Savage new Audi R8 must take on the Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and McLaren 570S.

Audi R8

Audi likes to refer to the R8 is its ‘hero car’. It’s the range topper that stops people in their tracks, and helps convince them that an Audi is the car for them, even if they end up buying an A3.

This second generation car is genuinely all-new. There’s an aluminium chassis, as before, but this time the alloy is abutted with structural carbon fibre sections that help bring the weight down. Power is from a revised 5.2-litre V10, with either 540hp, or 610hp in the R8 V10 Plus.

The 4.2 V8 of the earlier R8s has gone, but there will be an all-electric version in the future. The R8 e-tron promises a range of up to 280 miles with performance close to that of the V10.

2_Audi_R8_2016

There’s more than a notional link to Lamborghini’s recent £180,000 Huracan here; the V10 engine is all-but identical. Which means, surely, that with the technology Audi throws at the R8, it has to be at least as good, doesn’t it?

And for a full-blooded supercar, the R8 seems pretty fair value. The V10 is £119,500, the V10 Plus, with its extra power, large fixed rear wing and ceramic brakes, £134,500. Obviously, being an Audi, you still have to pay extra for things that are standard on a £10k Kia, like cruise control or an ashtray. Some things never change.

5_Audi_R8_2016

Audi R8 V10 Plus: On the road

Forget the performance figures for the moment, and consider this. The R8 is one of the last remaining mid-engined supercars that is neither turbocharged nor supercharged. That’s important, because naturally aspirated cars sound better, and the R8 V10 Plus sounds simply gorgeous.

It’s a benign tourer when you need it, burbling along, the gears shifting smoothly with a delightful variation in sound levels to accompany each change. Then, with the oh-so-necessary sports exhaust system, you can switch into crackle-and-pop mode for extra aural fun.

All of this can take place at sane driving speeds, which is great when you can’t make use of the acceleration to 62mph of 3.2 seconds, or the 205mph top speed. But stick the shift lever into Sport, select Dynamic on the steering wheel button, and all hell breaks loose.

The first time you floor the throttle could even be alarming. There’s a short but perceptible pause, while the transmission decides it needs to shift down two, three, even four gears, then a wall of noise and acceleration as the R8 lunges forward towards the horizon. It’s not quite the civilised approach we were expecting from this Audi.

3_Audi_R8_2016

The better way is to treat the R8 with a bit more respect, feed the throttle in less dramatically and then enjoy what is a still a very rapid machine. There’s much to play with, control-wise, too, with settings for comfort and dynamic driving modes, plus an extra Performance setting on the V10 Plus. These change the parameters for steering, transmission, exhaust flaps and more.

My major quibble is with the paddle shifts. They are so seductive to use that, even in auto, it’s nice to slip down a gear or two as you approach a roundabout or tight bend. Trouble is, it’s then stuck in manual mode forever more, unless you knock it back to auto. Cheaper Audis do this for you. I much prefer that logic.

Should you choose, you can appear like a Le Mans star and your passenger won’t even notice. Stick the R8 into Sport mode and the automatic transmission quick-shifts up and down the gears with a professional sounding blip of the throttle that makes you look like a pro.

Quattro four-wheel-drive makes the R8 feel very sure-footed on the most rain-drenched roads, and it’s now more sophisticated than ever, with variable torque control to the wheels. There’s electric power steering too, yet this shed-load of electronics does nothing to lessen the driving enjoyment. It’s safe, approachable and very entertaining.

6_Audi_R8_2016

2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: On the inside

Supercar interiors need a couple of key ingredients. Bespoke fittings and a great deal of drama. Porsche doesn’t crack it with the 911 (no drama) and neither did Mercedes with the SLS (too many parts from the B-Class). The Audi R8 is nearly there, though.

It’s modern, classy and interesting, with a myriad of buttons and controls  – with an extra dose on the special flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s fitted to the V10 Plus. It compares very favourably with the well-worn tradition of the 911, even though this is still very obviously an Audi interior.

The ‘virtual cockpit’ that first saw the light of day in the latest TT is fitted here as standard, and what a delightful piece of technology this is. Scrolling between a variety of liquid-crystal display screens is easy, with a fantabulous map display one of the options placed right in front of the driver.

8_Audi_R8_2016

The test cars were fitted with the sports seat option, heavily bucketed and very firm, perfect for the racetrack but possibly too unyielding for everyday use.  It’s a surprise that seat adjustment is largely manual rather than electric, although it’s easy and saves much weight and cost.

Another option is the magnetic suspension, an intelligent way to adjust the dampers almost instantaneously, to give a comfortable ride when you want it, but much firmer suspension when you are driving quickly. This technology is well established in Audis and seemingly gives you the best of every world.

At night there are LED headlights and tail-lights, with the option of laser main beams. Think you don’t need lasers for your headlights? You might change your mind once you driven behind these monsters.

10_Audi_R8_2016

2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Running costs

Supercars with credibility hold their value pretty well, or at least that’s what the industry would have us believe. Audi has some independent predictions that show the new R8 will be a touch better than its rivals, although even then you could end up losing £75,000 on the highly optioned £154k V10 Plus we were driving.

The lower weight, engine revisions – one bank of cylinders will close down in certain circumstances to save fuel – and freewheeling mode, cut the CO2 by 12% and improve economy by one to three mpg. You are still going to find it hard to better 20mpg much of the time, though.

12_Audi_R8_2016

2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Verdict

Everything adds up. The Audi R8 V10 Plus takes the style of the original then toughens up its stance and attitude. It’s devastatingly fast, reassuringly secure, and as easy to drive as your Audi company car. If you are bored by the Porsche 911, it is the obvious default choice.

And yet. If you are the sort of person who chooses an Illy coffee machine over the ubiquitous Nespresso, or a Maserati Ghibli over an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series, you will look at the competition and, maybe, come up with an alternative. The new McLaren 570S, the Mercedes AMG GT , and even the venerable Aston Martin V12 Vantage all offer thrills in more edgy packages at a similar price. We’d find the decision very hard indeed.

14_Audi_R8_2016

2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Specifications

Engine: 5.2-litre V10

Price: £134,500

Power: 610hp

Torque: 413lb ft (760Nm)

0-62mph: 3.2 seconds

Top speed: 205mph (300km/h)

Fuel economy: 23.0mpg (12.3l/100km)

CO2 emissions: 287g/km