Volkswagen Group must be scratching its head and wondering just what it has done. By giving us the all-new R8, and making it as ferocious and thrilling as the Huracán, it might have just killed off the baby Lamborghini, because you get all the power and pace of the Italian in the new German, and you pay far less for the privilege. Is there room for two very similar models under the same roof?
Of course there is. There will always be those who pine for a Lambo because of its storied past and the fact that those in the current line-up are amongst the greatest supercars in the world. And before this second-generation R8 came along, the Huracán always had the safety net of being the wilder of the two even though they both shared the same engine and components. The R8 was considered the detuned version of the Lambo, but that is not the case anymore. Following a lengthy drive in the Audi comprising of long straights and twisty mountain roads, I can wholeheartedly say that the newbie is a, pardon the pun, raging bull. Hmm, maybe there isn’t room for the both of them...
When it hit the scene almost a decade ago, it was a real head turner and by far the best-looking thing Audi had ever designed. And it was very fast. This naturally went down well with buyers who scrambled to get hold of one. Audi needed a halo model and the R8 filled the void manfully, and when equipped with the V10 it wasn’t far off from what the Italians were wooing the world with — power. But over the years, it didn’t evolve as much as one would have hoped and by the time the 2015 model came out, there were desperate cries for a proper update. And by golly, have we got that now.
Since they got the exterior right the first time around, there wasn’t a dire need for a total redesign but enough has changed to warrant a wide-eyed reaction from people who stare at it as if it just landed from outer space. The outer skin, which is produced entirely of aluminium, sees a front end boast a larger hexagonal grille (it has a touch of Lexus about it...), which features a bolder outline and a mesh insert. The air intakes on the bumper have shrunk a touch and have vertical slats, while the headlights ditch that subtle curve of before for a straight edge. It looks more aggressive than before and suits the car’s new persona perfectly. Audi also ditched the side blade that used to sit above the rear air intake making for a cleaner look, and the revised taillights are complemented by new rear grilles (with mesh inserts), while the oval tailpipes seem a better fit between the diffuser than the old circular ones.
You get two flavours of the R8 — a regular V10 and the V10 Plus, which is what you see pictured here and an easy way to tell the two apart is by the carbon fibre-reinforced wing that the more potent Plus has. Many times, a spoiler can look rather ill-fitting but on this R8, it melds with the rest of the body perfectly. Overall, the styling is edgier, but stand 10 metres away and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the previous generation. Like I said, if it ain’t broke...
Fall in (there’s no other way; it measures just 1,239mm in height) and it’s immediately apparent that the designers tried far harder in the cabin. The previous model fell short in terms of finesse and fancy tech when compared to some of its newer rivals, but Audi has put that right. The best thing about the interior is the “Virtual Cockpit”, which most of the range from Ingolstadt will eventually get; the 12.3in configurable screen replaces the traditional gauge cluster behind the chunky flat-bottomed steering and packs in everything from a combined speedometer-and-tachometer, to performance readouts (including a g-meter), and a Google sat-nav that allows you to zoom in so close that you can almost see chewing gum on the street. Back to the wheel, Audi went full manettino with it and you can think of it as the nerve-centre as it now contains most of the car’s dynamic controls; it packs in a Drive Select button so you can easily switch from Comfort, Auto, and Dynamic modes, but the one that garners the most curiosity is depicted by a chequered flag. Push this one and it puts the R8 into Race setting. This makes the traction and stability controls far less intrusive, and if you try hard enough, you can break the tail free of this all-wheel drive car. It features a set of revised sports seats (they’ve got more lateral support now), a new look dash and centre stack, and yards of Alcantara and Nappa leather covering almost every surface area.
However, all of these things pale into insignificance when you get to what really matters — performance. And Audi has proved it’s dead serious about that by dropping the 4.2-litre V8 and only offering the supercar with a 5.2-litre V10 for 2017. The base R8 V10 makes 540 horsepower but the Plus takes things to another extreme. It packs the same power as the Huracán — that being 610 horses (602bhp) and 560Nm of twist. What’s more, the only transmission up to the task of shifting the cogs in a real hurry is a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic. The six-speed manual is no more, while a revised quattro all-wheel drive system can send up to 100 per cent of the power to the front wheels in normal driving conditions, and on a slippery surface, up to 100 per cent to the front via an electrically controlled clutch to help improve traction.
Under hard use, it is just as thrilling as the Huracán. It is blisteringly quick and rockets forwards with such pace that even when you are prepared for the forthcoming kick in the stomach, it still comes as a shock to the system. The naturally aspirated mid-engine V10 responds instantly to throttle inputs. It does 0 to 100kph in 3.2 seconds. 0 to 200kph in just 9.9. Keep your foot floored and with a long enough stretch of tarmac, you’ll hit the figurative wall of 330kph. It is the most powerful, fastest and sharpest production Audi ever.
At full pelt it generates 140kg of downforce, of which 100kg is at the rear axle and with the sports exhaust on, the V10 sings at the top of its voice but it doesn’t sound like the Italian-opera. This is clinical. It’s synthesised. It’s very German. And I have to say I like it better than the wail of the Lamborghini. At the 8,700rpm redline there’s only one thing left to do — put the windows down. There aren’t many cars that offer as much fun when you floor or release the throttle; the latter, in Dynamic mode, causes the exhaust to pop and crackle, and induces a large grin.
It’s more comfortable than the predecessor when you’re just trundling around town; the chassis features double wishbones made of aluminium in the suspensions in all four corners and they have rubber-metal mounts, which help to transfer lateral forces into the car’s body in a defined way. It also has the Audi magnetic ride and four settings to select from — Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual. In dynamic mode, the throttle response is quicker, as is the transmission, and when the roads get twisty, this is the setting that brings the best out of the R8. Its redesigned electromechanical rack power steering offers good feedback with the nose sniffing out the corners but because this car has two very different sides to its character, docile one minute and aggressive the next, it has the edge over the one-dimensional Huracán. The Lambo is angry all of the time and that can get a little tiresome. Audi — which happens to know a little about endurance — makes life far better in the R8. You’d happily spend more time in it than the Lambo. It knows when to release the pent up aggression and it’s also good to know that it can rein in all that power thanks to brake discs made of carbon fibre-reinforced ceramics. They’re fade-free and just a mere tap brings proceedings to a halt.
They have always been almost identical under the skin, but the Lambo had the edge in terms of performance. However, the Audi has caught up and it’s hard to tell the two apart dynamically, now. The R8 is harder, angrier, and much faster than before — call it the poor man’s Lambo at your own risk.
It’s as potent and beautiful, and it’s yours for around Dh300,000 less than the Italian. That’s a new M2 with plenty of spare change. So, why would anyone go directly for the Huracán when this R8 is here now? That is Volkswagen Group’s problem to solve...