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The Clarkson review: Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro S tronic (2013)

Clarkson

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I wonder. Does AA Gill review a restaurant when he has a cold? Because surely, when your eyes are streaming and your head is full of hot mercury and your nose is like a leaky tap, it must be very hard to tell whether you’re eating fish or chicken.

Also, when you are feeling low and miserable, there’s no waitress in the world who will pass muster. She may be smiley and lovely and knowledgeable, but because you are consumed by an overwhelming need to be in bed, with your teddy bear and some warm milk, you will sit there, as she runs you through the specials of the day, wondering how she might look without a head.


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I have a similar problem when I have a cold and I have to review a car. Because no matter how comfortable it is, it’s not as comfortable as where I want to be: in bed. And even if it can get from 0 to 60mph in two seconds, I will fume because that’s not good enough. I want it to get from where I am to where my bedroom is . . . immediately.

Which brings another problem into sharp focus. We are not allowed to drive a car after we have consumed alcohol or if we are using a mobile telephone or if we are eating a sandwich. But we are allowed to drive while we have a cold. And I think that’s odd. Because — and I’m sure I’m not alone in this — when I have a snotty nose and a heavy head, I am a madman.

You know those turtles that lay eggs so far up a beach that there is no way their young will make it back into the sea without being fried or eaten? Well, they would make better drivers than me when I’m poorly.

Take a recent a case in point. Shepherd’s Bush Green in west London was closed because of roadworks, which meant everyone in the world was using the Hammersmith flyover. So obviously some bright spark closed that too.

Normally I’d simply sit in the resultant jam, accepting that the people in charge are morons. But because I had a cold, I needed to be at home. So I set off on a hate-fuelled charge through the back streets, hurling insults at absolutely everyone and everything.

Had the dithering minicab driver in the Toyota Camry actually heard what I was saying as he sat there for an age, making no effort to turn right, I’d be in prison now for breaking all sorts of modern-day laws.

Eventually I squeezed by on his left, which meant I may have accidentally popped a couple of wheels on the pavement. And moments later a police officer knocked on my window. I don’t know why, I’m afraid, because before he had much of a chance to speak, I let rip, telling him that the pavement was too wide, that the minicab driver was a stupid idiot and that if he wanted to speak to someone, he should talk to the halfwit who’d shut both main roads into west London at the same time. I then drove off.

The next day the A1 was shut, preventing me from making a meeting on time. So I pulled over and rang various contacts in my phone to shout at them. And that night, on the M1, while running late for my daughter’s school play, I didn’t do as normal and sit behind the stream of Peugeots doing 50mph in the outside lane. I just overtook them all on the inside, muttering and chuntering like a homeless American drunk.

In short, there was much mayhem and rage and misery. But there was at least one crumb of comfort: the car I was using. An Audi R8 V10.

Normally, when the roads are full of idiots in Peugeots and your head is full of mucus, the last place you want to be is in a low-slung, super-wide, Lamborghini-engined two-seat supercar.

Supercars are tricky. All the things that make them great on sunny days in the Tuscan hills make them utter pigs in Shepherd’s Bush on a dark, wet Wednesday. They steam up. They pop. They bang. They growl. They won’t fit through gaps. You can’t see out properly. And they are uncomfortable.

The R8, though, has always been different. It feels normal. The cockpit is big. Everything is where you expect it to be and it all works. It can traverse speed humps without leaving 40% of its undersides behind. It’s quiet. It’s unruffled. It is the Loyd Grossman cook-in sauce of supercars. An easy, fuss-free alternative to the complexity of the real thing.

Unless you are at an oblique junction where visibility is a bit restricted, you forget when you are driving an R8 that it is a supercar. It lulls you, cossets you, soothes you. Which is why you are always surprised when you put your foot down and it takes off like a bloody Ferrari. “Whoa,” you say, “I thought I was in an Audi TT.”

It grips well too. You might imagine a car that could comfortably handle a farm track — it can and did — would fall over in a bend, but the R8 doesn’t. I’m not suggesting for a moment that it has either the tenacity or the controllability of the (much more expensive) Ferrari 458 Italia, but when it’s raining, and the motorway slip road has tightened unexpectedly, and you haven’t noticed because you’ve been sneezing non-stop for the past 30 miles, you’ll be glad of the four-wheel-drive system, that’s for sure.

There’s something else as well. Thanks entirely to its starring role in Iron Man, the R8 is a popular car. People like it, and by association they will like you for driving it. But there has always been one problem: the gearbox. You could have either a manual that came with a lever from a Victorian’s signal box or a semi-automatic that was as refined as a South Yorkshire hen night.

Well, now you can have a seven-speed dual-clutch system. Many car makers are going down this route, saying it brings Formula One-style driving to the road. While not explaining the real reason.

The EU is demanding that engines produce fewer and fewer “harmful” emissions, and gearboxes such as this help a lot. They’re fitted to tick a bureaucrat’s box, not because they make life better for the driver. This is a point you will note at low speed in town. Go on. See a gap and try to exploit it. You can’t. Because the box is either too slow or too jerky — put your foot down and the R8 sets off like you’ve never been in a car before. Really, flappy-paddle gearboxes should come with P-plates.

Of course, out of town they’re great. The gearchanges are fast and smooth and can be done either manually with flappy paddles or automatically. On balance, then, I’d say the new box in the R8 paints over the only bit Mamma Achilles missed. It’s a damn good car. It really is. And that from a man who’s spent a week hating everything else.

Verdict       ★★★★☆

As fresh as a hit of Vics

Factfile

Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro S tronic

Release date:
On sale now
Price:
£113,900
Engine:
5204cc, V10
Power:
518bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque:
391lb ft @ 6500rpm
Transmission:
7-speed S tronic
Acceleration:
0-62mph: 3.6sec
Top speed:
195mph
Fuel:
21.6mpg
CO2:
305g/km
Road tax band:
M (£1,030 for first year)
Dimensions:
L 4,440mm, W 1,904mm, H 1,252mm

 


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