A motoring unicorn

Audi R8.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Audi R8.

My Reading Room

It was about ten years ago that the first Audi R8 went on sale. The R8 was Audi’s first mid-engine supercar and it was a watershed moment for the brand. It proved that Audi could hang with the big boys from Italy and its German rivals from Stuttgart. The first generation R8 was praised for its good looks, practicality, and performance.

Insofar as supercars are concerned, it had almost no faults. By now it should be clear that the new R8 has a lot to live up to.

And I’m afraid we are off to a shaky start because I don’t think it looks as good as the model it replaces. Mostly it is because of the nose, which protrudes slightly and reminds of a witch’s crooked nose. It also has more angles, which makes it look more aggressive.

Personally, I prefer the more fluid and organic form of its predecessor. Still, there’s no denying that on the road, thanks to its wide frame, the new R8 commands serious road presence. Oh, it also helps that the test car I drove came in bright Dynamite Red.

Swing the wide doors open and you are greeted with a very modern cabin.

The R8 gets Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which means you get LCD screens in place of traditional analog dials. There’s also a myriad of buttons and switches on the steering wheel that lets you control almost all aspects of the car, from vehicle settings to navigation and even multimedia. It’s all very high-tech, and quite complicated especially if you are not familiar with Audi’s MMI interface.

My Reading Room

Speaking of complicated, the car offers an incredible amount of customization. The engine, suspension, steering, Quattro setting, and engine sound can be all be adjusted to the driver’s liking, and each mode can be selected between Comfort, Auto, or Dynamic modes. I suspect some drivers can feel overwhelmed by the number of settings available to them. However, I feel that it is imperative to spend some time and effort understanding how to set the car up so you get the most out of your drive.

Personally, I like my supercars to feel racy, so I left the engine, steering, Quattro, and engine sound in Dynamic mode most of the time. I left the suspension in Comfort not because it is too harsh in Dynamic, but rather because I find comfort to be the most well-judged. With so many road works going on around the island, a little extra comfort is welcomed. Plus, Comfort doesn’t feel willowy at all and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing control or responsiveness.

It is in Dynamic mode that you get the most out of that incredible engine. That V10 is easily the R8’s party piece. If you want a 2-seater mid-engine supercar with naturally aspirated engine these days, you are left with, literally, a handful of choices. I can list them here: Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan, and Lamborghini Aventador.

It’s a short list, but fortunately, once you get past the somewhat ho-hum styling and complicated controls, the R8 is an absolute gem. That 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V10 is a work of automotive art. It pulls effortlessly to 8,700rpm, making all kinds of exciting and seductive noises in the process.

It crackles and pops on lifts offs and overruns, howls and whines through the lower registers, and absolutely roars when it surges to the redline.

It is mighty powerful too. 540hp and 540nm of torque might not look like much in comparison to rivals like the Ferrari 488GTB and McLaren 570S, but in the real world and on public roads, no one will ever accuse the R8 of feeling down on power. It just pulls through the gears like a hot knife through butter.

Audi says it will do 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds, but it feels faster.

The engine is clever too. If it detects that you are just cruising along, it can shutdown half its cylinders and work as a 5-cylinder engine to help save fuel.

That said, don’t expect miracles. With a heavy right foot, I managed just 5.5km/l.

On the bright side, it has an 83-liter fuel tank, so at least trips to the gas station will be minimized.
More: engine comfort