Cape Town, Western Cape – The sound of the V10 reverberates in the atmosphere from the apartment buildings as we leave the Cape Town frontier on scenic Clarence Drive. Driving an Audi R8 has been on my list of things since the first generation model was introduced in 2006. Colleague and friend, Associate Editor Gareth Dean, told me he added fuel to that desire as soon as I started working for CAR. That if I had the chance, I should drive an Audi R8 because it’s an exceptional piece of machinery.
Two years after that opportunity, it finally arrived, and the key was handed to the Audi R8 Spyder in performance quattro. You dial in the sports seats to the desired sitting position. I sat down, reminding myself of Gareth’s words before pressing the steering wheel-mounted start button. My expectations were high. How cool is the car in a mid-engine Audi supercar?
I put my right thumb on the red button, and with a subtle press, the free-breathing 5.2-liter V10 ignited, firing the cylinders in sequence: one, six, five, ten, two, seven, three – eight, four and nine leave! Dynamic driving mode selected – also done via a steering wheel-mounted button – and cloth top stowed (done in 20 seconds), the center-mounted engine takes center stage. I can only imagine that this is what an outdoor Metallica concert (another item on my bucket list) should look like.
Free from extra respirator, throttle response is instant. Power and torque are delivered to all four corners in a linear fashion. Once the digital tachometer needle flies the mark 6500 rpm, the full complement of 560 Nm is available. Moments later, the virtual needle hits 8,250 rpm, and the total power output of 449 kW is routed via Audi’s S tronic transmission. The heady sound echoed from the faces of the mountains when we came to the coastal road.
The dual clutch box is quick in its action. Gear changes are almost imperceptible when the seven-speed S tronic is manually engaged via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. As you quickly approach a corner, I depress the brake pedal—the carbon-fibre-reinforced ceramic discs (380mm-diameter eight-piston elements in the front) do a great job of braking—and shift into second gear, then turn. The amount of traction provided by the quattro all-wheel drive system and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber (measuring 245/30 R20 front and 305/30 R20 rear) is astounding, especially given the performance of the R8 Spyder quattro that makes the scales a hair short of 1.7 tons.
Sitting position is close to perfect. “Near” because it doesn’t quite match the ideal driving position of the Porsche 911-inch – and arguably unparalleled. The R8 test unit was equipped with the optional dynamic steering system. The steering is direct, not uncomfortably heavy when handling corners and flexible enough to accommodate everyday driving, which is one of the R8’s many talents. An ample amount of feedback is transmitted from the road to the driver via the lever. The steering wheel, covered in perforated leather, feels good in the hand. Arguably, Audi makes some of the best multifunctional, feel-and-feel steering wheels that are easy to operate. And to enhance the ride quality, the press car was equipped with the Audi magnetic drive system.
The interior is as it should be in a supercar, minimalistic and driver-focused. For a contemporary supercar, the improved second-generation R8 feels surprisingly analog on the inside. The only thing on display here is the Audi Virtual Cockpit, which is either powered by a tiller or the center console-mounted disc. It’s a touch environment, with the aforementioned dial and set of climate control switches making pleasant “click” sounds when turned on, contributing to the cabin’s luxurious feel. The interior is robustly built and offers a slew of additional comfort items as standard, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Audi’s MMI Navigation Plus software, which – like the video feed of the reverse-view camera – are all displayed on the digital instrument screen.
The drive mode is set to the most comfortable setting, the V10, although its presence is not made anonymous, it is quiet. With our hair back in place (a fair amount of wind permeates the cabin when driving with the fabric roof folded), we head back to Cape Town, listening to our favorite tunes via Bang & Olufsen’s standard 13-speaker surround system. Sound system. No sound is lost with the canvas ceiling hidden away because the headrests of each seat include speakers. And when the sun went down, we activated the seat heating function.
The R8 truly is an all-season supercar, and when the weather is just right, the Spyder version, with its roof stowed away, offers a runway-like experience. But how long will V10 continue to sing before having to perform for Swansong? This seems to be a question that has already been answered: not for long. Unfortunately. But again, that’s what has been said for over a decade. And more than a decade after the R8 first adopted the V10, the 5.2-liter FSI is thankfully still around.
Once I started working on CAR, Gareth told me that when I had the opportunity, I should drive an Audi R8 because it was such an extraordinary piece of machinery. He was right, he is. Bucket list item, selected.
Be sure to grab a copy of the July 2021 issue of CAR Magazine for a comprehensive road test On the Audi R8 V10 Performance quattro.
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