It’s weird to call a €300,000 supercar humble, but that’s how I’d describe the 2017 Audi R8 V10.
Oh, it’s a screamer, all right — 540 horsepower on a massive V10 engine it shares with the Lamborghini Huracán. It has carbon-fibre blades that span its sides like weapons. And it has a rumble that your friends and family will come to associate with you indelibly, whether you like it or not.
But that’s just it. While the Audi shares the same engine, transmission, carbon-fibre outer, upper B-pillar and rear bulkhead, chassis, steering, and general electronics as the shard-like Huracán, it is the decidedly more understated of the two Volkswagen-owned siblings. When I say “humble,” I mean it relatively.
In fact, the R8 is the nuanced choice in a group of supercars that includes the McLaren 570S, Porsche 911 Turbo S, and Mercedes-Benz AMG GT. This is a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say. It also happens to be a rare supercar-calibre machine that is soft enough around the edges that you could be happy, rather than annoyed, to drive it every day.
It is more reserved in style and tone than the McLaren, less ubiquitous than the 911, and less, um, overcompensatory than the AMG GT. It is Goldilocks’ middle bear, but in the context of expensive European supercars. Just right.
This is the latest generation offering on the coupe Audi introduced in 2006. The price has risen considerably since then. Nowadays there is no option for a smaller (read: less expensive) V8 engine.
But the 2017 does come with a choice: the 5.2-litre 540-horsepower V10 that I drove or a 5.2-litre 610-horsepower V10 Plus engine. The base model has 398 pound-feet of torque; the Plus has 413 pound-feet. The extra power lifts the starting price, but doesn’t offer that much more thrust; I’d spend the extra cash on such things as the scarlet brake calipers and go with the standard V10. It’s likely no one — including you, the driver — will know the difference.
The same subtleties go for how this newest model looks compared with last year’s offering. Critical eyes will notice the tightened angles of the headlights and the new carbon-fibre accents along the sides, bottom, and rear. They may notice the 20-inch wheels with 10-spoke forged rims and full LED head and tail lamps that light up in stages across the rear.
You’re going to love the feel of this mid-engine rocket ship: zero-to-60 mph in a speed of sound-fast 3.5 seconds; top speed is 199 mph. (The V10 Plus does zero-60 in 3.2 seconds with a top speed of 205 mph.) The 7-speed, all-wheel drive comes standard.
The R8 offers Drive Select (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic) and also with a Performance mode that is optional on the V10 and standard on the V10 Plus models. That mode unlocks three extra settings (dry, wet, snow) that adjust
the car for aggressive driving during inclement weather.
The brakes on the R8 are gentle — and good. They coddle you into blind trust, like a baby in a bassinet. The steering handles as well as anything you’ll spend €100,000 more on.
Weaving through traffic feels like the easiest game of tic-tac-toe you ever played, as if you’re driving with your eyes open while everyone else is blindfolded. There is a slight hum to the car when you accelerate; it sounds cool and progressive and complements the personality of the interior, which is where the R8 becomes truly singular.
The minimalism of the design is augmented with spots of functionality: Dials are kept to low numbers on the centre console, while the Drive Select and red start button are both set on the steering wheel. The look echoes the Huracán’s fighter-pilot interior but is slightly more refined.
Three big round knobs along the dash control the automatic climate; the navigation and radio and most of the other controls are shown in the centre of the steering wheel, right below your line of sight when you drive. It can take some getting used to, but it’s efficient and ergonomic once you habituate yourself.
Navigation, Bang & Olufsen sound, and an excellent parking system with rearview camera all come standard. So do the 18-way power-adjusting seats (with side bolsters for your legs!) The problem with the seats, though, is that they don’t slide back far enough for some drivers — a small storage ledge behind your head prevents them from extending super far, as they would in a Merc.
Did I mention the boot is in the front of this car? That’s because the engine is showcased in a glass safe in the rear. The boot is big enough to carry a beach bag for one, but not two, women. (My friend and I learned this the hard way.)
Then again, that’s kind of the point of this car. It is at its best transporting you to another world — not reminding you of the hassles of this one.
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