The rolling, roaring, naturally aspirated 8500-rpm museum.
Encased under glass and lit up like a museum piece, Audi’s ten-cylinder totem to human ingenuity looks as if it should be accompanied by a soft-spoken docent to narrate its very existence: At 610 horsepower, this naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V-10 is the most powerful engine ever put into production by Audi. It revs 20 percent quicker than its predecessor, spinning from idle to its 8500-rpm redline in 0.66 second.
Except this naturally aspirated ten-cylinder isn’t a museum piece. It hasn’t been driven to extinction by downsized, turbocharged engines—not yet, at least. The pedestal it’s bolted to, a 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus, blitzes to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and wails a stirring soprano aria in the process. It is the world’s greatest hands-on museum. Want to play with 413 pound-feet of torque?
This is our second instrumented test of the second-generation Audi R8. Our first run involved a Europe-spec model with magnetorheological dampers, black wheels, and a few lingering Germanisms in the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. This car represents the final American-market version and needed an extra two-tenths to 60 mph and three ticks through the quarter-mile despite a ruthless launch-control system that absolves the driver of any skill requirement. Still, clearing the quarter-mile in 10.9 seconds at 129 mph is no slow feat.
The U.S. car was closer to its German counterpart in chassis metrics. The V10 Plus model’s standard carbon-ceramic brake discs delivered stops from 70 mph in 153 feet, just two more than were needed for the prior test. Cornering grip, at 1.00 g, falls closer to what we expect from sports cars rather than six-figure supercars but was just 0.01 g below what we recorded with the German R8.
When Audi launched the original R8 as a 2008 model, it got a head start on the glut of mid-engined cars, some from automakers that typically don’t compete in this arena. Considering the Acura NSX, the BMW i8, the Ford GT, the Porsche Boxster/Cayman, and the all but confirmed mid-engined Corvette, plus the exotic brands, shopping for a mid-engined toy could be as daunting a task as picking out a compact crossover.
This R8 does a fine job carving out its own niche, though. With the R8, there are no wild doors to duck under, no deep buckets to wedge yourself into and hoist yourself out of, no clumsy infotainment system to simply tolerate. It still shares its engine, transaxle, and four-wheel-drive system with the junior Lamborghini. Yet, like the original, it remains intensely and impressively juxtaposed with the Italian car. The Huracán is brutish and razor sharp; the R8 is graceful and sophisticated. The diamond-stitched seats are soft and shallow, generously supportive though barely bolstered. A parcel shelf behind the seats can hold a full-size suitcase or a set of golf clubs. Maybe that’s the niche Audi is covering with its R8, because no one transports golf clubs in a Lambo.
Befitting its all-around usability and civility, the R8 V10 Plus offers a compliant and comfortable ride despite its non-adjustable shocks and rubber-band Pirelli tires. However, that smooth-riding demeanor hampers the R8’s handling when the road gets both twisty and uneven. Body motions can become unsettled and the handling uncertain. It’s a shame that Audi won’t be offering the magnetorheological adaptive dampers on the R8 V10 Plus in the United States; this setup has enough bandwidth to provide the comfort Audi demands with the body control we want. (These dampers are standard on the regular R8 V10, at least.) The Germans can take back their optional $1400 variable-ratio steering, though. The complex gearbox in the steering column eats up all feedback and makes the low-effort steering less predictable.
The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is decisive and quick-acting. Occasionally—rarely—it can be misled into being too quick and hasty. In automatic mode, under moderate throttle, the gearbox will sometimes slam into the absolute lowest possible gear, flick through the top quarter-inch of tachometer, and abruptly upshift. It’s jarring, unpleasant, and doesn’t really seem like the quickest form of acceleration.
There are things we’ll miss about that first R8: The six-speed manual and its aluminum gated shifter. The sub-$120,000 base price for the V-8 model. The imposing beauty of its timeless design. The original R8 earned its place in automotive history, but this second-generation car is nearly as important as a marker in the evolution of the species. Its naturally aspirated V-10 becomes even more rare and more special the longer it hangs around.
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