We first reported on the 5.2-litre R8 from Spain. Back then, our writer lamented – of all things – about its name. Given its engine configuration, why not call it the R8 V10? It certainly has a better ring than R8 5.2 FSI quattro. Better yet, call it the R10, after Audi’s Le Mans race car that succeeded the R8 endurance racer.
(Click here to read about the latest Audi R8 V10.)
Now that the car is here, its name is the last thing on our collective minds. A weightier issue is the matter of price. The gap between this and the 4.2-litre version can buy you an Audi S3. At $648,888, it’s up against the recently updated Porsche 911 Turbo, which is something of an institution. Also within reach is a pre-owned exotic like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini Gallardo, which has a V10 engine – not unrelated to the Audi’s, albeit with a 5-litre displacement. It does without direct injection and offers 520bhp, that’s 5bhp less than the R8.
Comparisons to the Gallardo are not new, but let’s run that last nugget again: This Audi is more powerful than a Lambo, albeit an old one. A titillating thought.
The flagship R8 has a top whack in excess of 300km/h, and going nearly full pelt on the derestricted stretch of the autobahn outside Munich last year left little doubt about that claim. The car seems so adept at playing the intercontinental cruise missile that it’s actually extremely comfortable covering distance at speed. If not for the on-board navigation’s repeated reminders to “turn off at the next exit”, I could have driven right up to Switzerland in one go. The only other sports car with such capabilities just happens to be the 911 Turbo.
It helps that the cabin is so well-insulated. On the downside, it’s hard to hear the V10 working.
But it doesn’t take much to discover the 5.2’s Jekyll and Hyde personality. More Mr Hyde than Dr Jekyll actually, because the engine snorts and whirls at the slightest prompting, straining at its leash. When you let it out, forget fluffy analogies of symphony and song. What the V10 makes is mechanical mayhem.
Activating Sport makes the R-tronic automated manual box work faster and harder. The engine gets livelier, too, and it’s more responsive to the pedal. There may be an entire battery of electronics at work but from behind the wheel, the car feels direct and natural.
R-tronic has done a decent enough job pretending to be an automatic before, but in this particular Audi, leaving it to make all the gear change decisions, even under the Sport programme, isn’t recommended. To properly operate this machine, you have to take control, either with the steering-mounted shift tabs or the lovely metal shifter. You want to train your right foot to ease off by the right amount – at the precise moment – to smoothen the gear change without losing a single extra rpm than is necessary.
The task of slowing down falls on the carbon-ceramic brakes. Typical of such set-ups (Porsche and Ferrari being the least guilty of the lot), the system has some dead travel on initial application. Get past that and the anchors prove to be utterly dependable and confidence-inspiring.
As with the V8, the bigger-engined R8 isn’t one of those cars that require faith to drive quickly. It constantly keeps the driver in the loop and makes sure that things are okay.
The 5.2-litre version may weigh 65kg more, but the inherent balance and friendly nature of the chassis remain. The controls continue to tell it as it is, whether you are well within its generous dynamic envelope or fast falling off the cliff (not literally, of course).
Although the car has all-wheel drive, it has a distinct rearward bias. Besides the promise of sideways action (useful only for YouTube kudos), the apportionment prevents the front axle from being overwhelmed by torque.
As with the 4.2, the range-topping R8 rides much better than any other Audi. This is all the more commendable considering the car’s stingy suspension travel, its ultra-low profile tyres and the level of handling that it has to deliver. The generous wheelbase helps (an extra 90mm more than the Gallardo’s 2560mm), while the tyres’ large rolling diameter trample over potholes rather than fall into them. The matched springs and dampers work with a sublime synchronicity, providing quick compression and the most precise of rebounds so there’s never any flapping around. Even with the adjustable dampers set to Sport (it’s separate from the button for the gearbox), the ride is unflappable.
This has incredible real-world advantages because not only is the comfort appreciated, having the Pirellis constantly in contact with the road means that the car can be hurried along much more quickly and precisely than one that’s hopping and getting bounced out of potholes or off-camber bumps. Instead of giving an attitude or showing up any quirks, the R8 flatters and bolsters the driver.
Still on the business of covering distances swiftly, the R8 offers a level of all-round visibility that only the Porsche 911 Turbo can match. Other than being good in tight parking situations, there’s absolutely no need for guesswork at higher speeds. Together with the precise steering, it’s entirely possible to place the car exactly on the edge of the lane markings or ride the cat’s-eyes, if you so please.
Speaking of “eyes”, the ones on the 5.2-litre R8 are the world’s first full LED system. Even the main beams are cast by LEDs and the throw is even whiter than xenons. Also helping to set apart the 5.2 are the side vents behind the doors. They are flared to feed more air to the engine behind. More chrome on the egg-crate grille in front, more blacks (on the number plate surround joining the vents below the tail lamps) and more bling (the dressy 19-inch alloys) sum up the essential cosmetic differences – aside from having two oval exhaust exits instead of four round ones on the V8.
The “best” difference vis-a-vis the 4.2, though, is the view through the glass rear deck. The longer V10 engine block fills up the crevice more fully than the V8 managed. It becomes very obvious that the R8 was really built to receive the V10 from the very beginning. You can almost say that Audi’s maiden fling with building a mid-engine supercar has ended, except that it hasn’t – there’s a convertible version of this car in the wings, all the better to hear that angry engine in the back.
Audi R8 V10 5.2 (A)
Type V10, 40-valves
Bore x stroke 84.5mm x 92.8mm
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Max power 525bhp at 8000rpm
Max torque 530Nm at 6500rpm
Power to weight bhp per tonne
Gearbox 6-speed automated manual
Driven wheels All
0-100km/h 3.9 seconds
Top speed 316km/h
Front Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Front / Rear Ventilated discs
Type Pirelli P Zero
Size 235/35 R19 (front), 295/30 R19 (rear)
Traction aids ABS, ESP
Kerb weight 1620kg
Turning circle 11.8m
Price $648,888 incl. COE
Warranty 3 years/100,000km
+ Ride and handling balance, easy to drive fast, more attitude than V8
– Snatchy carbon-ceramic brakes, hefty price hike over V8, not quite the hard-core version