You know it when it starts to bite down hard. The ABS pulsation catches your interest for a fraction, the front end digs deeper as you step on the brake pedal and try to forget the chatter from the electronic brake’s brain. As the left hand instinctively reaches for the gearstick and you select second, you step on the throttle, power your way round and scream ‘Voila!’. The needle on the rev-counter leaps past 7000 rpm and the tyres just claw into the tarmac, but with greater ferocity than ever before.
It’s at that precise moment you know there’s something spectacularly different about the R8 V10. It isn’t just the change in histrionics just an earshot away, but the realisation that the grippy front end has been finally overwhelmed. Two extra cylinders and 104 more horses have made the R8 V10 the kind of car it should have always been. There’s no doubt that the R8 V8 is an astonishing study in sublimity and balance, but beyond all of that it always felt like it could have done with some more pony power to keep up with the rest.
Sure there’s its cousin, the Lamborghini Gallardo, which not only shares the engine, but the body building techniques (both are built at Audi’s Neckarsulm plant) and even a lot of the chassis underpinnings. Where the Gallardo is a cape-wearing swashbuckling hero on a horse, the R8 V10 is like a 12th century armour-wearing knight – brave but measured.
Audi may have added a new set of external embellishments, but you have to be a mad-as-nuts aficionado of the Four Rings brand to figure those details out. The front grille is now painted black and appears a little more aggressive than before. There’s also a new rear diffuser and side-skirts, while the tail lights have a darker tone to them. To cool the new 5.2-litre 90-degree V10, the side blades have been made wider, but that’s as far as it goes.
Everything else stays the same, including the Aluminium Space Frame (ASF) that surprisingly weighs less than the engine itself (210 kg vs 258 kg). The engine itself is a work of art. Unlike the Gallardo, the Audi R8 has its own engine firing sequence that is quite unique. Using a dry sump was a smart thing and somewhat anticipated, given how serious this car truly is. From its 5204 cubes, Audi have managed to massage out 525 bhp at a stratospheric 8000 rpm and a seriously impressive 54 kgm@6500 rpm. Oh yes, and the R8, in the hands of someone like Mattias Ekstrom, can hit 1.2g of lateral acceleration – now you understand the need for that dry sump.
Sump or bump, the R8 is quite unflinching. It is hardly troubled by semi-seriously paved roads and the odd bad patch-up job doesn’t send shivers down the occupants’ spinal cords. Its ride quality, given the ever-so-brilliant magnetic dampers, makes it so liveable that some super saloons sulk and hang their heads in shame in a corner. But before I tell you all about corners, the R8 has some party tricks under its sleeve.
One of these is called Launch Control – I call it the naughty switch. What you do is engage the button, switch off all functions, engage the sport function, step on the brake and raise the revs all the way till the cut-off kicks in – in this case over 4500 rpm. Then step off the brake and just watch it shoot towards the next traffic light. If that light is 65 metres away, you probably would be doing 100 kph in just 3.9 seconds. In reality, this car is very quick. Unlike the V8 R8 that feels energetic, this one feels like it’s just downed two cans of Red Bull. There is a sense of rapidity with which it goes about hunting for targets – numbers or otherwise. All along the V10’s soundtrack changes from a bass heavy thrum to a somewhat angry yet distant roar. It doesn’t sound as unruly as the Gallardo, but it does have a Germanic engineered tone to it, which will blow your socks off in any case.
Flipping through the paddles and going faster down the track, I realised how good the R-Tronic gearbox is in isolation and how much catch up it has to do compared to modern dual-clutch transmissions. Agreed, a Porsche’s PDK unit on the 911 Turbo gets it faster and smoother to 100 kph or 300 kph, but then again Audi have done a pretty good job with what is nothing more than a good ol’ auto tranny. The shifts, especially upshifts, are smooth, while downshifts are slightly jerky, but nothing that a part throttle shift can’t cure.
But it’s around corners that the R8 is in its true element. While it doesn’t have an ideal 50-50 weight balance, at 44-56 it does feel quite special when you go around curves. Having mastered quattro and the fine art of power transfer, Audi have made the R8 more rear-wheel driven than front. Up to 85 per cent of the torque can be sent to the rear wheels, which allows you to do some amount of power oversteer, but it can be negated by the transfer of up to 30 per cent torque to the front. Essentially, it still allows the front wheels to steer in more freely than most other four-wheel drivers and it doesn’t disappoint. Grip from the car is still quite good and that fine balance is only ever so slightly lost from what the V8 has to offer. No wonder it has a timing around Nordschleife that is just 2.5 seconds off the 911 Turbo. The steering is still beautifully responsive and the feedback is just perfect – not too chattery nor too aloof.
On the inside, everything stays the same – down to the finely stitched leather. In the relationship between driver and car, it’s the R8 that wears the pants. Its capabilities are truly enormous, it does everything so well that the driver is merely a tool. Yet, there’s a degree of involvement that you won’t find in, say, a Nissan GT-R. As an achievement for a company new to the field of supercars, Audi have got it dead right, and the V10 just polishes off any rough edges that the V8 may have carried with it. A diamond, it surely is. We would like to thank Munish Sachdeva for his R8 V10 and the CannonBall Club, India’s largest supercar club, for their help