You’re not driving a supercar unless your eyeballs vibrate so much they threaten to drop into your lap and your engine is loud enough to startle a hibernating animal.
At least, that was the old-school definition of a supercar that Audi so efficiently shredded when it introduced its first proper supercar, the R8, in 2007. It was refined, useable, comfortable and still capable of making a lot of noise when prompted. Since then, the supercar game has moved on and the latest rivals boast more power, classier interiors and more incredible technology.
Put simply, since the first R8 was launched, supercars have become more… well, super. That’s why we headed off to the south of France to spend two days driving the all-new R8. Tough job – someone has to do it!
A new-car launch in the South of France usually means one thing – dry hilly roads and horizons packed with stunning vistas to keep car journalists and photographers in rapture. Unfortunately, the heavens truly opened, the roads were covered in fallen leaves, parts of trees and puddles deep enough to lose a dog in.
Despite the deluge, these conditions were perfect for assessing this 602hp supercar for British buyers. Based on our drive, we think it’s near enough the only supercar you should consider buying if you live and drive in Britain.
In fact, it’s almost as if the R8 was designed with us Brits in mind. Here are five reasons why the R8 will be a big deal for UK buyers.
1. It’ll fit down your road
Take a normal 600hp supercar such as a Ferrari or Lamborghini along a British country lane and you’ll be forever holding your breath whenever another car comes the other way. The aggressive looks of most supercars demand a visually arresting but impractically wide body, which is exactly what you don’t want on a narrow country lane.
The last thing you want to do is clatter a £1,200 carbon fibre door mirror on a parked Micra just because your car is hopelessly girthy. Threading a six-figure car between a stone wall and an oncoming dustcart isn’t much fun, but it’s not a worry in the R8.
Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the interior, or the natural and comfortable driving position, or even the impressive-for-a-supercar visibility out of the front and sides of the car – but the R8 shrinks around you, giving you the confidence to drive faster.
Other supercars give the impression you’re piloting a giant vessel from deep within its bowels, but the R8 feels airy and light inside by comparison. It’s easy to place on the road and even on the darkest, twistiest French country lanes we didn’t pinch the seat upholstery too tightly when passing oncoming tractors. This makes the R8 a winner if you live in a congested city centre, or down a tiny English lane.
2. It’s so easy to drive (fast or slow)
Audi was never going to make its flagship car a pain to drive, but the way the new R8 settles into a 30mph cruise and copes with potholes is deeply impressive. There’s a host of configurable driving modes, ranging from comfort to dynamic, and you can adjust the stiffness of the suspension so your trip to pick your child up from sports practice won’t be a jarring disaster.
Changing the driving mode also alters how quickly the twin-clutch automatic gearbox hammers through its seven ratios. In comfort or auto, it’ll switch gears almost imperceptibly, allowing you to concentrate on dodging the pedestrians gawping at your bright yellow supercar.
Ramp things up to dynamic mode and you’ll get lightning-fast gearshifts as you pull the steering-wheel mounted paddles. Do this just as you approach the 8,500rpm rev limiter and you’re rewarded with a real thump in the back as the next gear hits home. Do this using more than the first two gears and you’ll be going fast enough to go to prison – but at least you’ll be comfortable when you get pulled over.
3. It has 600hp. And you can use all of it, whatever the weather
In the most expensive V10 Plus form, the R8’s 5.2-litre engine has 602hp, which will get you from 0 to 60mph in 3.2 seconds and on to 205mph. That’s a huge amount of power and, if it was delivered to just the rear wheels, it would be a rather scary car to drive in the wet. Thankfully, Audi’s included its quattro 4×4 system in the R8 to make sure you really get your money’s worth out of the engine in the usual British climate.
In the south of France with rivers of water gushing across the road, we could happily use full throttle in first and second gears to exit tight hairpins without the car’s traction control getting out of bed to calm us down. You feel the power being divided up between the four wheels and you just rocket up the road with a huge rooster tail of water streaming off the R8’s race-car style rear bumper.
The amount of confidence the quattro system gives you in wet conditions can’t be underestimated. The feel you get through the steering wheel tells you exactly what the front wheels are up to, so you needn’t worry about understeering and running wide in a corner. Not unless you’re travelling way too fast for public roads, that is.
If you feel intimidated about driving a 600hp supercar in the wet, try an R8 – it’ll give you the faith you need to travel very fast within 15 minutes of first getting behind the wheel. This makes it a great supercar for UK buyers.
4. It’s a supercar with a snow-driving mode!
We’re not sure how many buyers will want to take their £150,000 supercars out into the winter slush, but twist the performance dial on the V10 Plus’s steering wheel and you’ll find a snow mode to give the 4×4 system the best chance of keeping you moving. Try that in your Ferrari. Actually, don’t.
5. The Audi R8’s laser headlights are incredible
Last but not least on our list of reasons the R8 is the perfect supercar for UK buyers are its headlights. So what?
Well, the R8 has laser headlights, developed by the Audi race team that does rather well in the Le Mans 24-hour race every year. They’re a £3,000 optional extra, but after a two-hour test around the darkest reaches of our test route, we’d have to say they’re worth it. The car has bright LED headlights for the majority of the time, but as soon as you drive faster than 37mph and the car’s onboard camera detects no oncoming traffic, two narrow white laser beams will light the road up for hundreds of metres, giving you an amazing insight into what’s coming up on the road ahead.
There’s a small flaw in the system, however. Picture this – it’s pitch black, but your laser headlights have already picked out a corner coming up ahead. You start braking, shifting down the gears and hearing the R8’s V10 howl on each downshift. Then, your speed drops below the magic 37mph and the range of the headlight beam is cut dramatically as the lasers switch off, meaning you can no longer see the corner that you know is there.
This isn’t a big problem, because you’re already braking, but it’s disconcerting going from having outstanding night vision to having normal-car night vision. It’s a small niggle, and in a way it’s a flaw caused by the R8’s own success – having your the brilliant laser lights switched off is really noticeable. The car’s normal LED headlights are still incredibly bright, but they reach about half as far as the lasers.
So should I buy one?
In a word, yes. We’ve only focused on the aspects of the R8 that make it stand apart from its supercar rivals and those that make it an ideal super-fast car for UK roads. For a full rundown of the car’s immense acceleration, handling and sound, you’ll want to read our full Audi R8 review.