In-depth reviews

Audi R8 coupe - Engines, drive & performance

The Audi R8 is blisteringly quick and very enjoyable to drive

If you want drama from your supercar, the Audi R8 won’t disappoint. The loud and characterful exhaust and engine noise that greet your ears at start-up signal the power that lies in the engine bay, and every moment spent inside the R8 feels special.

The amount of grip available in high-speed corners is remarkable and, allied with the R8’s excellent body control, makes the R8 a car you feel confident in driving quickly. The R8 doesn't feel quite as involving to drive as a Porsche 911 or a McLaren 570S, but it’s undoubtedly a rapid car with a brilliant engine. Some mid-engined sports cars like the Lotus Elise have a reputation for being tricky to drive in slippery conditions, but the Audi's long wheelbase, neutral setup and quattro four-wheel drive mean the R8 feels very secure. 

Its V10 shares around half of its parts with the Audi R8 LMS GT3 racing car, so it isn't hard to imagine driving along the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans as you hear its engine wailing behind you. For an update in 2018, the R8's steering was tuned to feel more precise and provide improved feedback, while the front anti-roll bar has been swapped with a new carbon fibre-reinforced item that's 2kg lighter. The changes are slight, but the steering feels faster and the suspension changes and new Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres mean there's even more grip.

Despite the spectacle of the car, the R8 is actually remarkably easy to drive – whether you’re cruising or driving more enthusiastically. It’s always very stiff and you won’t relish potholes or speed bumps, but the steering is accurate and the accelerator pedal lets you release as little or as much power as you need; a sophisticated traction control system, paired with Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive setup helps keep you out of trouble.

If you'd like an even more involving driving experience, the Audi R8 Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) was also made a part of the standard R8 range in 2020. This came about thanks to the popularity of a two-wheel-drive limited edition version, and with 533bhp heading to just the back tyres it certainly deserves respect. In ideal conditions the R8 RWD can also reward keen drivers with an even greater sense of control over the R8's behaviour in corners. 

Audi R8 petrol engine

The 5.2-litre V10 engine comes in three power outputs: 562bhp in the standard model, 612bhp in the Performance and 533bhp for the R8 RWD. The engine will set your pulse racing in any power output and barks into life the moment you press the starter button. The 0-62mph sprint is dealt with in just 3.4 seconds in the standard four-wheel-drive car. The Performance model manages it in 3.1 seconds and can get to a top speed of 205mph. With less outright traction, the R8 RWD takes 3.7 seconds.

Regardless of which version you choose, the R8 comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. For extra involvement, you can shift gears yourself using the paddles on the steering wheel, but the automatic changes are lightning-fast. The quattro system ensures excellent grip when cornering hard and gives even nervous drivers some confidence when piloting the R8 in the less-than-perfect conditions common in the UK.

Although the R8 is reasonably happy at lower speeds, it only really comes alive when you’re driving it quickly. Around town, you’re always aware of the fact you’re sitting close to the road, as noises from gravel and potholes are never far away, and the suspension transmits road imperfections through to the steering wheel and seat bottoms fairly noticeably.

However, the R8 is actually much better in this regard than many other supercars, and it’s far easier to live with on a day-to-day basis than most. Get it on the open road, and any issues concerning noise and discomfort around town are soon forgotten.

The R8 shares its chassis with the Lamborghini Huracan, but the Audi actually handles better, as it feels more agile at speed. Our main gripe with the car from a driving point of view is the steering, which although fast and accurate, lacks the feel you get in a Porsche 911 - although this has been improved for the facelifted version.

Next Steps

Which Is Best?

Cheapest

  • Name
    5.2 FSI [540] V10 2dr S Tronic RWD
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £115,185

Most Economical

  • Name
    5.2 FSI [540] V10 2dr S Tronic RWD
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £115,185

Fastest

  • Name
    5.2 FSI V10 Quattro Performance 2dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £141,990

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