual Cockpit infotainment system manages all vehicle functions (there’s no secondary, pop-up screen in the middle of the dashboard like in the A4), and the steering wheel is adorned with two sets of buttons, the bright red Engine Start button at thumb’s reach on the right side. Every control is logically placed and organized, with solid, tactile feel. All in all, the cabin is remarkable. Material quality is top notch, it’s quiet, and the quilted leather seats are seriously comfortable and supportive. The design is special without being intimidating, like, say, in a Lamborghini Huracán. It’s unique, but friendly – a harmonious blend of exclusivity and familiarity.
Your eyes work just as well as mine, so come to your own conclusions as far as exterior styling is concerned. But in talking to friends and passers-by, I found that the majority of styling discussions don’t concern whether or not the car is attractive – it’s damn fine, everyone agrees – but instead, whether this R8 is better or worse looking than its predecessor. Here’s the thing: it’s really hard to follow up a remarkable, never-before-seen design like the original R8. The sharper edges of this car look great, and the new coupe seems to garner just as much attention as the old one. From the wide taillamps to the side blades to the huge 20-inch wheels pushed out to all four corners, it’s stunning to behold.
Audi’s everyday supercar enters its second generation better than ever, and really can be a lot of things to a lot of people.
Yet I’m not sure if the whole “everyday supercar” thing really works. If you can only live with one car, and you’re set on a supercar, then the R8’s definitely the one to get. But so often, vehicles like these are second or third or fourth cars in one household – a special experience. In that case, I’m inclined to recommend the McLaren 570S or 570GT, which drives just a smidge better, even if it isn’t as fancy inside. If your only car needs to be a supercar, the R8’s the one you’ll want to live with every single day, for all of the comfort and convenience reasons mentioned earlier. But how many people are really daily-driving these things?
No matter, Audi’s everyday supercar enters its second generation better than ever, and really can be a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s comfortable and compliant, yet rowdy and racy when asked. It’s a proper successor to the iconic coupe that took the world by storm a decade ago. And while it might not be the most hardcore kid in the class, it offers an extreme, four-part blend of daily livability, outstanding style, superb comfort and technology, and raucous performance that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com