A Clinical Supercar

With Audi unveiling the new R8 V10 RWS and Spyder Plus versions at this years IAA in Frankfurt, it's clear that Ingolstadts mid-engined challenger is still going strong, more than after a decade after its original unveiling.

With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the car that started it all: the original Audi R8 V8.

 

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But first, a bit of history. In 2003, Audi brought the Le Mans Quattro Concept to the Frankfurt and Geneva motor shows. It was the last of three concept cars designed by the company in 2003, following the Pikes Peak Quattro and Nuvolari Quattro concepts. Much like the Le Mans Quattro, these two concepts eventually also found their way into production, becoming the Q7 and A5 respectively.

It doesn't take a private detective's eye to see that the Le Mans Quattro's design was a heavy influence for what would become the R8.

 The concept looks very similar to the finished product.

The concept looks very similar to the finished product.

Three years later the production version was officially launched at the 2006 Paris Auto Show. Audi's first ever mid-engined supercar was named R8, after the very successful R8 Le Mans Prototype that won the 24 hours of Le Mans five times between 2000 and 2005.

For the first few years, the R8 was only available with a V8, with a V10 version unveiled in 2008. Convertible and hardcore versions were also launched later in its lifespan as well.

Which brings us back neatly to the car that I drove: the original R8, the V8 version.

Some quick facts and figures: the R8 is powered by a 4.2L V8 producing about 420 horsepower and 430 Nm of torque. That's all being delivered to all four wheels thanks to Audi's Quattro system and a six-speed R-Tronic gearbox, with shifter paddles behind the steering wheel. A six-speed manual was also available with the R8, but was not fitted to my particular car.

 The V8 engine is the heart of the R8.

The V8 engine is the heart of the R8.

But that's enough facts and figures. Let's talk about how I feel about the R8, and let's start with the interior. When I first stepped into the car and sat behind the steering wheel, the whole thing felt familiar. It made me feel at home and relaxed. I guess that's a part of the R8's strong suit: the fact that it is an Audi. It's all familiar stuff, it's not really anything new. You know it is quality stuff you're touching, and that's a nice thought.

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A nice interior is all well and good though, but the most important part about a car like this is not how the seat feels, or how well the buttons work. It's about the driving, about speed, about performance.

And let me say: the R8 is fast. Sure, it might have about 100 horsepower less to work with than its bigger V10 brother, and we've been subjected to a decade's worth of faster cars since it came out. But the R8 V8 still is not exactly a slow thing. In a straight line you're surrounded by a flurry of V8 shouting as you propel yourself to 100 km/h in 4,6 seconds. That may not seem all that fast in 2017, but it does not feel slow in the slightest. The gearbox plays an important role in this too. The gear changes are smooth, even though the car does seem to take a while to respond to your commands, especially on downshifts. This is also the case in sport mode, although it isn't too much of a problem.

What about the ride and handling? Well, I didn't really get to test the R8's skills in corners at speed, but from what I could gather, it's a well-handling car. You feel in complete control at all times. Which is a good thing, considering there's an angry V8 behind you and a fair amount of power under your right foot.

 A more detailed look at the R8's source of power.

A more detailed look at the R8's source of power.

But the thing that surprised me most about the R8 wasn't the speed, or the sound, or the gearbox, or the handling. 

What surprised me most was just how comfortable it is. Usually with a supercar you sacrifice a bit (or a lot) of comfort for power, speed or sound. But somehow, someway, Audi engineers have found a way around this and have created what might be one of the most comfortable supercars ever made. It honestly feels like the perfect car to drive down to the south of France or go on a long roadtrip with. You'll have fun, but you won't be an energy drink-infused wreck after 8 hours on the road. 

A large part of this is the fact it is an easy car to drive. It's easy to control, visibility is good, and stuff like the steering and brakes aren't overly heavy. Another big part is the fact that it isn't all that loud when driving in a normal way. Even in sport mode, it's still not overwhelming in terms of sound.

 The R8 at its spiritual home: Le Mans.

The R8 at its spiritual home: Le Mans.

So, to summarize: the R8 is fast, shifts pretty well, handles well, is very comfortable and easy to drive. You'll notice I'm giving it quite a lot of praise. I'm even making it sound like the perfect supercar. But is it?

No, unfortunately. It isn't. And here's why: it's all a bit clinical to me. A bit tóó good. 

The problem I have with the R8 V8 is that it is seemingly doing its very best to stay under the radar. To stay civilised, polite and punctual. And that is fine when we're talking about an S6, or any other understated German autobahn stormer.

But that's not what the R8 is. The R8 is a mid-engined supercar. And when I hear the words 'mid-engined' and 'supercar', I would a expect the kind of car that is ridiculous, loud, brash, stylish, outspoken and a bit arrogant. That's why the Italians are so good at building them. If an Italian supercar was a person, it would be one who arrives an hour late at a party, drinks an excessive amount of wine and has to be kicked about because the party ended two hours ago and the host wants to go to bed.

But the R8 is none of that. It's humble. Refined. Understated. Take the sound, for instance. When I first turned the ignition and started the car, I sort of expected the engine to roar into life convincingly. It didn't. There was a polite cough, almost like it said 'Very well sir, I'm alive and at your service. Please use me accordingly.' It's not until you start putting your foot down that the V8 really starts to let you hear what it is made of. And when that happens, I have to admit it does sound pretty good.

Same goes for the way it looks. It looks like a supercar: low and sleek. But it doesn't look overly agressive. It's pretty to look at, but is also pretty good at blending in, especially in a stealthy colour like black, silver or grey.

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To me, the R8 V8 seems like a supercar for a businessman. The supercar for the sort of person who has lots of money to spend on a car, but does not want to seem like he's trying to show off. The sort of person who wants to stay under the radar, but still wants still be capable to reach frightening speeds if he wants or needs to. That's why he chooses it over a Lamborghini, or a Ferrari.

That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Because the R8 is still a very good car,  great fun to drive. I just wish it could have been a bit more happy-go-lucky.