What is it?
The R8 is a complete contradiction in terms, because it’s the world’s only entirely sensible mid-engined supercar, as easy to use and as friendly as a Volkswagen Golf. Well, almost.
First revealed in 2006, it wears its years spectacularly well, in both the way it looks and drives. Audi has done much to maintain interest in the R8, including subsequently introducing V10 and convertible versions, as well as the ripsnorting GT variant. But the truth is that the scarcely-changed standard V8 coupé feels as fresh and exciting today as it did when launched.
Its aim is to provide the thrill of a thoroughbred sports car in a sensible package that can be used for all reasons and in all seasons. And if you think this sounds familiar, you’ve just read the job description of its closest rival, the Porsche 911. All that really separates them are the Porsche’s small rear seats.
Okay, at a start price of £93,710 the Audi is more expensive than the Carrera S, but it’s also more powerful and exclusive. Above all, the R8 is possessed of an even greater sense of occasion.
In the sports car arena there’s a broad rule of thumb that says the more effort you make when driving them, the greater the rewards will be. The R8 is the exception: one of its greatest strengths is that you don’t have to set fire to your pants to enjoy it. Even if you just lollop around, you can enjoy the precision of the manual gearbox (avoid the paddle shift auto) and steering, and the delightful snarl of the V8 engine.
And yes, if you believe it’s not how fast you go that matters but how you go fast, it is the V8 rather than the V10 you should choose. It sounds just as good, is lighter, improves the car’s weight distribution and costs — wait for it — more than £20,000 less. And should you take your R8 to a track and really let it loose, you’ll find the smaller-engined car far easier to handle, partly because of its inherently better balance, but also because you’ll arrive at each corner going that much more slowly.
Audis are very rarely criticised for their cabin design, but we’ll make an exception with the R8. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom for you and your passenger, and you’ll benefit from sensibly placed controls, an ergonomically efficient driving position and clear, easy-to-read dials. What the R8’s cabin doesn’t deliver is the sense that you’re in a car that — if you’re only a little trigger-happy on the options sheet — could set you back six figures. Truth is it feels like any other Audi cabin; in an A4 that’s a fine and even desirable trait, but in a supercar of this price, it’s just not good enough.
What to look out for
Cars with the R8’s kind of performance used to be pretty highly strung, often characterised by overheating, misfiring and being just plain hard work to drive. So for decades we celebrated the relative ease of Porsche 911 ownership. Then the Audi pitched up and rewrote the rule book. Yes, it’s beautifully built, but what impresses us even more is that its astonishing performance appears not to stress it mechanically. The result is a car that is as easy to live with as a Nissan Micra yet as potent as a Ferrari.
Audi has issued just one recall since launch, which affected fewer than 500 Spyder models — check with your dealer if you are unsure whether the work has been completed. As with any big investment, check the car’s service history and provenance.
Published on November 5, 2012
The one to buy
Audi R8 V8
- 4163cc V8
- 317 lb ft@4500rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 4.6sec
- Top Speed:
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4431mm, W 2029mm, H 1244mm