Test Drives

Audi R8 5.2 2016 Review: Back To GR8-ness



Seven reasons why the new R8 is a superb supercar – and one reason why it isn’t

 

Singapore –
This is the 2016 Audi R8 which is totally new in all respects. Instead of delivering a conventional review we thought it might be a little more interesting to do plus/minus summary of the supercar’s characteristics in, what else, eight points.


1. Technology  
As expected of an Audi sports flagship, it’s packed full of technology: Underpinning the new R8 is a platform shared with the Lamborghini Huracan, which is a hybrid aluminium-carbon structure. It’s mostly aluminium but now the central tunnel and rear firewall are made of carbon fibre, while the car’s skin is totally aluminium as well – this saves about 50kg of weight over the old model. There’s a new quattro all-wheel drive system made by Haldex, new Virtual Cockpit layout, more engine tech and new chassis tech as well. But while it sounds like this might make the R8 move like Robocop, as we’ll describe, a driver ironically feels more plugged in than ever behind the wheel.

2. Engine
This is arguably the chief reason anyone would buy an R8 – the price tag notwithstanding, of course. Internationally the R8 has been trimmed so now there’s no longer the 4.2-litre V8 ‘entry level’ model – there’s now two variants of the 5.2-litre V10: A 610bhp Plus model and 540bhp regular version. Singapore makes do with just the latter, for pricing reasons (more on that later) but believe us, it’s more than anyone will need for sane, on-road driving.

The engine is still unique in this class – there’s no other V10 around (Huracan aside) since there are no Dodge Vipers in Singapore, and no other ‘entry level’ supercar (that is, with a sub-million price tag) that has this many cylinders or natural aspiration. Activate launch control mode by switching Performance mode on, hold brake, floor throttle, release and screaming loudly, and the 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds will seem like a complete lie.

Its sound and fury is thrilling to behold, and it’ll deliver linear power all the way up to its 8,850rpm redline, while the seven speed dual-clutch gearbox makes multiple downshifts lightning quick and with a thrilling blip. There’s no turbo lag to drive around, no intimidating turbo torque punch either, so it’s actually a very easy powerplant to live with. Switch the drive mode to ‘Comfort’, press a button to shut the exhaust flap, and it goes from Hyde to Jekyll instantly – you can even creep up behind Pokemon Go players without them knowing there’s a true rocket monster lurking.

Another tech trick the V10 packs is cylinder deactivation, which we first saw on Audi’s turbo 4.0 V8. At low loads, half the bank of cylinders shut off (effectively becoming an inline-five, like Audi’s RS 3) and if they’re operating for a long time they ‘ping-pong- and take turns at going on or off to avoid overheating.

3. Handling
The old R8 was great if you had the time, space and skill to push the front end, but it wasn’t easy to trust, especially if you weren’t used to huge butt wiggles under hard braking. The new one isn’t like that. It feels almost like a ‘normal’ RS car in its ability to be driven fast, easily. The new quattro system can do 100 percent torque on either end, there’s also a locking rear diff, magneto-rheological suspension/dampers, and a new Performance drive mode that Audi says optimises grip in three modes (Dry, Wet, Snow).

Whatever the reasons, it’s clear the new R8 has some serious moves and swagger when it comes to demolishing corners at high speed. Understeer now seems non-existent, while the steering feel is also spot-on and this delivers big driver confidence which is rewarded by frankly an insane amount of pace possible in almost all situations. Pair this with the flexible V10 and fast gearbox and the R8 is fast everywhere: Slow stuff, fast stuff, tight stuff, wide stuff. We didn’t get to drive it on track, although Big Dave gave it pluses at the car’s international launch earlier this year, but it’s frankly quite obvious the new R8 is a stunning handler, even on normal roads. All in all, there’s a directness to the controls, and the car’s responses, that make the R8 a joy to drive.

4. Cockpit
This is supposed to be the ultimate sporting Audi, so the ‘monoposto’ curve from the old R8 has been carried over (although, obviously, there are two seats) but what’s much more interesting is the fact that Audi has also taken the chance to introduce the Virtual Cockpit theme here. Like the Audi TT the instruments are replaced by an active display unit. Everywhere else it’s minimalist and clean, there’s no other screen in the cabin and the driver controls everything. The steering wheel now features almost ‘total control’: shift drive modes, start the car, scroll through the MMI system, shift gears – you can do almost everything except putting the car into ‘P’.

5. Usability
Another unexpected step forward the R8 has made is in terms of practicality. You’re probably wondering why we’re talking about that here, but keep in mind the R8 was made to compete with the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo as an ‘everyday supercar’.

Fuelling and gearshifts are two things that drive any performance car crazy but Audi’s got both spot on – the switch from single-clutch automated to dual-clutch gearbox was already apparent on the previous gen, and it carries over here. Pootling around town at low speeds isn’t painful at all in the R8. The previous car also made for a great driving position but the new one’s even better – visibility is uniformly excellent, except for the rear ¾, but the thin A-pillars and very low bonnet mean added confidence. There’s also more space to put your things – a new central glove box (there’s stilll a side one) and armrest-mounted cupholders. The front boot holds 116-litres while you can install a cargo holder to fit up to 200-plus litres of luggage behind you in the cabin.

6. Uniqueness
The switch to more angles in terms of design has worked with the R8, giving it an even meaner look now – the low, wide rear end and huge diffuser now makes it look even more a bona-fide bad ass machine. But it’s also worth keeping in mind the R8 is quite unique in this segment: No other competing car has a mid-engined layout, carbon-aluminium chassis or naturally-aspirated engine.

7. Price
Yes it does cost $800k, but we have to put things in perspective here: The previous R8 V10 plus cost nearly a million dollars in 2014 and that was one reason why sales dropped off – nobody was going to drop a mil on an Audi. $800k not far off, you say? Yes, but it’s not inconceivable. But let’s also look at the competition in the sub-million supercar category: The Mercedes-AMG GT S is cheaper, but also slower and less exotic, while the full-of-lies Porsche 911 Turbo is faster and also more expensive, though it looks less dramatic (it’s a 911 after all). And keep in mind in this era post-luxury-ARF increase, a Nissan GT-R costs roughly $600k.


8. But…
Are there any good reasons not to buy an R8? Besides the fact that most of us don’t have $800k, obviously, the ride quality isn’t super – it goes a bit floppy over bumps, but everywhere else it’s still tolerable for a performance machine. The one good reason not to buy an R8 is if $800k is too much to spend on something with four rings, in that case the only other choice is the slightly more expensive and faster Porsche 911 Turbo.


Audi R8 5.2 FSI
Engine 5,204cc, 40V, V10
Power 540bhp at 7800rpm
Torque 540Nm at 6500rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 320km/h
0-100kmh 3.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 11.4L/100km
CO2 272g/km
Price $799,999 with COE
Availability Now

Also Consider: Porsche 911 Turbo, Nissan GT-R

about the author

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Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.