With a V8, the R8 is possibly the perfect super car, striking the right balance between performance and usability. The 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI adds 105 HP and $32,000. Is the extra performance really necessary?
Here's the thing about the Audi R8 V8 and a manual transmission it is a testament to the breed; It's fast, gorgeous, makes beautiful music, it's easy to handle and it's as easy to drive as an old Ford Escort. When equipped with the R-Tronic transmission though, it's merely magnificent when you're driving fast. However, when you're puttering around town, it's an utterly tragic, annoying, searching, shuddering mess.
Like the V8, the V10 is simultaneously gorgeous and sinister. The intakes under the headlights have a reduced numbers of fins and the entire grille treatment wears a black finish, the chin is slightly tweaked, the sideblades have bigger intakes, new wheels and at the rear the twin exhaust tips are replaced with single oval outlets. Everywhere you go it's thumbs up and long drawn out stares leading to the inevitable lane corrections. In the R8, you have to drive more defensively than normal just to avoid the staring masses.
At 525 HP, the new 5.2-liter V10 makes a little more than 100 HP/L and with 399 Lb-Ft, it's a little down on torque against competitors, but as soon as you floor the throttle, that concern disappears. It accelerates to 60 MPH in 3.9 seconds and pulls like a mule well into the triple digits. Going fast in a super car is easy, it's the quality of the car that makes it so much more satisfying. The "snick, snick, snick" of the aluminum gated shifter, the neurotically perfect feel of the clutch, a steering weight heavy and confidence inspiring. With the suspension set in regular mode, the car happily soaks up road imperfections, while in sport mode the whole thing tightens up, gets even more communicative, and gives you that masochistic punishment supercars are known and loved for.
However, you can't be a lazy driver when on the road with the R8 V10. If you want to go fast, you have to row the shifter. Cruising along at 70MPH in top gear, the R8 will accelerate strongly if you floor the throttle, but drop it down two cogs and it'll explode in a chorus of V10 serenaded acceleration. Acceleration like this can't possibly be legally contained to public streets, luckily, we had the chance to drive it at Infineon.
Infineon is built on natural terrain at the edge of a valley, utilizing the dramatic elevation changes afforded by the foot of a mountain. Its fast, banked, bumpy in places and technically demanding. Some of the corners here are downright dangerous (cresting a hill over a blind corner off camber with a wall bearing down on the track anyone?). That said, here's one of our runs in the R8 V10, time we'd like to call 12 minutes in heaven:
It's very possible to run the whole track in one-gear in a car with this much power by just leaving it in third. The 8700 RPM redline with no lack of power all the way to the top makes it almost too easy. To get things really going you'll need to be down into second and up into fourth on the front straight. The car is extremely communicative at the limit of adhesion, the stability control system does an excellent job of independently grabbing brakes at different corners to limit understeer. A driver can take a terrible line and the car will make it faster, but take the right line and it stays out of your business and you're even faster. It's a magnificent handler with the crushing acceleration and powerful brakes to back that cornering ability up.
A few laps in, you start to feel the track as much as the car. The physical effort of driving the car becomes the effort of driving the track and you start internally competing. Better, tighter line than the last pass, smoother clutch engagement, later, harder braking. The R8 draws you into the addiction of speed. You forget how much it costs, and it's probably good the handlers at Audi limited our track time.
We'd be shocked if this was not the case, for the manual. But what of the R-Tronic manumatic which made the R8 V8 a tarnished star? Good news, in the V10 version, R-Tronic has been perfected. Even in full auto mode, the transmission makes snap decisions and executes them quickly, driving through heavy traffic is no more a chore than in a normal auto and it's completely unintrusive. Put it into manual control mode and the sport setting and it's utterly awe-inspiring. Shifting with the paddles is lightning quick and you can knock out upshifts and downshifts like an F1 driver. The car feels even faster with the automatic. If manual transmissions die as a result of transmissions like this, we'll only be a little heartbroken, because the V10 mated to the R-Tronic is a seriously good combination. The car that passed me in the video... it was an R-Tronic.
Complaining about the somewhat disappointing spec sheet numbers - conventional wisdom states that 420 HP and 317 Lb-Ft isn't enough in a $114,200 car - is to fail to understand the beauty of the base R8. But it's that complaining which has resulted in this V10 version. The base R8 is about control, not power. It's a scalpel to other supercars' sledgehammers. It asks its drivers to make the most of the sublime chassis to achieve a truly rapid pace, then gives them the feel and response to do just that. In some ways its the anti-supercar. Its subtle looks aren't meant to be the stuff of adolescent posters. Its numbers aren't meant to be the stuff of barstool bragging. That identity means it appeals more to people who wouldn't traditionally buy supercars.
What the V10 does is add an "11" to the R8's volume knob. Does that make it more awesome? Of course it does. But the R8 was always about defying that word. It was about requiring its buyers to view the car as a whole rather than an exclamation point. The V10 brings the R8 into direct competition with cars like the Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo and Porsche 911 Turbo. Like those cars, it's impressively fast, but in being like them it's somehow lost some of what made it so different.