DRIVEN: AUDI R8 GT
It's got 35hp more, weighs 100kg less and has a more track-oriented set-up. Sounds promising, but does the hardcore R8 GT deliver?
Maybe we're getting complacent, but in this age of near-flawless supercars it's a bit of a shock to find one that, quite possibly, is a bit crap. A big shock, too, that it has an Audi badge on the front.
Before going too far down that road let's be clear: most of the Audi R8 GT isn't crap. Far from it.
God it sounds good this R8. Those fat oval pipes maybe little more than bumper cut-outs, but there's nothing faux about the noise it makes. Or the focused feel given off by the fixed race seats and Alcantara wheel.
Anyhow, I've just arrived with some considerable momentum at a chicane I know is a third-gear flick.
I've not looked at the speedo, but top end of 4th in an R8 GT is rapid and the (standard) ceramic brakes are at the very limit. So where's my downshift to third? Nowhere.
Try the above scenario in a Mercedes SLS, Ferrari 458 or PDK-equipped Porsche and even in the auto mode you'd get a flurry of crisply blipped downshifts in the braking zone, which would indicate the R8's issue is less the gearbox itself but more the programming. Which is very un-Audi.
The R tronic gearbox has always been the big chink in the R8's armour. Which is fine, because on the rest of the range you can have a nice snickety manual with the clunky aluminium gate. No such luck on the GT - it's slow-witted R tronic or nothing.
Predictably, this involves muchos carbon fibre, some visible, some painted. The rear deck, bumper and side blades are all carbon, ditto the front splitter, aero flics, fixed rear wing and rear diffuser. Lighter sheet metal has been used for the front bootlid and there's a lighter windscreen and a polycarbonate rear window, too. Dramatic savings were found inside as well, one-piece GRP seats saving an astounding 31.5kg (carbon ones available at extra cost) and a further 7.4kg coming from the lightweight carpets.
Not that anyone's likely to complain about the R8 GT's performance, this being, officially, the fastest-ever road-going, Audi thanks to its 199mph vmax. 0-62 comes up in 3.6secs, assisted by a launch control function on the R tronic gearbox and that quattro drivetrain.
That thunderous V10 is as charismatic and engaging as ever, too, the extra power and reduced weight meaning there's never a situation in which the GT feels anything other than seriously quick. It does need winding up though; the peak torque of 398lb ft doesn't come until 6500rpm.
For all that moaning about the gearbox the GT is, in all other aspects, a real hoot to drive. Manual mode on the paddles more or less answers the issues with the slow-witted auto setting, while the Sport button enable decently fast and crisp shifts and a much sharper throttle response.
It can still bite though, Audi's claim that the ESP Sport setting allows "a degree of controllable oversteer" disappearing in a cloud of tyre smoke (and embarrassment) on Blyton's tight 90-degree turn one. Where a standard R8 would allow half a turn of lock before pulling itself straight with a flattering combination of ESP and quattro assistance, the GT would appear to be a tad more (ahem...) flighty.
In conclusion, then, the R8 GT is a mixed bag. Adding a bit of hardcore appeal without diluting the perfectly judged mix of approachability and charisma of the standard car is as appealing as it sounds. But first impressions count, and that infernal gearbox is a rare dropped ball. The rumoured shift to a dual-clutch transmission can't come soon enough.