2020’s been a crappy year, but even amid the domestic political turmoil and global pandemic-related disruption to normal life, there have been the occasional bright spots. Like the long weekend I spent with a $195,900 Audi R8 V10 performance Coupe quattro. Any day I get to drive something mid-engined is a good day, after all. Particularly when it’s with the kind of car that might not be with us that much longer.
Our first taste of the second-generation Audi supercar was back in 2017. Mechanically, the R8 V10 performance Coupe quattro is much like we found the R8 V10 plus back then. Its centerpiece is that naturally aspirated 5.2L V10, shared (as with much else under the skin) with the Lamborghini Huracán. (Audi bought Lamborghini back in 1998.) Hand-built in Hungary, the V10 generates 602hp (449kW) at a heady 8,100rpm, with a peak torque figure of 413lb-ft (560Nm) arriving at 6,700rpm. That gets sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, and in the case of the rear axle, via clutch-based torque-vectoring that takes the place of a traditional differential.
Externally, the R8 has had a slight facelift. There are a few more vents that allow cooling air to enter the car and a few more that help it on its way out the back, but the tweaks are subtle.
Perhaps the biggest functional upgrade from an owner’s perspective has been the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the infotainment system. Unlike the Huracán, the R8 doesn’t have a separate infotainment screen, just the 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display in front of the driver. So it’s here that we find the smartphone-casting interface, which makes using your phone’s navigation a whole lot more user-friendly than in most cars, where you have to look over to the center stack to get your directions. (Note that this is not a touchscreen; you navigate the infotainment either with the multifunction steering wheel or the jog dial in the center console.)
The other notable tech upgrade is the addition of laser high-beam headlights. Developed first for Audi’s all-conquering Le Mans prototypes, the company had to wait several years before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would allow them to be fitted to a US-market vehicle. The beams might still only throw their light about half as far as European regulators allow, but it’s a significant improvement compared to traditional high beams, particularly if your night vision is compromised by something like astigmatism.
In fact, I made good use of the laser lights. Something about the pandemic has had a jet lag-like effect on my sleep cycles, waking me regularly well before dawn. Some might have found this annoying, but traffic is the natural enemy of the supercar, and the roads are at their emptiest before dawn, so I haven’t minded too much—at least when there has been a fun driver’s car parked outside.
And the R8 is a fun driver’s car. As with most mid-engined machinery, from the driver’s seat, it gives you a sensation of being mounted at the pointy end, where you’re being pushed along by the mass and power of that engine behind you.
It’s a more civilized experience than driving a Lamborghini Huracán. In comfort, with the transmission shifting for itself, it’s an easy car to drive slowly, even. But it feels a bit too special to press into service as an everyday commuter car or grocery getter, and like most 600hp cars, you’ll be lucky to reach a double-digit MPG when driving it in town. (The EPA rates the R8 at 16mpg (14.7l/100km) combined.)
It also sounds less raucous than the Huracán, although to these ears, the naturally aspirated V10 still sounds orders of magnitude better than any of the R8’s turbocharged rivals. It’s not quite F1-level—the redline is at 8,700rpm, not 19,000rpm—but it’s a wonderful howl nonetheless. (Sorry not sorry if I woke you up during one of my predawn drives.)
While the R8 doesn’t feel quite as on its toes as the Lamborghini (particularly the Huracán Evo model), that doesn’t mean it feels inert or sluggish. In Dynamic mode, zero to 60mph takes 3.2 seconds, as fast as a McLaren F1 but more user-friendly thanks to the paddle shifters and all-wheel drive. You can break traction and wiggle its hips if you provoke it with too much throttle during cornering. But it’s predictable and easy to catch, something you can call up on demand rather than a malign handling trait that keeps you constantly on guard.
In 2017, I declared that the R8 was our pick of the junior supercars (think 600hp and ~$200,000). Nothing about my time with the facelifted R8 makes me think that was wrong—it has good practicality for a mid-engined supercar, and like its Italian cousin, it sounds better than the competition, a consequence of naturally aspirating its engine.
However, there’s a reason that just about every other manufacturer has gone to forced induction for their exotica. It’s much easier to meet modern emissions regulations with a turbocharger, and so they really won’t make them like this much longer.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin