Disregard for a moment the various nuances and unique selling propositions in the potent 400kW super-coupe segment, because all contenders have one unifying quality – an innate ability to devour the racing circuit with devastating efficiency.
Four-wheel drive or two, turbo or atmo, German, Italian or Martian, all options in the stratospheric machine market will put a smile on your face and leave a lot of rubber on the track, but most supercar owners do not have their own circuit or a diary flexible enough to accommodate every track day.
Which means at some point a mighty track warrior will have to take to the road and it is here many previous offerings have shown their weaknesses, but not the new R8, says Audi.
On paper at least, Audi’s second-generation sports flagship appears to tick a lot of practical boxes. Between its nose compartment and cabin areas the R8 has 338 litres of luggage space, service intervals are at a customary 15,000kms and among the various dynamic this and sports that, there is a ‘comfort’ driving mode.
But is there such a thing as the supercar you can use every day?
And even if you could, would anyone regularly drive a $355,900 V10 Plus coupe with 449kW to the office or the shops?
If Audi made a bad job of any interior then there would be something very wrong with the car world and even more so if they missed the mark with its halo model, but the R8’s cabin is exactly as it should be, with top-quality materials, squeaky clean design and excellent ergonomics.
V10 R8s get more adjustment in their sports seats and, while we found the V10 Plus Recaros almost perfect, a tilt-adjustable base would have resulted in the ideal driving position. Audi will swap the most hardcore seats for the more adjustable V10 (but not as bucketed) versions if you ask.
With snug seats that have to be accessed over the low and wide sills, the R8 probably suits a leaner figure, but getting in and out is all part of the supercar experience and we loved the feeling of being tucked in and ready for business.
The Audi’s asking price is on par with other contenders in the segment – but we will let you decide if that equals a ‘fair’ price, but we do think the options list was a touch on the pricey side.
Our car had subtle but pleasant matte carbon-fibre additions to the air-conditioning vents and Virtual Cockpit instrument surround, which adds $5,000 to the bottom line.
But it’s easy to forget about earthly things like money when you hit the steering wheel-mounted ignition button, which simultaneously fires the excellent 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display into life and lights the touchpaper of the naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10.
Slipping the 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission into drive with the excessively large gear selector and gently pulling away all seemed rather, well, Audi. At low speed the R8 is placid and calming and not at all like a car with the track-incinerating performance that we remember.
With the Audi drive select switched to comfort or auto, the steering is light, cabin noise is low, the ride is firm but smooth and, even though cylinders nine and ten are just centimetres away from your head, the V10 purrs like a sleeping bear.
We wonder if anyone really would use an R8 or any other highly strung coupe as a daily drive, but, at least with the R8, the potential is there.
Find a road like the remote Snowy Mountain passes, flick the driving mode to Dynamic, push the gear lever over to manual, and the Audi will delight anyone who seeks the most lucid and stimulating driving experiences.
Grip and poise offered by the quattro four-wheel-drive system is impressive even in the, at times, nerve-wracking conditions that changed from dry to damp and downright soaked. The electro-hydraulic steering has good feel, if a little light, and even in the firmest settings, the suspension ironed out small undulations well.
The double wishbone set-up did not tolerate larger imperfections with as much tolerance and on more than one occasion absorbed potholes with an alarming noise sufficient to make us pull over and check the integrity of the 19-inch wheel.
Riding on the no-cost option, 20-inch rims made little discernible difference to the ride quality, but we preferred the look of the smaller wheel and a bit more rubber in the side wall, which is mildly reminiscent of the McLaren F1 look.
The Audi is an accomplished machine in every area, but all of its attributes and practicalities pale into insignificance when you point its head-turning snout at a long road and give the 5.2-litre V10 a prod.
We have something of a soft spot for 10-cylinder engines and our time with the Audi has cemented that relationship because the charisma and performance of its V10 is utterly glorious.
At 4,000rpm the engine reaches a delicious sweet spot where the induction and exhaust notes harmonise with each other while producing an impressive glut of torque, but at that engine speed the show is only just getting started.
Push on though, and the weirdly lovely sound of ten cylinders amplifies, but as the 6,000rpm mark looms – where many engines are nearly done – the R8 powerplant comes alive, tearing on through to 8,700rpm with the strongest acceleration in its rev range.
In Dynamic mode you have to be quick to catch the flashing red tachometer as the maximum engine speed is reached, and snatch a handful of the right paddle, which smashes the next gear into mesh with a satisfying violence.
Acceleration is hugely impressive and feels every bit the 3.2 seconds from zero to 100km/h that Audi reports, but how quickly the Audi covers ground is only part of the package. The aural performance is even more impressive than its pace.
In corners wet and dry, the Quattro system feels around for the best grip and allocates torque to the best corner, even when handled roughly. We like the obvious change in balance from on- and off-throttle hard driving.
We could not get enough of the sensational V10 shouting from the back seat with more personality and presence than almost any other engine we have experienced.
The Audi can’t quite match the purity of the driving experience offered by Lamborghini’s two-wheel-drive Huracan LP580-2 or the McLaren 570S, but on public roads there is very little between them, and the R8 is more manageable at speed when compared with the Huracan LP610-4. Ferrari’s 488 GTB is also a serious contender in the segment, but with all-paw traction and the likelihood of German dependability associated with the brand, the Audi really is the all-rounder in the segment.
5.2-litre V10 • 7-speed dual clutch transmission
20-inch alloys – 10-spoke Y design
$355,000 + ORC
Written by Daniel Gardner.