2020 Audi R8 V10 Performance review

There are faster and more dramatic supercars, but we’d argue that there are few with the dynamic bandwidth of the R8 V10 Performance.

If the Audi R8 was nothing more than a naturally-aspirated, 5.2-litre V10 engine plonked into a rudimentary chassis with a hastily thrown-together drivetrain, it’d still be a quite spectacular car. So phenomenal and spine-tinglingly sensational is its motor as it spins over 8000rpm, you forget almost every other aspect of Audi’s everyday supercar.

But it’s more than just an engine. So much more. Not only does it look dramatic, it also has a beautifully simple yet quality-feeling interior, a dual-clutch gearbox that responds instantly to your inputs, masses of grip and composure, and it is, despite all this incredible proficiency, still delicate and exhilarating to drive.

After a lengthy absence from the Australian market (thanks to the WLTP emissions regulations), the R8 returns to Audi showrooms this month with two distinct models and a Spyder variant of each. The range kicks off with the $295,000 V10 RWD model that’s powered by a 397kW version of the 5.2-litre engine, driving, as the name suggests, only the rear wheels. The old V10 Plus has been replaced by the $395,000 V10 Performance that drives all four wheels with its 449kW V10. It’s worth noting that in some markets, the Performance’s engine makes 456kW. For an additional $21,500, either model is available as a Spyder.

We’ll concentrate on the Performance coupe here, and its 449kW is delivered at a spine-tingling 8250rpm, and it will rev to 8700rpm before the limiter steps in. Maximum torque is 560 at 6500rpm, but the engine is smooth and elastic in its delivery and not at all peaky like that RPM figure might suggest.

The V10 is matched to a transmission that’s happy to help you indulge in the engine’s insatiable appetite for hard work. The seven-speed S-tronic twin-clutch fires home ratios fast and slickly, while downchanges are reported with a neatly executed blip of the throttle – it’s a shame the paddles are so small and cheap-feeling. Leave it to its own devices and it will mooch with the best of them, shifting up early and smoothly.

The Performance’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is effectively a back-to-front Haldex set-up, and it can vary torque to suit conditions, even sending plenty to the back axle for some lairy corner exit entertainment if that’s your thing.

With sophisticated AWD, launch control and a rapid-shifting gearbox, the Performance records a stunning 0-100km/h time of 3.2 seconds. Top speed is quoted at 330km/h and we’ve experience of the old V10 Plus recording a Vbox-proved 339km/h on a German autobahn.

Being normally aspirated rather than turbocharged the R8’s V10 engine does need to be worked hard to deliver its best, but that isn’t a criticism by any means. In fact, hearing the exhaust note build to a crescendo as the rev needle swings past 8500rpm just once is enough to make you regret the industry’s shift towards turbocharging. The R8 might lack the thumping torque output of turbocharged rivals, such as the Porsche 911 Turbo S and Ferrari F8 Tributo, but with so much power on tap it never feels anything less than frantically quick.

Despite the supercar shape, the relatively upright windscreen and low scuttle make it an easy car to place, whether on a narrow, winding B-road or inner-city street. Up the pace and the R8’s friendly demeanour remains, inspiring confidence even when you begin to explore the full firepower on tap. The steering is accurate and faithful to inputs.

Unleash the full potential of the V10 though and the chassis’ underlying balance comes to the fore, making the R8 friendlier than any 400kW-plus mid-engined supercar should be. Thanks to the gradual build of torque, the R8 always feels manageable, helping you meter in power delicately enough to keep within the front axle’s grip threshold.

Audi’s Drive Select system allows the driver to choose between various parameters for the engine, dampers and steering – all of which can be adjusted independently – which widens the car’s operating window. This really is a supercar that can be used everyday thanks to its refinement, relatively pliant ride, cabin quality and front stowage compartment.

The high-quality cabin might be slightly conservative in its design, but the layout is very intuitive and the seating position and view through the windscreen are very evocative, setting just the right tone, and the quality of the materials used is up there with the best. There’s a useful storage area behind the seats, as well as the deep stowage compartment in the nose of the car.

There are faster and more dramatic supercars, but we’d argue that there are few with the dynamic bandwidth of the R8 V10 Performance.

Jesse Taylor

Final Verdict:
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