When Audi launched the R8 to the world in 2007, the motoring fraternity sat up and paid attention.
Here was a brand that up to then had a variety of RS models — some really good ones in fact (think B7 RS4) — but not many were certain how its modern sports car would fair.
It had all the right quotas of styling and good proportions; however, whether it could properly take the fight to the Porsche 911 was something that remained to be seen. As a result, the company rummaged through its parts bin and decided to fit midship its sublime 4.2l V8 engine, which was paired to a slick-shifting, metal gate six-speed manual gearbox, which was a joy to use even if it was just to hear the click-clack while swapping cogs.
Then there was the ride quality which, for me, truly set the benchmark for daily usability (although Porsche will argue that it began this trait). The R8 turned out to be more than just a pretty face — it delivered where it mattered most. The V8 engine was great for what it was, but there was definitely a gap above this model, hence the 5.2l V10 (the same engine that powered the Lamborghini Gallardo, but slightly detuned) variant joined the line-up. And, to be honest, the vehicle went from being a great sports car to truly sublime. Its battle cry was more vocal and it had mounds of kick-you-in-the-back shove.
Enter the new model, then, and it is evident from the onset that the company was not going to meddle with a working recipe, hence the evolutionary design.
The model still has the gravitas to make grown men nod in appreciation, women weak at the knees and kids scream their lungs out in its presence. Styling remains distinctly R8, while the cabin has been truly given the once over, thanks to the TFT digital instrument cluster and the multifunction sports steering wheel. Those form-hugging bucket seats are surprisingly comfortable, thanks to the quilted leather, which makes driving on longer journeys quite a pleasant experience.
This is a performance car, so let us delve into that. Powering the model on test here, the V10 Plus, is the same 5.2l V10 that powers the Lamborghini Huracan, which means the full fat 449kW and 560Nm — exactly the same as its Italian cousin. It is a pearl of an engine — characterful, charming and with an insatiable appetite for revs. Indeed, in an era where many performance cars are going the turbo route, which is inevitable, it remains an unfathomable privilege to still be able to drive an organic, normally aspirated engine that revs to the stratosphere. With a rev ceiling of 8 500r/min you would be forgiven for thinking that there is little in the way of low-down torque, but the opposite is true.
Thanks to the optional sports exhaust (R30 200) fitted to our test car, the V10 engine’s addictive soundtrack is even more vocal when the exhaust button, located on the optional dynamic steering wheel (R22 200), is set to Sport mode.
Due to the quattro all-wheel drive system, which sends up to 100% of power to the rear wheels, there is less of the dread understeer that afflicts most all-wheel drive cars and more of the rear-wheel drive dynamics. It is an easy car to pilot quickly.
However, it is the multiplate central clutch and mechanical limited slip differential that makes all the difference. Those 20-inch 305/30 rear section tyres ensure that there is tenacious grip going around corners and commendable traction going out of them.
Then there is the transmission, the seven-speed dual clutch automatic is truly something of a revelation. It is butter smooth when left to its own devices, but thoroughly rapid and incisive when commanded via the steering mounted paddle shifters. It is the immediacy and imperceptive manner in which the gearbox operates that truly stands out.
The ride quality is very good, thanks to the optional Magnetic Ride adaptable dampers (R28 700). However, I did find that in its softest setting (Comfort) the rear of the vehicle feels a touch loose over undulations. Also, this means that even minor speed bumps need to be taken with caution as the rear suspension tends to clunk disconcertingly. As a result, I just left it in Dynamic mode, which tends to resolve the issue.
Another bugbear is the closing of the front boot lid, which requires one to press down hard with varying success.
These minor chinks in its armour aside, though, the Audi R8 remains an easy sports car to live with on a daily basis. It is as at home trundling through peak hour traffic as it is attacking apexes on a racetrack or your favourite winding back roads. From where I stand, the company has taken all the hallmarks that made the previous model so good, and tweaked them even further in this model.
The fact that it pushes out the same outputs as the Lamborghini Huracan means that the R8 now, more than ever, makes a stronger case for itself than its Italian cousin, which will set you back R4 950 000. – Lerato Matebese
Fast Facts: Audi R8 V10 Plus
Engine: 5204cc V10 petrol
Power: 449kW at 8250rpm
Torque: 560Nm at 6500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed S-Tronic
0-100km/h: 3.2-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 330km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 12.3l/100km (achieved combined)
Price: From RR3 089 000