“Mid-engined supercars don’t come much easier or fun to drive than the accomplished Audi R8.”
Audi shocked the industry when it introduced its stunning R8 supercar in 2006. It was the German company's first demonstration of how it could compete with the established supercar giants with only a little help from Lamborghini – a sub-brand of the VW Group. As a result, the Audi R8 shares some DNA with the Lamborghini Gallardo, but is far cheaper to buy and easier to drive, without losing any sense of occasion or its head turning looks. A supercar that you really can use everyday, the R8 may not be particularly practical, but it's genuinely comfortable and comes keenly priced if you avoid the extensive options list. That said, a host of updates at the start of 2013 improved equipment, with all cars getting LED headlights, sat-nav and heated leather seats as standard. There is a choice of V8 and V10, with a faster V10 Plus model for those craving a little more power and an even sportier drive.
The ‘entry-level’ Audi R8 gets a 4.2-litre V8 engine producing 424bhp, while the 5.2-litre V10 flagship generates an impressive 518bhp. However, despite such high performance, the R8 is a cinch to drive, and lives up to its name as a truly usable, everyday supercar. All cars get the security of four-wheel drive, along with a refined ride and decent visibility. The suspension isn’t too firm either, while well-weighted steering makes it easy to manoeuvre in town yet enormous fun on the open road. The manual gearbox moves smoothly through its exposed metal gate, but the new S tronic seven-speed automatic provides quicker shifts and is a significant improvement on the old R tronic option. Not only this, it also helps reduce emissions and can be operated via the steering wheel-mounted paddles if you prefer to change gear manually. Also on offer is a bonkers V10 Plus model, which gets an extra 25bhp as well as uprated brakes, suspension and steering. It's a more focused track car, but feels a bit unsettled on the road due to a firmer ride and sharper brakes. The standard V10 remains a more composed car for everyday life, while compromising nothing in terms of performance.
For a mid-engined supercar with stiff suspension and big alloy wheels, the R8 is quiet and comfortable on the motorway. The new S Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox is pretty smooth, and much better than the ageing R tronic system. It's an expensive option but it comes into its own under hard acceleration, changing gear faster than you can blink. In terms of ride, the V8 cars with steel springs feel sporty, but the computer-controlled Magnetic Ride suspension is more supple, allowing the R8 to ride over bumps and lumps that would have other supercars skipping and bucking around. The system is standard on the V10, but the V10 Plus gets lowered and stiffened normal suspension for slightly sharper handling and a more track-focused setup. This does impair comfort somewhat, especially if you specify the optional bucket seats, while the standard leather seats are impressively supportive and easily adjusted – making it easy for both driver and passenger to get comfortable.
The quality is up to Audi's usual standard with plenty of top-notch materials and lots of first-rate switchgear. Safety is also a priority, with every R8 loaded with airbags and electronic driver aids, including stability and traction control and well as quattro four-wheel drive and decent brakes. The R8 is often billed as the everyday supercar, and in many ways it is as usable as the company's A3 hatchback or A5 Coupe. All cars come with a comprehensive three-year warranty, while a mid-table 15th place finish in the 2012 Driver Power survey, shows Audi owners are generally happy with their cars. All R8s come packed with airbags and every car gets stability control and side impact protection as standard. Although it's never been crash tested, all other models in the Audi range received a full marks from Euro NCAP, so we expect the R8 to be no different.
As you’d expect, the Audi R8 is first and foremost, a car for driving. Although there is plenty of room for two inside, the luggage compartment in the car's nose is quite restrictive, small and awkwardly shaped. Those who want enough space for a weekend away as well as a front-seat passenger, should look to the Porsche 911, with its cramped but occasional rear seats. Once you’re in though, the interior feels well laid out, and all the buttons, switches and toggles are beautifully crafted from quality materials. The open-gated manual gearbox is great to look at and fun to use, but the seven-speed S Tronic auto offers lightning fast gear changes and improved economy, too.
Value for money
It's not what we would describe as cheap, but Audi's R8 offers supercar performance at a price that's surprisingly affordable - particularly when you consider the price of most of its peers from the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. You need to be careful when specifying your car though, as options are expensive and unusual colour combinations can ruin resale value. All models get 19-inch alloy wheels, full LED lights, DVD sat-nav, Bluetooth and Audi's music interface, while V10 cars get upgraded leather upholstery as standard.
No car with this level of performance is going to be cheap to run. It should be less expensive than most though, with servicing rates much lower than for a Lamborghini or Ferrari. Both V8 and V10 engines guzzle fuel, with neither likely to get near the claimed 20mpg if used hard and to their full potential. Road tax is top tier, while insurance won’t be cheap either - though that's true of all the R8's rivals too.