Audi R8 Coupe review
Audi’s first supercar is a masterpiece – stunning to look at, wonderful to own
If you think the R8 looks special, wait until you fire the engine. The normally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 (proudly displayed under a glass engine cover, just like a Ferrari) roars into life, and once on the move delivers impressive performance from 2,000rpm. At the far end of the rev counter, a red line of 8,250rpm means astonishing acceleration, accompanied by an addictive bellow. It’s a proper performance engine. But be very careful with gearbox choice; the R Tronic paddleshift system is OK, but it distances you from the drive. The same can’t be said for the superb six-speed manual, while the brakes are progressive, strong and reassuring. That’s true of the handling, too. It’s an enormously capable and user-friendly machine, with scarcely believable amounts of grip. None of its rivals could keep pace on twisting roads during our tests. However, it doesn’t have quite the same involvement of the scalpel-sharp Porsche 911, and its responses are slightly numb in comparison. However, this is a small price to pay for a car with such awesome body control and delightful steering, while the ride quality, if you select the £1,350 Magnetic Ride dampers, is little short of astonishing. Indeed, they are a must-have option for any R8 owner. Downsides? Only the limited view out and the wide 11.8-metre turning circle.
It’s amazing that we actually managed to drive the R8 at all. And that’s nothing to do with reliability issues – more the fact that every time we stopped, people swarmed over the Audi like bees around a honeypot. We can’t remember driving another performance car that attracted so much attention. It looks great; the designers have even made a feature of the cooling vents, by placing them under the front and rear lights. The Side Blades (which double as air intakes for the V8) are less successful, though. They cut through the R8’s lines, although they can be colour-coded from a large range of options. This is just one area in which Audi’s supercar can be made bespoke. The R8 isn’t a big car; it’s roughly the same length as its key rival, the Porsche 911, although it is significantly wider and lower. Other competitors include the car this Audi draws so heavily from, Lamborghini’s Gallardo, plus the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and, if you’re really rich, the Ferrari F430.
The R8’s width and height don’t do practicality or ease of use any favours. And its packaging will force compromises; the nose boot totals only 100 litres, and although Audi claims that two golf bags can fit behind the seats, inserting them would block off what little rear visibility there is. However, both occupants have plenty of space, and get to enjoy a really special cockpit. We’re not convinced by the curved centre console, nor seats that are a touch high. But in every other regard, the R8 is stunning. There’s no faulting the seats, material quality and assembly, flat-bottomed steering wheel, the dash layout, or the fact that it simply makes you feel so special. It’s a shame it isn’t better-equipped, though. Audi seems to be adopting Porsche’s policy of charging extra for everything; not even cruise control is standard, when it is on an A3 SE hatch. This will only push up the list price, which will make running costs of nearly £2 per mile even higher. Needless to say, the R8 is thirsty as well, averaging 18mpg in our hands; but at least it has a large fuel tank, giving the fuel range a boost. Then there’s the small matter of the waiting list – which stretches for years!