When Audi launched the R8 in 2006 it fast became the ‘Supercar of the People’ thanks to its availability, relative practicality and value for money. The fact it was stunning to look at and had Audi’s build quality, of course, helped things along the way.
Fast forward 12 years and the R8 may still share similar looks but has taken a shift up in terms of performance. The original 420hp V8 is long gone, with only V10 models available in 540hp and 610bhp ‘Plus’ power outputs. You can choose to have a fixed roof or convertible, and you can even choose to have rear-wheel drive instead of Audi’s trademark Quattro four-wheel drive thanks to the new RWS program.
So then, the R8 is all grown up. We took the opportunity to test one out on the roads of Brighton and its surrounding countryside to see whether the original R8 magic remains alive and well on the UK’s roads.
The R8 In Portrait
The R8 range can fairly easily be divided up – the options to be considered are the ‘base level’ R8, or the hardcore, track-orientated ‘Plus’, both available in Coupe and Spyder formats. For our test, we had a non-Plus Spyder to play with. In Dynamite Red with a black hood, it certainly looks the part – it’s nothing short of supercar when you clap eyes on it, with the front end profile being a sharpened uptake on the original, and being unmistakably Audi. For me, it’s the rear where things get really good to look at, with huge openings showing off hints of the mechanicals behind.
The R8 then, isn’t short of drama to look at.
For years now Audi has arguably been the benchmark when it comes to a well screwed together interior, and the R8 is a prime example. On this particular R8, premium black Nappa leather adorns just about every surface. The dashboard is somewhat dominated by the virtual cockpit, and it seems Audi has kept things that way intentionally. There is no central display, with every operation going past the driver’s eyes only, keeping things neat and simple.
The seats on example are the standard R8 Sport Seats and they look the part, with top-notch build quality evident. The optional R8 Bucket Seats are the ones to go for in my opinion, really enhancing the interior looks and offering additional support.
Performance is where the R8 makes itself felt. When launched the R8 represented a technical tour de force and things are no different twelve years later. The 5.2-litre, naturally-aspirated V10 is undoubtedly the centrepiece, pushing out 540hp and 540nm of torque in the time of an emissions-fueled turbo takeover it’s incredibly refreshing that Audi’s sporting flagship remains pure. It’s a clever bit of kit too, with the ability to drop down to 5 cylinders seamlessly to save fuel. Our test car came with the £1800 Sport Exhaust System fitted to let that engine really sing.
This power is fed through a 7-speed ‘S-Tronic’ dual-clutch transmission and turns all four wheels thanks to Quattro putting that power to the ground shouldn’t be an issue come rain or shine.
Brakes are enormous steel discs, with carbon-ceramic stoppers a £7700 option. The Audi SpaceFrame chassis can be enhanced beyond the base spec too with Magnetic Ride as fitted to this car (£1600) and Dynamic Steering (£1200).
As always with Audi, you’ve got no shortage of options, then.
Out In The Wild
Fire up the R8 and you immediately know you’re in something special. That V10 makes its presence felt with a lairy burst of revs as it comes to life. What a sound it is too.
While the R8 may be known as something of a practical supercar, there is no mistaking that it is still a supercar. At 5’11 I don’t consider myself tall, and yet I did find myself wishing I could move the seat further back. Headroom too isn’t especially generous with the roof up – but comfort remains good. Within the cabin’s limitations, the seats have plenty of adjustment, as does the steering column, and so it’s easy to feel at home. Visibility is surprisingly excellent too, making the R8 far from the intimidating car to manoeuvre.
The lack of a central screen takes a little getting used to and limits any passenger’s control over the audio. The rest of the controls are easy to find and use, with plenty of controls within a thumb’s reach on the steering wheel.
Audi’s Drive Select allows the choice of Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual modes. Leave it in Comfort and the R8 quietens down, the gearbox slickly shifts gears and the dampers soak up the bumps superbly. The sound system and phone integration are fantastic, the controls are light and easy to use. The roof can quickly be raised and lowered, with the cockpit being perfectly set up for minimal wind noise and buffeting. Around town, it’s a perfectly relaxing car to drive.
Get out into the countryside, flick it into Dynamic and the R8 truly comes alive. The exhaust valves open, the gearbox shifts down a couple of cogs and the chassis becomes pin sharp. Bury your right foot and things get silly, very quickly – 62mph arrives in 3.6 seconds from a standstill and that’s where the R8 gets into its stride. The V10 noise is completely addictive, and that engine offers relentless shove, peaking in a way that only a naturally-aspirated engine can. The gearbox throws completely seamless, lighting fast shifts into the mix to create the sort of performance that has to be enjoyed at every possible opportunity.
With the right stretch of road, the R8 just comes into its own. Squeeze the throttle out of a corner and the Quattro system never seems to struggle, effortlessly allowing the engine’s full force to propel the car forwards. The brakes – steel on this one – feel immensely powerful and have no problem hauling the Spyder up, despite its 1720kg curb weight. As you flick down through the gears the throttle blips, exhaust pops and g forces make things a completely intoxicating experience.
The R8 Spyder delivers a full package – it’s got the looks, performance and noise of a supercar and yet is extremely easy and un-intimidating to drive. 12 years from the original launch and the R8 continues to hold that same character, albeit pumped up and refreshed – most importantly it works on UK roads and works so well.
MSF approved? You bet.
Gracie Opulanza, picking up the keys!
Price as tested: £146,635 OTR