2019 AUDI R8 V10 Type 4S
The friendly face of fury
If the McLaren is a racecar chassis with a pretty functional – if extremely potent – powertrain along for the ride, the Audi is neatly the polar opposite: an astonishing, raging combustion engine in a car so refined, comfortable and unintimidating it could be a lower, wider A3. Or a TT after the mother of all engine transplants. And this, depending on myriad factors, from the weather conditions, through what kind of upbringing you had, to how much rope you like to climb with (metaphorically speaking), is either the genius of Audi’s R8 or the reason you’ll be bored of it in days. Web editor Curtis Moldrich, who’s been in the Audi a couple of days, is eyes-wide-open when he pulls up after a stint in the 570S. ‘The McLaren feels like a competition car,’ he gushes. ‘It’s incredibly direct, with a precision powertrain and a super-firm brake pedal that builds confidence; stamp on it to stop instantly, or graduate your pressure for rich feel and feedback. When it all clicks it’s like you’re doing your third stint at Le Mans; raw and aggressive, and when you climb out your wrists feel like you’ve been pneumatic drilling for a couple of hours. That,’ he mutters, nodding in the Audi’s direction, ‘is a road car.’
The irony of the race comparison being made about the car from the marque that didn’t spend most the last two decades utterly dominating Le Mans isn’t lost on either of us, but the truth is undeniable: if, suddenly, you were tasked with jumping into one car for a 30-minute stint at Spa, you’d be pulling down the McLaren’s beautifully weighted driver’s door in seconds, before screaming into Eau Rouge like a carbon comet with a soft human centre.
But if, with the same lack of notice, you were tasked with driving to Spa, rather than around it, say overnight, and with no rest stops, you’d grab the Audi. On first impressions the R8’s high-rise seating, sofa-spec padding and delectably well-executed cockpit are as welcome as they are underwhelming; welcome because you’re immediately at ease, underwhelming because, well, shouldn’t a £128,295 mid-engined performance car intimidate a little?
But it’d be wrong to suggest there’s no fun to be had here. Like the McLaren, the Audi’s engine can’t abide laziness. Want a thump in the back and acceleration to scalp anything that moves? Then bloody well put some effort in, and choose the right gear. After the Porsche’s ludicrously torquey and flexible flat-six (compelling drive from 2000rpm, anyone?), the Audi’s paucity of low-rev drive is vaguely alarming. Where the McLaren wakes at 3500rpm, the Audi needs 5000rpm – 5000rpm! – showing to do its best work.
Counter-intuitively, perhaps, it’s the same story with the chassis. At the risk of sounding like your old primary school teacher, you get out what you put in. Where the Porsche and McLaren are a tactile joy at walking pace, the Audi comes alive with a bit of effort.
Guards Red Porsche in my mirrors, the Audi and I peel left and drop downhill, like a fighter jet suddenly coming off standby to drop altitude, gain some speed and engage. V10 screaming madly behind me, a brilliant little sequence awaits: fast-ish left into tighter, uphill cambered right. Fumble and you’ll understeer, the Audi frustrated – and frustrating – if you’ve no weight on the nose and no engine revs to play with. But on a trailing throttle through the left, the R8’s fast, grippy and incredibly pliant, even in Dynamic. And the slower, cambered right-hander is a joy: brake (via the ludicrously soft pedal, particularly after the McLaren’s rock-hard set-up – the Performance R8 gets ceramics), down to third to really tether your right foot to the V10’s potency, then off the throttle, slug of lock, back on the gas.
Momentarily weightless, the R8’s rear helps pivot the car into the corner, whereupon the steadying effect of tapping back into the power is immediate and tangible, like suddenly freeze-framing the car’s entire mid-corner dynamic. And now, if you really wring out the V10, the rear axle will quite happily help tighten your line, all-wheel-drive system notwithstanding. This, you smile, is more like it…
But whatever you do, the Audi’s nagging vagueness, imprecision and lifeless steering remain. To assume that Audi wanted the R8 to be as unrelentingly direct as the 570S and somehow failed to manage it is, of course, preposterous. It could have gone way further with the incremental increase in focus that underpins this revised R8, and once again dropped the powered front axle (saving weight and boosting fun), as it did so successfully with the RWS. But that’s not what Audi buyers – even R8 buyers – want, apparently. The question is, what do you want?
At the risk of sounding like your old primary school teacher, you get out of the R8 what you put in
PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING AUDI R8
Why is it here?
Just the two seats, obviously, but if you’re after a versatile, vaguely practical supercar, the Audi R8, just facelifted, has to be on your list. The update runs to sharper styling front and rear, bigger exhausts, recalibrated steering (this car doesn’t have the Dynamic steering option) and marginally stiffer suspension, to address the primary criticism of the previous version – that it was too pliant, refined and generally agreeable to call itself a proper sports car.
Any clever stuff?
What, apart from a turbo-free 5.2-litre V10 able to breeze through current noise and emissions regs? Well, there’s a new carbonfibre front antiroll bar and a twin-clutch ’box almost too refined for its own good. The drivetrain is all-wheel drive with an electronically-controlled centre diff shuffling the V10’s might front/rear.
Which version is this?
This the 562bhp R8 (up from 533bhp), not the new flagship Performance (612bhp): the new name for the artist formerly known as the R8 Plus. (For now, there’s no rear-drive RWS.)
Where the McLaren wakes at 3500rpm, the Audi needs 5000rpm – 5000rpm! – showing to do its best work
Standard steel brakes do fade – 1660kg, you see. Routinely struggling for speed? You’ll need the Performance version.