It might have the looks of an absolute killer, but inside that carnivore's body lives the soul of an absolutely loving pet. So we get up-close and personal to the new Audi R8 5.2 FSI to see how close it comes to perfectly threading the line between 'super' and 'car'
How do you define a supercar? Well, many people have said many things about it. It should be very fast, it should be very expensive, it should look stunning and the usual fare. Some people also say that a supercar should only be mid-engined and have a 10 to 12 cylinder engine. But probably the most important aspect that makes a car “super” is its exclusivity. So one look at the R8 should be enough to convince you that it truly deserves the “supercar” moniker… or does it?
Well, while the R8 does fit the bill on the most part, it doesn’t quite meet the requirements of exclusivity, considering that over 25,000 of them have been sold since it entered production back in 2006. So what exactly is the R8? To answer that question, we found ourselves staring squarely at one of the latest one of these to hit the streets, the brand new 2012 model R8 V10 coupe, in orange.
Does it look the part?
Over the years, Audi has tweaked a lot of aspects about the way the R8 looks. But even so, the basic design of the car is unmistakable. Low slung, but not intimidatingly so, riding on massive wheels with the cockpit located smack dab in the middle of the wheelbase, there is no denying the purposefulness of the way it looks. The forward slung body with barely any rear overhang makes the R8 look like it’s in motion even while at standstill. And when you catch a glimpse of its gorgeous engine clearly visible in the middle of the car through its glass cover, it’s easy to feel a case of the goose bumps coming on.
For the latest model, brand new LED headlights, which are fast becoming the norm on most of Audi’s road cars, adorn the front, along with a redesigned single frame grille with tapered corners at the top. Round the back, you get a new rear diffuser with large, round tail pipes, further enhancing the sporty stance of the car. In general, there’s more use of exotic materials such as carbon-fibre all around and let’s face it, more carbon-fibre is never a bad thing.
As hot as the R8 does look, in the presence of proper supercar royalty from Italy, it does pale a bit in comparison. We would imagine the subtle design is for someone who doesn’t want to shout out to the world “Hey look at me, I’m in a supercar”, but instead wants to say “I have panache and taste”, or in light of recent silver screen flirtations, say “I am Ironman”.
How about when you get in?
As with the exteriors, subtlety is the key to the R8’s interiors. No gymnastics required for getting into this car; even with its low slung posture, only the very arthritic would have and trouble settling into the driver’s seat. Once in, you’re greeted by a very familiar ‘Audi-ish’ dash layout and anybody who has spent any amount of time in the company’s regular sedans can easily figure out what’s what.
That being said, the sports seats do a good job of snuggling you into a fine driving position and as soon as you’ve settled into them, the ‘monoposto’ cockpit layout, which almost isolates the driver from everything but the controls in the cabin, coupled with the flat bottomed, beautifully contoured steering wheel give you a real sense of integrating into the car. And of course, those who actually want to feel like their bodies were built into the R8’s chassis to begin with can always go for the optional racing bucket seats.
Once you’ve (electrically) adjusted the seat to suit your body, every little control surface is located perfectly within reach, from the wonderfully contoured paddle shifters behind the steering, to the large aluminium pedals and beautifully knurled aluminium gear selector, which actually provides a far more visceral feel while swapping cogs (as opposed to the paddles). And while you’ll find smatterings of carbon fibre along with at least a dozen cows’ worth of leather all over the cabin, nothing feels garish or out of place. It’s a cool, relaxing place to be in and even most of the knobs and buttons seem to function more for making you feel comfortable as opposed to making you go faster.
So does it go like one?
Oh, hell yes! Sorry, just had to get that out of the way. Even if the design and interiors might be made for subtlety, the R8 has been engineered for speed in every way. The chassis is the company’s proprietary aluminium Audi Space Frame (ASF) which weighs just a scant 210kg. This ultra lightweight construction mantra comes from Audi’s venture into the world of endurance racing – an arena which it has come to utterly dominate over the last few years. With the 5.2-litre V10 engine plonked right into the middle of the chassis, the car maintains an ideal axle load distribution for a mid-engine sports car of 43:57.
And speaking about the engine, what a gem that is! The 5,204cc naturally aspirated 10-cylinder unit uses direct injection technology to pump out 525PS of power and 530Nm of torque. But the at the heart of this new generation of R8 is Audi’s 7-speed S tronic dual clutch transmission – a drastic change from the earlier automated manual Audi had derived from Lamborghini’s E-gear system. The significantly improved shift times offered by the S tronic combined with the V10’s mental outputs and a fairly low kerb weight of just 1,645kg means that this R8 V10 can hit the 100km/h from a standstill in a scant Ferrari-rivalling 3.6seconds. And when you do keep your right foot buried for a little longer, that delectable V10 howl will carry you all the way to a mind-numbing, spoon-bending top speed of 314km/h.
Of course, coming from an actual and more importantly, current, racing pedigree, it’s not just about straight line performance. The R8 is designed to corner and corner better than most cars out there. The car was literally built around Audi’s legendary ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive system and it is this mechanism which provides the R8 with leech-like grip around the bends. The four-wheel drive is rear-biased – 85-percent of the V10’s torque goes to the rear wheels under optimal traction conditions. But as soon as the system detects any slip at the rear, up to 30-percent of the torque can be instantly directed to the front wheels. By not overwhelming the front wheels with too much drive, the steering response is kept razor sharp and the magnetic ride adaptive suspension system coupled with the double wishbone suspension all around does a brilliant job of keeping rubber to road.
The adaptive suspension does require special mention. Push a button near the gear selector, and it changes the suspension profile to sport mode and the R8 is all business. But under the normal suspension setting, the ride quality is simply unbelievable, making you almost forget that you are, in fact, driving a supercar with ultra low profile tyres (235/35 ZR19 at the front and 295/30 ZR19 at the rear) which have all the pliancy of a large rock. But the Pirelli P-Zeros do a great job not just under hard cornering and acceleration, but also under heavy braking courtesy of those incredibly powerful brakes with their massive internally vented and perforated rotors.
So then, what IS the R8?
If I had to choose one word to describe this car, it would be “absolutely phenomenal”. Now I know that’s actually two words, not one, and it better describes the “how” rather than the “what”. The R8, even with its 5.2 FSI firepower is one of the tamest performance cars you can get your hands on, and actually drive it almost anywhere (within reason of course). If you had a safe private parking, there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t take one of these to work everyday without breaking a sweat. For this reason, it really feels difficult to label this as a “supercar” – it’s simply not intimidating enough. But at the same time, put it on a race track and it will run toe-to-toe with a Porsche 911 Turbo.
Put it on a twisty mountain road and it will exhilarate you at every jab of the throttle and every turn of the wheel and in these real world conditions, on real world roads with cracks and bumps and undulations, it’ll even leave a Ferrari 458 Italia in the dust. In a way, it is to German sports cars what the original NSX was to the Japanese – simple in some ways, perfectly balanced where it matters and just allowing the driver to get intimately absorbed into the driving experience, blurring the line between human and machine. So what is the R8 you ask again? Well, it’s one of my new favourite sports cars of all time, and no not just in Forza 4.