Audi R8 'too good': Tell Me I'm Wrong

Audi would have every right to be aggrieved if the new R8 were to be criticised for not having any faults. It has form - when I suggested the robotised manual R Tronic gearbox in the first generation R8 GT was its weakest link I got a personal dressing down.

Audi eventually responded in less emotive fashion. R Tronic too sluggish and clunky? Right then. Have yourself a dual-clutch with shifts so seamless you won't feel them going through. That'll shut you up.

Only it doesn't. Now, I'm not about to suggest we start a campaign to reinstate R Tronic in place of the S Tronic dual-clutch carried over to the second-generation R8. Because even Audi eventually admitted the original auto wasn't really that good. But the danger in seeking perfection is that, once achieved, you're merely left with the ends. The means to achieve them are left on the cutting room floor.

Enemy within
Drive an R8 back to back with the Huracan with which it shares a considerable amount of its hardware and you'll get what I mean. By any rational sense the R8 is the superior car. It's about £50K cheaper, better finished inside, packs more gadgets, gizmos and driver modes and loses nothing meaningful in performance. But when everything is so fundamentally perfect it's the little details you fixate on.

You can let the Huracan change gear itself of course. But if you choose to use the paddles you'll find them large, blade sharp and made from punched sheet aluminium. Pull one - the shape encourages you to use all your fingers - and there's a meaningful movement and a sharp click. Behind you - especially in Corsa mode - you'll get a split second sense of the mechanical drama as the shift goes through. Contrived or not the punch in the back is exciting. Roll off the throttle and back onto it and you'll hear the sneeze of fuel going into the intake plenums before all hell breaks loose.

Do the same in the R8 in whichever of the seven driver modes you've chosen and it's little more than a finger on a plastic gearshift paddle, switch travel as meaningful as the one that turns the heated seats on, a slight change in tone from behind you and- ... holy crap, HOW FAST?

Such is the base level competence in all cars of this level it's these tiny details that make or break a driving experience. And an uncharacteristic weakness in the R8's armour of self confidence.

There are others. Those driver modes. You've got four on the Audi Drive Select - including driver configurable Individual - and an additional three that override them via the Performance Control button on the wheel. And the horrible Dynamic Steering, optioned onto our test car. Confident drivers don't want a steering ratio that wobbles from 9:1 to 17:1. If you care about your driving you want consistent response, the better to tailor your inputs and work with the car, not simply point it in a given direction. The R8 doesn't want you to do that. It wants to remove thought and effort. Leaving only speed. Lots and lots and lots of speed.

It's weird too that, at the heart of it, is an engine that seems dedicated to reminding you what we're missing as the world goes tech enhanced. That 5.2-litre V10 is simply magnificent. For a big, undersquare motor the speed with which it reacts to throttle inputs is a reminder of what we're missing as the world goes turbo, its angry bellow intoxicating. And the way it erupts from 6,000rpm or so and into the final charge to the 8,250rpm redline ... wow.

But of all the modern performance cars that have had to grapple with going turbo Audi's traditional lead in the field leaves the R8 better placed than most to make the switch to something boosty. OK, perhaps not a diesel. But leaving the old-school V10 to Lamborghini would put some welcome ground between two seemingly similar products.

Nobody does it better
The 911 Turbo shares a similar mindset to the R8 and is its closest rival at heart. But in its application of technology it feels a generation ahead; the 997 Turbo was so focused on speed it forgot the need to make a performance out of its performance. In the 991 Porsche has carefully engineered in some subtle imperfections - a whistle of boost here, a tad more mobility in the chassis there - to at least make you think you're a willing accomplice.

McLaren, meanwhile, proves the benefits of concentrating on feedback and consistency of response, as well as carrying significantly less weight. From 570S to 675LT, these qualities make the cars fun to drive at sensible speeds as well as silly ones. Aston Martin takes it to extremes, making an awful lot of noise and fuss in the name of 'purist' interaction with its deliberately 'difficult' dog-leg manual gearbox option for the V12 Vantage.

Against these cars the R8 reverts to type by being just very ... Audi. It's nearly impossible to criticise as a product. It looks brilliant. People love it. In both big picture and fine detail the design combines surprise and delight with smart functional rigour. All things relative it's astonishing value for money. You could drive it every day in all weathers with minimal allowances for it being in a mid-engined, 200mph supercar. It is, by all rational measures, a masterpiece of design and engineering pitched perfectly at its target audience.

So why does it leave me so cold?

AUDI R8 5.2 V10 PLUS
: 5,201cc V10
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 610@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 413@6,500rpm*
0-62mph: 3.2sec
Top speed: 205mph
Weight: 1,630kg (EU, including 75kg driver)
MPG: 23mpg
CO2: 287g/km*
Price: £134,520 (£154,720 as tested, including reversing camera £600; Gloss Carbon engine bay trim £2,950, LED headlights with Audi Laser Light £3,000; Storage package £250; sports exhaust £1,800; Dynamic Steering £1,200; Audi Magnetic Ride £1,600; pneumatic seat adjustment £475; Alcantara headlining £2,400; Extended Fine Nappa Leather package £2,750; cruise control £275; smoking package £50; Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System £1,750 and Audi Phone Box £450)







P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (121) Join the discussion on the forum

  • estacion 28 Jun 2016

    Modern cars are just too good, they are often soulless to drive, fact! I would take an huracan over the new R8, but I would take a gallardo superleggera over a huracan! We're going backwards!

  • kambites 28 Jun 2016

    This is nothing new, just the logical extension of the way the sportscar market has been headed for decades.

  • jon- 28 Jun 2016

    The engine dominates the experience, and as that engine is one of the last incredible NA engines in production, we should all be thankful Audi had a last hurrah before putting a derv in their halo car.

    I mean seriously, 602bhp in the +. It's wonderfully bonkers.

  • Ex Boy Racer 28 Jun 2016

    Isn't this inevitable in a journalistic world where 'Ring lap times and acceleration figures are increasingly used to judge cars? When success is reduced to figures, then surely it has to be advisable to remove humans from the equation as much as possible.
    If journalists simply reported the experience of driving a car, those intangibles like feel, noise, feedback, and left figures - power, torque, times etc - completely out of their judgement, things might change. A little like restaurant reviews where it's all about the flavour rather than the ingredients and cooking hardware.
    Until that happens, normal punters will always choose the car that wins the pub debate. How many times on these forums do we read about someone choosing their car because it accelerates faster than its competition.
    By the normal criteria used in reviews the new R8 is better than the old one.
    Better than my Vantage V12 too. Funny that I love the Aston far more than I ever did my R8...

  • Jam12321 28 Jun 2016

    Not for me thank you! Looks like it was designed from the ground up by CAD software with no human interaction at all. V10 is only selling point for me but do agree it almost seems at odds with the rest of the car especially with a Dual clutch.

    Saw one yesterday in black trying to cut into a lane coming around a junction and no one let him in. Really not into the styling at all.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment