The Audi R8 apparently came out of nowhere in 2006, but ever since it has earned itself a place on the podium of the supercar world. Nowadays, you can’t make a list of the best mid-engined models on sale without including an R8.
The R8 initially came to the market as a somewhat understated proposal, being powered by a 420 hp V8 engine. But that was just the tip of the iceberg, albeit a very impressive one.
In two years' time, the V10 model followed, taking the R8 designation into the supercar league. One year after that, the V10 received a Spyder version, a treatment that was subsequently also applied to the V8 model. As expected, the special editions followed.
The R8 achieved the aforementioned status thanks to its all-round capabilities, which, in turn, come as a result of what happened in the past. This might be Audi's first supercar, but this doesn't mean that it lacks a noble development history. In fact, Audi had been preparing to develop such a model for a very, very long time.
To understand how the R8 came to be, we'll have to start our journey in the 80s'. Back in the day, Audi revolutionized the world of rallying by pioneering all-wheel drive. This came in a time when everybody else disregarded the technology, claiming it would make the racers too heavy.
Now that it had modern racing credentials, the carmaker started considering the idea of launching a purpose-built, mid-engined sportscar or supercar. The first was represented by the 1991 Audi Spyder Concept, a V6 mid-engined vehicle. As for the latter, this arrived during the same year, as the Avus quattro Concept, which used an aluminum body and was supposed to be powered by a 12-cylinder engine.
However, the carmaker left things at concept car level, but it's speed-related activities exploded in the decade that followed.
In terms of road car developments, Audi acquired Lamborghini in 1997, with the first result being the Gallardo
. Under Audi's wing, Lambo launched the V10 supercar in 2003. This not only went on to be the Raging Bull's most successful model ever, but is still on the market today, albeit with a plethora of upgrades.
On the race track, the late 90s' saw Audi setting wheel on Le Mans territory, with the carmaker releasing its first two prototypes in 1999. We are talking about the R8C, a closed-cockpit racer and the R8R, an open-cockpit machine.
The pair was short-lived and didn't open too many bottles of champagne, as it was actually a twin test bed for the Audi R8 race car introduced in 2000. This was one of the most successful racer of its kind, being the one that kicked off Audi's Le Mans dominance that stands in place to this day.
The R8 race car was Audi's way of showing the world it can win Le Mans over and over again using petrol, before moving on to doing the same thing with diesel and hybrid power.
The R8 race car phenomenon came to an end in 2005 and, one year later, Audi was finally ready to fulfill its mid-engined road car dream.
The R8 not only benefitted from Audi's racing pedigree, but also from the solutions Audi had implemented under the Lamborghini badge - for example, the 5-liter V10 of the Italian supercar was based on an Audi's Cosworth-developed 4.2-liter V8.
of course, since the Gallardo was already on the market, the Germans had to make sure this and the R8 don't target the same audience. So, aside from making the R8 more affordable, they fitted it with the priceless gift of practicality.
To see how practical a supercar can be in the real world, we recently jumped behind the wheel of a V10-powered model. Since the weather was hot, we couldn't help but take the keys to a Spyder model, so here we are enjoying the undiluted voice of the V10 powerplant.
Audi places a strong focus on the family identity of its models and the R8 obeys this rule, but it does this in a spectacular and original way. Nowadays, very few cars manage to offer a design that’s futuristic and has the potential to become timeless - the aluminium-built R8 is definitely one of them.
The R8 Spyder measures 4.43 meters (14.53 ft) in length, 1.90 meters (6.23 ft) in width and is 1.24 meters (4.07 ft) tall. The aforementioned futuristic styling cues mix with the sporty proportions and create a dynamic image that simply makes you respect the car even before getting to drive it.
of the Spyder is identical to that of the Coupe, which means, first of all, that we get the same memorable LED headlights. The Audi R8 was the first production car in the world to use LED technology for all the functions of the headlamps and the shape of the daytime running lights has become a distinct feature for the entire brand. The implementation is excellent, offering tons of help in any kind of conditions.
Speaking of traditional Audi elements, we have to mention the single-frame grille, which features chrome bars. The grille, as well as the air intakes, which merge with the headlights, serve both a functional and a visual purpose.
Besides feeding air to the three radiators, their generous size gives the car personality - if you watch closely, you’ll notice that some parts of the aforementioned elements are there just for the show.
Audi’s R8 was conceived as both a coupe and a convertible from the very beginning, which is why the open-top model’s design is fluent. The windshield frame is finished in anodized aluminum and then we have the shape of the canvas roof
, which is just as elegant as that of the coupe. You can have the roof in either black, red or brown.
Unfortunately, the car does lose its signature side blades. These are replaced with a set of wide air intakes
that can feed the V10 with up to 750 kg (1,653 lbs) of fresh air per hour.
The profile view also reveals that the doors use redesigned superior edges and allow you to see that the rear section is now longer. The latter is where the Spyder makes admirable efforts to compensate for the loss of the transparent engine cover.
The rear section is adorned with two elongated creases
. These establish a visual connection between the cabin and the back of the supercar. The elements are placed behind the headrests, with their base using the color of the car, while the rest comes in silver. They include multiple air outlets, with their shape reminding us of the race track.
At the back of the engine cover, there’s another air vent, but this is only open while the vehicle is stationary, as it would affect the aerodynamics at speed.
The rear section ends with a slightly modified spoiler
, which comes out to play at 100 km/h (62 mph). When this sits inside the car, it’s designed to dissipate exhaust-generated heat.
The rear fascia
is divided in three distinct areas. At the top we have the LED taillights, while below the car uses two air intakes. These are similar to the ones up front and are separated by a black area.
The third section includes the oval tailpipes, while the lower area is deeply sculpted, as this is where we find the black diffuser. The latter isn’t too large - it doesn’t need to be, as it joins forces with the underbody of the car in order to do its job.
The R8, be it in a coupe or a Spyder form, makes no visual compromise, it is a perfect translation of Audi’s philosophy.
Audi makes brilliant exteriors and the one of the R8 is, of course, no exception to this, with the only problem being that you’d wish for a bit more sense of occasion.
The access is easy enough to allow you to use the car everyday and so are the seats
. These proved to be surprisingly comfortable, being there for us in all kind of conditions. They could use a tad of extra lateral support for hardcore driving though and some adjustable side bolsters would’ve been nice.
The ergonomics are top-notch: everything is where it should be, you can easily read the dashboard instruments and it doesn’t take long to get accustomed with all the controls.
For example, when compared to the Lamborghini Gallardo, the paddles may not look as spectacular, but their layout now keeps you from turning your wipers on when shifting gears.
There are also significantly more stowage compartments compared to the Gallardo, as well as more room. But perhaps the biggest improvement is the superior visibility, especially up front and to the sides - we’ll thank the thick A-pillars and the form of the upper dashboard for this.
If you opt for the extended leather package and the carbon fiber one, the cabin feels special, but you still notice the various bits and pieces taken straight from lesser Audi models.
What we’ve said so far covers both the coupe and the Spyder - it’s now time to zoom in on the latter. We’ll start with the roof, which is comprised of three layers of fabric. You can really feel the benefits of this, especially in terms of soundproofing.
The top needs 19 seconds to go from one position to another and the operation can be performed at speeds up to 50 km/h (31 mph). There’s an electric, heated rear window that acts as a deflector when you’re driving with the top down. This can also be lowered while the top is on, allowing more of the glorious V10 sound to enter the cabin.
Apart from the obvious changes at the top of the cabin, there are relatively few interior aspects that set the Spyder apart from the coupe. We’ll mention the fact that the center console
now holds two buttons for operating the roof and the rear window.
Unfortunately, you can really feel the difference between the two in terms of storage space. Due to the room occupied by the roof, the shelf behind the seats has been replaced with two rather small compartments
. Thus, you get the same 100 liters (3.53 cu. ft.) front luggage compartment as in the fixed roof model, but you lose most of the 90 liters (3.18 cu. ft.) at the back.
The Audi R8 V10 offers one of the best possible setups for being able to drive a supercar around town in a stress-free mode. The vehicle allows you to take care of your business, it doesn’t abusively pat you on the shoulder to remind you of its hyperpowered nature.
First of all, urban trips require easy access and the R8 offers this regardless of its body type. The Coupe is preferable though, since it offers the extra storage space behind the seats, a feature that you’ll find very useful in urban driving situations.
The standard mode of the magnetic ride suspension is surprisingly forgiving when it comes to asphalt caprices. It almost feels like it’s borrowed from an Audi model whose name starts with an “A”. The ride is backed by the comfortable seats, which are also easy to slide in and out of.
The good front and side visibility means that you won’t develop a tight space phobia after buying the car. And when you have an actual problem with this, you can rely on the parking assistance system. Like in the Gallardo
, you get rear sensors and a rear view camera, but here you also receive front sensors.
The Audi R8 does make an unusual compromise in terms of the ride height though. At 114 mm (4.5 inches), the German machine sits higher than most competitors, which is excellent. Unfortunately, unlike many other supercars, such as the Gallardo, it doesn’t offer a nose lift system.
And while the R-Tronic gearbox is excellent out on the open road, the city exposes its weak side. We are talking about the occasional jolts and the power delivery pauses you experience when the car is shifting at low revs. Nevertheless, you can live with these issues, as they’re less important than the added emotions brought by the single-clutch automated manual transmission once you exit the city.
Like we said, the Audi R8 can be driven with ease on urban roads, but this isn’t the kind of car you can grab by the wheel with one hand. There’s always a sporty feel even at low speeds, especially in the steering.
We did notice one problem though and this involved the exhaust. The system features valves that control the sound, but in the lower rev area used during city driving, the soundtrack never seems to be satisfying.
Despite the aforementioned issue, the R8 manages to always keep you connected. A Ferrari 458
, for example, is even easier to manage in the city, but in the Prancing Horse you can become bored when you’re driving slow, whereas this will never happen here.
The Audi R8 has no problem with being driven in a relaxed manner. Leave the R-Tronic in the automatic mode, be gentle with the pedal on the right and you’ll enjoy a pleasant cruising experience. Shifts will take place at just above 2,000 rpm and most of the transmission’s clunky character shown inside the city seems to vanish.
And don’t imagine that you’re going to be slow, as 80 percent of the torque is available from down low.
The decent soundproofing of the Spyder, together with the long distance-friendly seats take the experience even further into relaxed pleasure land. The suspension on the open-top model is a little bit softer compared to that of the Coupe, another aid for comfort.
You’ll find that the standard mode of the magnetic adaptive hardware is well-suited for most driving conditions and so you’ll only switch to “Sport” when you’re extremely serious about letting that V10 behind you stretch its muscles.
When you do decide to do that, the Audi R8 will suddenly generate a portal in the middle of the road and unleash hellfire. Don’t let yourself fooled by the sensitive side of Audi’s supercar - the R8 V10 Spyder is a cunning creature that perfectly knows how to conceal its dynamic potential.
Once you start mentioning concepts such as “launch control” and “apex”, the R8 V10 not only delivers blistering performance, but it also does this without the driver having to work too hard for it.
The 1,725 kg (3,802 lbs) Spyder with the R-Tronic gearbox needs 4.1 seconds to hit 100 km/h (62 mph), which makes it only 0.2s slower than the coupe. The two are even closer in terms of top speed, as the cloth top model can climb to 313 km/h (195 mph), while the coupe offers 316 km/h (196.3 mph).
When you drive this car past six tenths, the R-Tronic singe-clutch automated manual makes all the sense in the world - Even in automatic mode each shift adds drama to the driving experience and when you switch to using the paddles, you receive nothing but absolute joy.
Audi will tell you that the robotized manual was used thanks to its compact size and reduced weight, but the extra feel is its greatest benefit. When using its full potential, the gearbox returns lightning-fast 100 ms shifts. However, we often found ourselves lifting the throttle during shifting, in order to make the process a bit smoother. This is what usually happens after the pain caused by the repeated impacts between the back of your head and the rock-hard headrest, becomes greater than the shifting pleasure.
The V10 engine is sometimes too quiet during normal driving, but when you put the pedal to the metal you’ll be surprised by the powerplant’s repertoire. It can go from a baritone at the beginning of the rev range through a memorable mid-range crescendo and onto a screaming climax at 8,700 rpm.
When you’re driving hard, the soundtrack gets pretty close to that of a Lamborghini Gallardo
. And speaking of the Audi R8’s Italian brother, we have to tell you that you can clearly feel the difference between the two in a straight line. The Lambo is both more potent and lighter, so the result of the comparison is obvious. The Raging Bull also uses more aggressive software for the transmission, so the shifts feel more violent in the Gallardo.
However, present the two with a series of bends and the outcome of the battle might change. The R8 seems to show a bit less of that unpleasant initial understeer and to be a tad more relaxed during spirited driving.
Audi’s creation offers an ideal handling setup once you drive it past the limits of grip - you get the impression that you’re not in an AWD
car, but rather in a RWD machine that comes back on track quicker than expected. Push it really hard and the back will violently step out, but the electronics will put a leash on it swiftly.
As for the steering, this offers plenty of feel, as well as excellent weight. The only area where it doesn’t receive a maximum score despite performing well is feedback.
The brakes are excellent as well, with the steel setup providing sufficient bite for road use. The R8 doesn’t suffer from the Gallardo’s pedal feel issue, offering a pleasant modulation for both the steel and the carbon ceramic brakes.
The Audi R8 Spyder does feel softer than the coupe, but the handling difference between the two is extremely small on the road.
As far as fuel efficiency was concerned, we recorded a value of 15 liters per 100 km (15.6 mpg) during our drive, which included both city and open road parts, mixing relaxed driving with performance-seeking episodes. The V10 is fitted with a 90-liter (23.8-gallon) tank, which offers a pleasing driving range.
The Audi R8 V10 is an extremely capable machine, whether we’re talking about straight line performance or handling. And its willingness to let you explore its potential is just as impressive. In addition to that, this is a supercar that can also provide comfort once you ease off the throttle.