I’ve always been a fan of the Audi R8. I know I’m not alone in that, either. Everyone has their reasons for liking it, but for me, one of its compelling strengths is offering a credible alternative to Ferdinand’s rear-engine wunderkind – and I speak as a fully paid-up member of the 911 fan club. Straight out the blocks, the first-generation R8 proved it wasn’t there simply to make up the numbers: it was in it to win.
That original V8 model is still viewed by many as the best because of the combination of its relatively light and compact V8 engine and manual gearbox. I’ve always preferred the looks of its successor, though. Despite being V10-only, the second-gen R8 actually ended up slightly shorter overall and looks it to my eyes. And even though it lost the less-is-more philosophy of that V8 manual, come on: a naturally aspirated Lamborghini V10 isn’t exactly a slap in the face, is it? Still, whatever your thoughts on that particular conundrum, now’s not the time to bicker. It’s time to unite, because the R8 is going. For good.
It wasn’t hard to see this coming, of course. Natural aspiration has long been the exception rather than the rule, and, as we move further towards this new, electrified future, keeping atmospheric aspiration alive is like hammering ever bigger square pegs into ever-decreasing round holes. To give the R8 a proper send off, Audi Sport has released a final, limited edition. It’s called the Audi R8 Coupé V10 GT RWD. Just 333 will be made and, yes, they’ve all been snapped up, despite costing around £200,000 each.
There are some meaningful changes to justify that hefty price, though, starting with a new aero package. This pegs the GT’s top speed at 199mph, rather than 205mph that the R8 Quattro Performance peaks at, but that’s because it has more than double the downforce – and therefore more drag. Flat out, the R8 GT produces 300kg of the stuff, which, if you’ve been keeping abreast of the new 911 GT3 RS, might feel a bit feeble. It isn’t. The GT3 RS’s 860kg of squish is freakish, and to prove that the R8 GT’s tally is only 60kg shy of the Ferrari 296 GTB’s – and that’s a completely new model, remember, with active flappy bits. The R8 GT doesn’t have those. It goes about things the old-fashioned way, with a bigger, swan-neck fixed rear wing, plus a bigger rear diffuser, front splitter and side sills. Oh, and there are some strakes ahead of the front wheels and those air blades behind the rears.
It's the same story with the suspension. That’s old-school, too. KW Automotive coilovers instead of magnetically adjustable dampers. You can still adjust them, but you’ll need some spanners. With the factory settings they drop the ride height by 10mm over the standard R8, but for track work you can take it down another 10mm and also, naturally, change the rebound and compression settings. The point of the coilovers isn’t to reduce weight – although the R8 GT is around 20kg lighter than the RWD Performance – but to enhance control. The weight saving comes from the availability of a carbon fibre front roll bar, carbon bucket seats and ceramic discs, although none of these are GT exclusives.
The R8 GT also gets the Quattro’s engine, which means the full 620hp. Torque is down a fraction at 417lb ft, which is fine; this car isn’t all about numbers. As with the top speed, the GT is slower to 62mph than the Quattro (3.4 seconds instead of 3.1) but as it’ll do zero to 124mph in 10.1 seconds you can hardly call it slow. But as I said, forget the 'mine's faster than yours' stuff: this last-hurrah R8 is more about having fun.
That’s why it has something called a Torque Rear drive mode. Think of it being a bit like variable traction control, but unlike the similar systems you’ll find on Ferraris, it’s more about lengthening your drifts than lowering your lap times. You get seven settings to vary the amount of slip, which you adjust from the steering wheel. It’s a clever system, because unlike a pure traction control it’s been designed specifically to make the R8 GT predictable and easy to hang onto when it’s wanging its tail. The amount of slip control changes depending on your speed: up to 22mph the reins are very loose, but it blends out progressively and switches off (as in there's more traction control, if you catch my, err, drift) entirely at 90mph – because, and I quote the engineers here, “most people aren’t looking to drift at 144kph”. They have a point, you know.
Other changes include the S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. This is from the pre-petrol-particulate-filter R8s, and those had shorter gear ratios. Apparently, when the PPF was introduced, the engineers went conservative because they were worried that the shorter ratios (and increased revs) would hinder its homologation. They’ve since got a bit braver and made it work, plus they’ve tweaked the software to decrease the shift times and also make the ‘box change down at higher revs – if it registers you’re hard on the brakes. That’s good, because gearbox response was always a weak point of the R8.
Audi was very keen for us to try out all the R8 GT’s new toys. We had some track time at the Monteblanco Circuit, near Seville, and there was a drifting course set up with, apparently, 800 brand new Michelin PS4s on hand to shred throughout the course of the launch. Who said that car manufacturers were strapped for cash these days?
I did the track stuff first, which, typically, was when it was wet and even foggy in places. Not perfect conditions for a 620hp rear-wheel-drive car, then, and not the ideal way to assess the differences between this and the regular versions. Nevertheless, I did my duty and gave it a go, but without a standard car on hand as a comparison, this was really an isolated test.
To begin with, there’s the noise. This is the same as it always is in an R8, and that’s not a pejorative: V10 R8s always play a banging tune. If you’ve never heard one en route to 8,400rpm, then let me try to explain the sensation. It serves up the sort of drama you get from one of those proper, mid-summer thunderstorms. When the storm’s far away, it’s deep and rumbling, which is how the V10 sounds at low revs. As the storm gets nearer, the intensity picks up and the thunderclaps get louder and start shaking things about. That’s the V10 in the mid-range. And when the storm’s directly overhead – and all hell’s kicking off, with rain so intense it’s like small boulders hammering on the roof and every lightning strike produces an intense, ear-splitting crack – that’s the V10 at high revs. Only the ear-splittingness is not as intermittent. And louder. And you know what? At every stage, at every rev point, it’s just brilliant. I love dearly this engine.
It's fast, too, when you can get the power down properly – not a given in these slippery conditions. Those shorter ratios help, because they maintain the intensity, and the software changes do smarten up the shifts somewhat, although the S tronic ‘box is still no PDK. But who cares? Moaning about that when we’re witnessing the death throes of a legend is like saying you didn’t enjoy Elvis’s last live performance because he was a bit of a tubster. These details become irrelevant. It’s about the bigger picture.
Especially because there’s so much else to enjoy. The track cars were running the full 20mm drop in ride height, which meant very little lean with seemingly no loss of compliance. That said, I wasn’t exactly straying far onto the slippery, painted kerbs and we never ventured out on the road, unfortunately, so I can’t be 100 per cent on the car’s ride characteristics just yet. That’s why I’ve asked Audi for another go in the UK when its demonstrator arrives, but I’d be surprised if it’s not good. The R8 Performance RWD we tested recently against the 911 Carrera GTS rode so sublimely that clearly Audi Sport knows how to do suspension, and the KW hardware is hardly low-rent stuff, so reckon on some form of magic.
Due to the conditions, the traction light was flickering away frequently, so I thought I’d loosen it off and try out the Torque Rear mode. Now, at this point they hadn't explained to me that it’s freer and easier at lower speeds and more controlling when you’re travelling quicker, or that it's not really a variable traction control. I wish they had. You see, the R8 GT was feeling very stable through the higher speed stuff, so I kept getting braver with the throttle and little was happening – it was glued down. So coming towards the next hairpin I dialled the torque control back even more and, with an element of frustration, gave the R8 GT a bigger bootful on the exit.
Well, that went well. I ended up fully on the lock stops and only just avoiding an embarrassing spin. So I worked out pretty quickly myself that the system's intervention depends on road speed, and once I’d worked that nuance out I discovered there’s a nice, playful chassis here. The low grip and Cup 2s (an option that was ticked for the track cars) still required smoothness – to avoid armfuls of understeer turning suddenly into armfuls of oversteer – but gentler inputs translated into enjoyable moments. Especially because you can sense it all happening. It's all in the way the R8 GT talks to you like a good supercar should: through the steering and the seat.
After lunch it was time for some drifting – thankfully now in the dry. This proved not only how much grip the R8 GT can generate on a dry surface (and we were back on the PS4s now), but also how easy it is to control when you’re beyond it. As I'd discovered on track, the Torque Control won’t save you from spinning, especially at the start of the drift. You still need to balance the throttle and the steering with the slide, but once the car’s settled into an angle with attitude it helps you maintain the drift easily. To the point you can have the throttle pinned – when Torque Control is in its most nannying settings – and just make little adjustments through the wheel. I did wind the system down to minimal, just to feel how the chassis reacts, and I tell you what: for a mid-engine 620hp car the R8 GT is a gloriously easy thing to slide. And you wanna know something else? A good chunk of that’s thanks to its predictable, naturally aspirated throttle response, making it dead easy to hang the tail out and produce some effortless high-speed smoky Joes. That's why, ladies and gents, we're going to miss this sort of stuff so much.
You know I said the R8 GT was more about fun than lap times? Well it is. And I think it fulfils its brief brilliantly. I’m not entirely convinced the aero parts add anything to its looks, but my sense is they helped keep it on track when little else was. As I said, though, without a standard car for comparison that’s hard to determine, but I just don’t care. Seb Vettel retired from F1 last weekend, and no matter how his last race had ended, you wouldn’t let it define his otherwise spectacular and successful career. And so it is with the R8. How much better this R8 GT is in objective terms doesn’t really matter to me, and I am not sure it should to you, either. I mean let’s face it, the eyebrow-raising £200,000 price tag alone would probably be enough to count it out when you think what other highly accomplished road and track stuff that buys you. Like Vettel, though, the R8’s magnificent career to date is what's earned it its stripes; this R8 GT is merely a celebration of that. As it happens, Vettel did drive a magnificent last race. He scored points despite a terrible pit stop strategy that scuppered his race. In the same way, the R8 GT scores, too. Yes, it's being scuppered by the legislators, but with more power and two fewer wheels to transmit it through, plus a more responsive chassis and a stupid but sublime drift mode, it’s indeed a fitting way to say goodbye. Goodbye to a wonderful car: one that will leave a huge hole in our hearts.
Specification | 2022 Audi R8 Coupé V10 GT RWD
Engine: 5,204cc, V10, naturally aspirated
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 620 @ 8,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 417 @ 6,400-7,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.4 seconds
Top speed: 199mph
MPG: 18.8 (WLTP)
CO2: 340g/km (WLTP)
Price: £200,000 (est.)
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