Driven: Audi R8 GT

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.

But I'm not long into my session at the new Blyton Park circuit when a nagging doubt makes its presence felt. Like the diligent road-tester I (occasionally) am, I've not instantly defaulted to the ESP-off, everything-up-to-11 setting. So that means auto gearbox, electronic nannies in place, Sport button left unmolested.

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.

Cue arrival at chicane still in 4th, with absolutely no stabilising engine braking. Sure, it turns in - just - but there's a whole lot of protest from the tyres and it's far from comfortable. And then, just as things are beginning to settle and with an inexorable ker-chunk, hello, here comes third gear. Sorry, you're late. Where were you?

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.

Which is a problem when you consider this R8 is intended as a 911 GT3-style variant with a degree of trackability, albeit still four-wheel drive (unlike the R8 LMS GT3 customer race car). Key upgrades include a 35hp power boost for the 5.2-litre V10 to 560hp - a face-saving 10hp shy of the mechanically similar Gallardo Superleggera - and a weight loss programme that shaves 100kg from the standard V10 R8's kerb weight.

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.

This results in an EU kerb weight of 1525kg - 95kg heavier than a Porsche 911 GT3 4.0. Direct comparisons with the related Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera are muddled by the Italian insistence on quoting dry weights (1340kg, for the record), but the Lambo is a few tenths quicker than the R8 GT on the benchmark 0-62mph and 0-124mph sprints.

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.

Track-focused or not, the GT doesn't skimp on the creature comforts or the air of easy approachability shown by all R8s. Climate control, nav and lashings of Alcantara and carbon trimmings are present and correct, while a £6640 R8 GT racing package comprising a half cage, harnesses, battery cut-off and fire extinguisher is available for serious trackheads. There's also the option of an additional set of wheels with street-legal track rubber for £4595.

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.

In keeping with the more hardcore ethos, the magnetic dampers are replaced by manually adjustable fixed-rate units with more extreme settings out of the box. The stiffness and lightness of the R8's aluminium body, combined with the beautifully weighted steering and flat cornering stance mean it feels way more chuckable than you might expect and almost Elise-like in its responses. In the standard setting it feels fairly safe and conservative, Sport mode allowing a much more pointy feel and the three-way ESP offering varying degrees of slideability according to taste.

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.

At £145,645, the R8 GT looks, relatively, decent value (ie compared with the 458 Italia and McLaren MP4-12C) and is a substantial £40K less than the comparable Gallardo Superleggera. It's still a fair whack over the £128,466 Porsche asks for the RS 4.0 but, in the end, it's academic - because both the hardcore 911 and the 33 R8 GTs Audi is bringing to the UK are sold out.

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.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (61) Join the discussion on the forum

  • frankthetank2 01 Aug 2011

    Not giving this car the manual is a major error, GT3 RS 4.0 has to be a no brainier over this (assuming they hadn't all been sold)

  • treetops 01 Aug 2011


  • steveb8189 01 Aug 2011

    Is that 236/333 on the gear stick something really geeky like front / rear power distribution or am I missing something completely obvious like the number on the production run?

  • Mojocvh 01 Aug 2011

    236+333=569. Think it's production numbers wink

    Pity about the gearbox (not that I'll EVER be buying one) you can't afford to take your eye off the ball at this level.

  • steveb8189 01 Aug 2011

    or 569 PS = 560 bhp and 42/58 split....

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