Audi R8 V10 Plus, £134,500
IN ITALY, or Spain, or America, or anywhere but here, really, when you fill an expensive and fast car with petrol you are approached by people who want to tell you how lovely it is. They smile and they purr and then ask if it’d be all right for the children to have their pictures taken in the driving seat.
Things are rather different in “It’s all right for some” Britain where some bloke invariably says: “I bet you don’t get many miles to the gallon out of that.” Or “I can get more in the boot of my Austin Maestro”, or — and this is the one I’ve always hated most of all — “Where the hell can you ever drive a car like that?”
The answer is: “Well, I’m very rich, obviously, so I can hire a racetrack.” But instead we smile sweetly and try our hardest not to put the nozzle down his trousers and set him on fire.
He is quite right, though. You can’t really open up a supercar these days because the bitter and twisted, mealy-mouthed Maestro-driving caravan and cycling enthusiasts have taken over the town halls. I was up in Staffordshire last weekend tootling about in my old stomping ground and on the A515, which goes from nowhere in particular to nowhere at all via various places that only mean anything to me, there were regular speed cameras in all the villages and average-speed cameras on the bits in between.
And to make matters worse, this fast and really rather good road is now governed by a 50mph speed limit. A speed that Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have designated as pathetic. He’d have been right. It is pathetic: 50mph is for animals.
This ridiculous attitude to speed is catching on all around the world. Even the French have completely lost their sense of humour about a bit of flat-out screamery on the autoroutes. And I haven’t found a stretch of derestricted autobahn for years.
Which brings us back to our friend in the cardigan-and-Maestro combination and his question: “What’s the point of a 1,000 brake horsepower, mid-engined, fire-breathing rip-snorter when you are forced to travel at the same speed as a dog or a rabbit?”
He is completely missing the point because supercars are not supposed to be driven at five thousand miles an hour round the Nürburgring. That’s what a Subaru or a Volkswagen Golf R is for. Supercars are for doing 3mph round Harrods.
If you try to go any faster than this you will crash. Which is why, when you fire up YouTube and ask it to find some amusing supercar crashes, they invariably show a Ferrari or a Lamborghini whizzing into a bus stop or a lamppost or some other bit of urban street furniture.
You don’t see them crashing into trees and hedges because they’re to be found in the countryside and in the countryside no one’s looking. And if no one’s looking, what’s the point of putting your foot down in a supercar? Or even driving one in the first place?
Supercars are tricky little sods. If you put your foot all the way to the floor in a normal hatchback, it will pick up speed. If you put your foot all the way to the floor in a supercar, it will spear into a bus stop. The acceleration these days is very vivid indeed.
That’s why my current favourite supercar is the Lamborghini Aventador. It may not be the best for going round Stowe Corner and it may not have the best brakes in the world but for snarling round Knightsbridge at two in the morning it’s fantastic. It’s just so amazing to behold. And that is the whole point.
On the motorway it would sometimes have an electronic burp and make what felt like a botched gearchange. If I wanted gremlins, I’d buy a Lamborghini, thank you very much
The Audi R8 isn’t amazing to behold. It’s an odd one, this. It’s a mid-engined two-seater with a million brake horsepower, a V10 and four-wheel drive. It really is a Lamborghini underneath. And yet Audi, which owns Lamborghini, has done everything in its power to make it sober and refined and comfortable.
Mostly, it’s done a very good job. In the socialist boroughs of London where the worker Johnnies only repair potholes with speed humps it rides like a Lincoln Town Car from the 1970s. It’s also roomy, for two people, and quiet.
There are some issues, though. No one looks at it. And if no one is looking at it and you can’t drive it quickly, why put up with the tiny boot? Because it will appreciate in value? No, it won’t. The last R8, albeit with a V8 engine, had the same problem and is now about £40,000.
The biggest issue, however, is the tech. I commend Audi for trying something new; the instrument binnacle is a computer screen. I commend it also for nearly making it work. But everything else is just too complex. It’s a big problem with cars these days. How do you make all the electronic add-ons intuitive and intelligible? RAF pilots train for years before they are allowed in a Eurofighter and, let me tell you, there’s way more stuff to learn in an R8. Way more.
I’d learn how to shuffle tracks on my iPod or answer the phone or input a sat nav address and then after I learnt some more things, such as how to change the interior lighting, I’d forget the first stuff again. This meant I spent most of my time behind the wheel wearing my reading glasses to peer at the screen and swearing gently when I got it all wrong.
The sat nav is an issue too. It’s set up in a widescreen layout, which means you can see where Wales is, and New York, but not how to get to the street that is half a mile to the north.
In other words, Audi has tried hard to make the R8 an everyday car — it even has cupholders — but it hasn’t quite succeeded. The suspension isn’t quite right either. No matter what setting you choose, the car has a curious vertical bouncing gait, which is a bit annoying. Oh, and on the motorway it would sometimes have an electronic burp and make what felt like a botched gearchange. If I wanted gremlins, I’d buy a Lamborghini, thank you very much.
Which is pretty much how I feel about the Audi. If I wanted a supercar, I’d buy its virtually identical brother: the Lamborghini Huracan. In lime green. With orange seats.
I can see what Audi’s tried to do with the R8 and it’d be a clever trick if it had pulled it off: a car that can corner at two million miles an hour, go from zero to a hundred thousand in a quarter of a second and then become a Golf for the ride home. But it hasn’t quite managed it.
And even if it had, I’m not sure anyone would be interested because what we really want from a supercar are lasers and photon torpedoes. Not cupholders and a Comfort setting on the suspension menu.
2015 Audi R8 V10 Plus specifications
- PRICE: £134,500
- ENGINE: 5204cc, V10
- POWER: 602bhp @ 8250rpm
- TORQUE: 413 lb ft @ 6500rpm
- TRANSMISSION: 7-speed S tronic
- ACCELERATION: 0-62mph: 3.2sec
- TOP SPEED: 205mph
- FUEL: 23.0mpg (combined)
- CO2: 287g/km
- ROAD TAX BAND: M (£1,100 a year, £505 thereafter)
- RELEASE DATE: On sale now