Audi finds the magic ingredients
V10 engine
Fun handling
Neat interior
Last R8 looked better
No V8 version available – yet
Wind noise from window seals

First Drive review: Audi R8 V10 Plus (2016)

Let's see what you're made of, party boy

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Audi R8 V10 Plus at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★★
  • Performance: ★★★★☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★★☆
  • Practicality: ★★★☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★☆☆

THERE ARE many questions a discerning car enthusiast could ask about a new supercar such as the Audi R8. Some may want to know who styled the sleek, athletic lines of the bodywork. Others may be more interested in what that bodywork hides. Whereas pub bores will want to cut to the chase and find out the power and performance statistics.

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But the moment you’re handed the keys to the V10-powered second-generation R8, there’s only one question in your mind: will it be better than the Lamborghini Huracan?

Unlike its predecessor, launched in 2007, the new R8 shares its skeleton with another car. This is slightly troubling, because, for all its jaw-dropping design and gut-wrenching performance, the Huracan is a teeny, weeny bit disappointing to drive, lacking a certain magic ingredient that marks out the greatest sports cars from the crowd.

Switching the driving mode to Dynamic transforms the R8’s character. The rich bellow of the 602bhp V10 fills the cabin, the controls become more responsive and the car feels as though it’s straining at the leash

That was never a problem with the last R8. Especially the V8-powered version, which was one of the best-handling sports cars on the road. Yet supercar buyers are, unsurprisingly, a status-obsessed bunch, so not many bought the V8, given they could have the more powerful, faster V10 version.

2016 Audi R8 V10 plus review

So the new car is (for now, at least) offered with the V10 engine only, in standard, 532bhp tune (£119,500), or, in the racier Plus version, with 602bhp (£134,500). The Plus is nearly £50,000 less expensive than its Lamborghini sibling, yet it’s every inch the handmade, covetable object that the Huracan is.

Have the engineers at Audi managed to conjure up those missing magical ingredients? We have some fantastic roads around Portugal and the Portimão racetrack at our disposal to find out.

First impressions are of a more aggressive-looking car. In place of the original R8’s soft, soap-bar curves come straight lines and sharp creases. Some of the subtlety has been lost, if you could ever consider a two-seat, mid-engined sports car subtle.

The interior is a big step forward. The driving position and seats feel spot-on, the electronic gearlever looks and feels like something out of a fighter plane and there are more buttons on the steering wheel so that drivers can fine-tune the R8’s temperament, from soft and supple to snarling and angry.

Audi’s digital display takes care of the instrument readouts and infotainment side of things, and, as in the TT or Huracan, it can be customised to show different information. On the way to the racetrack, the sat nav filled the screen and looked detailed enough to call in an airstrike. But at the track, the rev counter can be switched to become the focus of attention.

With the S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch transmission left in Drive and the Audi drive select system set to Comfort, this is a car that City boys or girls could happily use to commute into London at bleary-eyed o’clock.

2016 Audi R8 V10 plus interior

After a minor explosion upon starting up, the 5.2-litre engine settles to a barely audible murmur and the R8 will happily potter about the place without any histrionics. There’s a little bit of wind noise from the pillarless windows, and the ceramic brakes (a £7,700 option) grumbled occasionally when we pulled to a stop in slow traffic, but these are minor matters.

More significantly, the optional (£1,600) adjustable magnetic damping gives a wonderfully smooth ride, even over sections of Portuguese road that resemble a sinkhole. (If you’re a sports car maker and you don’t offer magnetic damping now, you may as well pack up and go home.)

Switching the driving mode to Dynamic transforms the R8’s character. The rich bellow of the 602bhp V10 fills the cabin, the controls become more responsive and the car feels as though it’s straining at the leash, eager to search out some good corners.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of testing bends, and the R8 devours them. It ticks nearly all the important boxes, with tenacious grip, a nice balance between the front and rear axles, fantastic brakes and a flawless gearshift. The only feature missing a tick is the electric power steering: it’s accurate and quick-acting but doesn’t have the detailed feedback or natural feel of the original R8.

After the first corner, it’s tempting to let out a little cry of “Hallelujah!” to the skies above; the R8 comes alive on the track

By the time the security barrier lifts at the Portimão race track, there’s a certain amount of trepidation. The Huracan felt promising on the road, but turned out to be too sensible for its own good on a racetrack. Have Audi’s engineers tuned in more fun?

A little button on the steering wheel should help answer that question. It’s the Performance driving setting, which stops the electronic aids from being too nannying and is just the thing for when a driver wants their hair to stand on end and their heart to thump in their chest.

After the first corner, it’s tempting to let out a little cry of “Hallelujah!” to the skies above. The R8 comes alive on the track, swinging its tail round with a lift of the throttle and a tweak of the steering, and then hurling itself out of the bend under power in a beautifully controlled, gently oversteering drift that shows German engineers know how to have fun.

2016 Audi R8 V10 plus review

The engine thrives on revs and has the power to pin the driver to their seat in the first three gears. In a market crowded with turbocharged engines, this is as pure and animalistic as an engine gets.

If the Huracan or Porsche 911 Turbo were your friends at a party, they’d take you by the arm at 11.30, concerned about the lateness of the hour, complaining about the price of taxi fares after midnight and worried about having a sore head at work the next day.

Take the R8 to the party and they’ll be the one in the hot tub at 5am, reeling off anecdotes and passing round yet another bottle of champagne.

If that sounds like your kind of party, then the new Audi R8 is your kind of car.

2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus specifications
  • Price: £134,500
  • Engine: 5204cc, V10, petrol, naturally aspirated
  • Power: 602bhp @ 8250rpm
  • Torque: 413 lb ft @ 6500rpm
  • Transmission: 7-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 3.2sec
  • Top speed: 205mph
  • Fuel: 23mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 287g/km
  • Road tax band: M (£1,100 for the first year; £505 thereafter)
  • Release date: On sale now

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2016 Audi R8 V10 plus rivals

Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4, £180,720 (view cars for sale)

    • For Sensational styling; cool interior design; fabulous engine
    • Against Handling is not as fun as the R8’s; high price

Porsche 911 Turbo S, £142,120 (view cars for sale)

    • For Astonishing performance in a surprisingly practical yet understated package
    • Against Can’t match the poised feel of the R8