Audi R8 V10 Plus review

I’d like to say that the supercar came of age with the R8. Sure we’ve had Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches for ages; it’s even documented that as far back as the thirties, JRD Tata competed in drag races down Marine Drive in his Bugatti. But it was the Audi R8 that really put the supercar on the Indian map, both for enthusiasts and posers. Over the past eight years, and between the V8 and V10, it has become the best-selling supercar in the country, clocking well over 150 units. And it’s also the supercar that got Indian automotive journalists comfortable with the genre.

Put it in a corner and it asks for more revs to show its impressive handling

Not that we hadn’t driven exotics before. I’d completed my rite of passage before audi had even made a supercar, ticking off both the Ferrari-in-the-hills-above-Modena and Ferrari-at-Fiorano pilgrimages. My nerve-endings had been short circuited, grey cells overwhelmed by the ghosts of history, eyeballs punched into their sockets by early launch control. And I hadn’t known true terror till the tail of that 430 wagged and my brain overloaded and ctrl-alt-deleted.

But it was the R8 that we really drove, and it drove us to brush up our wheelsmanship. Insulated from an exhaustingly exotic badge on the nose, it was the car we pushed to the limits to understand what mid-engined cars can, and cannot, do. A small bunch of us journalists still talk about our first experience with the R8 eight years ago, an entire day of performance driving tuition at the Lausitzring track in Germany, so much time behind the R8’s ’wheel that by the end of the day, we cried enough. Over the years we drove it on a Soviet-era airfield in Berlin, once the longest runway in the world. We caned it in Dubai. We learnt about grip and progressive throttle application on a rain-soaked Nurburgring (mercifully not the north loop). And in India, Audi inducted R8s into their press fleet.

Its super inviting dash suits its attitude of a supercar

Its significance cannot be underestimated. Those were the days when manufacturers were only just warming up to the idea of press fleets and yet here we had an R8 press car! Even more amazingly, Audi said yes to ripping down what was then the fastest road in the country, from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur, a ‘Busa keeping the R8 company. That story I penned for Overdrive was the first supercar feature ever attempted in the country and it was a story that set a trend and template for all the glorious stories you read in so many magazines today. We spent so much time with the R8, even clocking 300kmph in a deserted industrial estate for the headline story of the launch issue of this magazine three years ago, that it made us better drivers – and in the process better writers. It’d be no exaggeration to say the R8 improved the quality of Indian automotive journalism.

This violently orange R8 has big, really big, boots to fill then.

The sun has yet to pierce the dark stillness of the hour before dawn as we rendezvous with the R8 V10 Plus on the outskirts of Pune, laser main beams piercing the inky blackness like two suns nestled in the front wings. For all the talk of motorsport-derived technologies, this is the most visible, the laser beams making life a little easier for Audi’s Le Mans drivers slicing through traffic while barrelling down the Mulsanne straight at 320kmph in the dead of the night. And it doesn’t have any of the Matrix business going on so you can blind the miserable a-holes who approach you at little more than running pace and refuse to dip their main beams.

The sleek climate control knobs above the center console is sporty

We are on our way to the Lap of Mutha, a familiar 10-odd-kilometre loop just outside Pune which we will do multiple times, and then head to the isolated roads leading up to the Lavasa township that’s shrouded with pregnant clouds today. We’ve stuck to what we know to eliminate the variables, to employ years of memories and benchmarks to gauge if the game has moved on, and if so by just how much. At this early hour the villages have yet to stir, staff busses tracing racing lines on the hairpins have yet to leave Pune, and we have time to stop and stare at a car that couldn’t be anything but an R8.

There is precedent to this evolution-rather-than-revolution theory: the 911 doesn’t look like anything but a 911, Lamborghinis always look like Lamborghinis and the R8 has its gaping grille and side-blades. Are there prettier supercars? Yes. But that’s not to say that the R8 doesn’t look spectacular, definitely more flamboyant in the metal than in pictures. Its sheer – and I’m sure unexpected – popularity has made this silhouette instantly recognisable but where the earlier R8 was soft the new one is sharper, edgier, more angular and tightly creased; even more blingy in the lighting department. And the V10 Plus gets fiercely technical carbonfibre bits as standard: a front splitter, the fixed rear wing, (now split) carbonfibre side-blades, and lashings of carbonfibre on the inside.

Carbon fiber finish on the center console adds sportiness to the interiors

Ooh the insides. Sure the big red button on the steering wheel has been shamelessly lifted off Ferrari but, my god, it has more drama than a Game of Thrones season finale. Even Porsche has started putting knobs and buttons on the steering wheels, and Lamborghini has the Anima button, but the R8 trumps them all on emotional design. Along with the starter button the flat-bottomed steering wheel has the Drive Select button to toggle between Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual modes and there’s the Manettino-aping Performance mode knob depicted by a chequered flag giving you a further three modes – Dry, Wet and Snow. It looks gorgeous and compliments a cabin that has been built by engineers who appreciate a sense of occasion. There are exquisitely machined aluminium-trimmed air-con controls with metal-trimmed protuberances, the Virtual Cockpit can display the navigation screen edge to edge behind the ’wheel or, when the mood strikes, offer up a big rev counter right in the middle, changing colours as revs build and urgently flashing an upshift. The V10 Plus also has fixed-back and lavishly winged Recaro seats that scream sporty intent.

The body is still aluminium but with carbonfibre reinforced plastics (notably the rear firewall that is also the roof support) to increase rigidity by 40 per cent and bring weight down by 15kg to 1595kg. Ironically though, the starring attraction is the one part that has been left relatively untouched. In an era where Porsche and Ferrari have wedded themselves to turbo-charging this 5.2-litre V10 engine remains an outlier, the mad old champion, 32-year old Ali facing up to 25-year old Foreman. Together with the Huracan (with which it shares engine, mechanicals, body structure, everything really) the R8 V10 Plus remains the last bastion of the naturally aspirated high-revving motor. And it’s spectacular. In the V10 Plus it makes 601bhp, 69 more than the regular V10, screaming its way to a 3.2 second 0-100kmph run. It’ll do a top speed of 330kmph making it the fastest production Audi in history, not that you’re ever going to find enough of a road to test that out. And it attracts capital punishment for the shocking violence with which it murders the Lap of Mutha.

Laser headlamps are a Rs. 7.9 lakh option; this orange shade is a further Rs.7.3 lakh option

I must clarify that the R8 didn’t start off as a supercar. Mid-engined it was alright, but the V8 – and I really, really loved that 4.2-litre dry-sumped revoholic – was a sports car to rival the likes of the 911, not a 458/Gallardo chasing supercar. The V10 kicked things up a notch and it turned out to be so popular that, now, there no longer will be a naturally aspirated V8 (maybe a downsized turbo motor in the days to come). The new R8 has become harder, faster and more expensive and this particular example, the V10 Plus, is a full-on 911 Turbo, AMG GT S, 488 GTB and Huracan rival.

Virtual cockpit can be configured to show the nav screen edge to edge

And so one begins as one really must when served with 601bhp – short-shifting at 6500rpm, feeding in rather than standing on the accelerator, allowing the eyes time to adjust to the speed. Yet even at 6500rpm the R8 V10 Plus feels sports car quick, and despite natural aspiration doesn’t feel gutless and torque-deficient. Cross 7000rpm and the crackers start to go off and when you hit the power peak at 8250rpm, rev it all the way to the 8700rpm cut-out, bang in the next gear on the faster-acting seven-speed dual clutch automatic (no manual, boo hoo), your brain just explodes. True, in the Huracan there’s a more primal shriek, but this V10, at 8700rpm, awakens the gods. Throttle response is spectacular. Shifts are absurdly quick. Down-shifts are perfectly rev-matched. Hit the sport exhaust button and unburnt fuel finds its way to the exhaust delivering pops, bangs and crackles. It’s everything you would want from a supercar, and then some.

The performance is complimented by the quattro drivetrain that is the most significantly updated part of the package, delivering what seems like infinite grip. Instead of the viscous coupling that could be slow to react at times (everything is relative in supercar-land) there’s a multi-plate clutch that can divert 100 per cent of the torque to the axle that needs, and can use it the most.

Like the old R8, the way to drive, really drive this car, is to trail the brakes into the corner to get a bit of yaw moment going, feel the R8 pivot round its waist, be patient, go through the fractional initial understeer, and then drive your way out on the throttle, feeling the rear squat and slide under power. The electronically controlled clutch can go from open to fully locked in a tenth of a second, and in almost the same instant that the rear starts to slide you can feel the front pulling itself out of the slide, maximising traction and adhesion. There is so much more raw grip that you need the safety of a racetrack (especially its run-offs !) to get it sideways. On the road it’s unshakable, sticks like super-glue, but what’s lost in the bargain is the playfulness, that rear-driven nature you’d sometimes experience with the old R8. The limits are now so high you have to be running a bat-shit crazy pace to experience some movement, to play around with it on the road.

From the outside, the color adds more flavor to its attitude

Adding to the crushing speed are the magnetorheological dampers that are more compliant, less affected by bumps and undulations, and resulting in a more comfortable supercar whether driving fast or slow. It makes the R8 more usable.

Its striking pose blending in perfectly with the backdrop

Now there’s no such thing as an everyday supercar in India, our roads laugh in the face of such an idea, but the R8 has always been the most civilised supercar there is; the one you could take out on more than just Sunday drives or track days. I was reminded of that fact when on a recent trip to the press where this magazine is printed, the owners rocked up in an R8 V10. Who takes their supercars to their factories on the outskirts of the city for a meeting? And now, with this new V10 Plus, they’ll find everything that was good and great with the earlier R8 has been ramped up by 25 per cent.

Performance mode button on the steering wheel gives three more driving modes in addition to the five offered up by Drive Select

Time will tell if the new R8 can replicate the success of its predecessor, particularly since buying a supercar has become a frightfully expensive proposition thanks to duties that have rocketed to Mars from the time R8 was first launched. That said if there ever was a supercar to get moneyed enthusiasts to start spending again, you’re looking at it.

Engine: 5204cc, V10, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 7-speed DCT
Power: 601bhp @ 8250rpm
Torque: 560Nm @ 6500rpm
Weight: 1555kg
0-100kmph: 3.2sec (claimed)
Top speed: 330kmph (claimed)
Price (ex-showroom, Delhi): Rs. 2.47 crore

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