First drive: There’s finally a fun-to-drive version of the Audi R8

That would be the R8 V10 Performance RWD. Took them long enough
by Ollie Kew | Dec 24, 2021
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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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At last, an Audi R8 ‘STO?’

Nope, this is not a hardcore track-attack limited edition, like the Audi R8’s extrovert Lamborghini Huracan STO cousin. That car, it appears, is waiting in the wings...

This is pretty much the rear-wheel-drive R8 as you know it, with more power.

How much more?

The 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V10 heart is mechanically identical to what you found in the middle of previous R8s, but here, it’s been told to develop 562hp. That’s 30hp more than what you used to get in the R8 RWD, but by 2022 standards, it’s very much ‘entry-level’ power for a supercar.

That’s okay so long as the price is entry-level too…

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Let’s not pretend that £126,885 (P8.5 million) isn’t a big pile of money, but it looks like tempting value. It looks like a supercar. It sounds like a supercar. It has a high-quality interior with plenty of equipment. And it’ll do 0-100k in 3.7sec and run all the way to 328kph flat-out. So it’s supercar-quick, too, even though ditching quattro drive means this R8 gives away the traction needed for a truly pulverizing launch.

Most of the other peacock marques have long ditched this sort of ‘My First Supercar’ territory. When it eventually arrives, McLaren’s Artura hybrid is going to start at £182,000 (P12.2 million). A Maserati MC20 is notably pricier.

At this sort of money, it’s tough to buy a better car than Porsche’s magnificent 911 GT3, but they’re tricky to get on the list for. The R8...isn’t.

But it doesn’t look like a new supercar, does it?

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Um, no. Audi nerds will tell you the Performance RWD gets the angular bumpers and prouder tailpipes that arrived on the facelifted R8 in 2019, and note the RWD doesn’t get the fixed wing tacked onto the quattro version, which is £27,000 (P1.81 million) more expensive. Nice new wheels, I suppose.

But to most people, this looks like the same Audi R8 we’ve known since 2014: smart, purposeful, and reasonably understated. Avoid the matte red paint, which makes it look like the sort of novelty eraser you’d get in the gift shop at an Audi museum.

Is this a fun-to-drive Audi?

A what? That’s a pretty rare breed. There’s the driftable current RS3 super hatch and...that’s it. But if the RS3 signaled a turning point at Audi R—that Ingolstadt wished to be known for more than just sharp LED light signatures and understeer—then the R8 Performance RWD continues the trend. It’s a bit of a riot.

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What’s it good at?

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Let’s rattle off the basics. The engine is sensational. World-class—packing more sense of occasion into a mere 562hp than any twin-turbo McLaren, Ferrari, BMW, or Aston Martin make with 600, 700, or 800 horsepower. When there is throttle response this crisp and noise this enveloping singing in your ears, you’d never wish for it to get from 0-100 any quicker. All you’ll want is to be immersed in the noise infinity pool for as long as possible.

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The unsung hero in the current R8 is the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. It’s perfect. There is no other word. Flat-chat upshifts are seamless, it’s obedient on the downshift, each throttle blip is delectable, and yet when you tell it to just be an automatic and deal with traffic or hill-starts or parking, it oozes about like a hybrid Lexus. When flappy-paddle gearboxes are this sorted, even a nostalgic idiot like me doesn’t miss a manual. The paddles themselves really ought not to be made out of flimsy-feeling plastic, though.

Mostly, this interior is aging beautifully. Lots of the knurled metal switchgear that Audi has sadly binned for more recent cars, delightful flashes of carbon and leather, and a clever design that manages to feel special and cocooning, yet also roomy. There’s no way a Ferrari SF90 Stradale’s cockpit feels this expensive, and it’s three times the price.

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What about the rear-wheel-drive-ness?

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Building up to that, I was. If you just went about your business in the RWD at six-and-a-half-tenths, you might never even notice the front wheels aren’t powered. It’s a very stable, friendly mid-engined car—it doesn’t have that Eurofighter-style ‘only the computers are keeping us straight’ flightiness of a Ferrari.

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But it’s absolutely not boring. I enjoyed it best in Performance Dry mode (there are also Wet and Snow settings for brave people), because here, the stability control is backed right down, but not fully switched off.

It’ll slide so much, you’ve got to properly catch it with the steering, or the car might just spin out if you’re feathering the gas. Get brutal on the (very) loud pedal and the ESC goes ‘oh, you’re just being daft’ and shuts down the slide. So, it rewards delicacy and ambition, but won’t allow the talentless to crash.

Is it as freakishly ‘wow, I’m awesome’ as Ferrari’s magical Side Slip Angle Control?

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No. You can feel the system working underneath you, whereas the Ferrari manages to cradle you in its electronic embrace without letting on it just did some long division with the e-diff that saved your life. But for an R8—for an Audi—this is a revelation. Take it on track. It’s a hoot.

Anything it’s not so good at?

The body control is still a bit bouncy when you’re really leaning on the R8—the suspension needs more than one stroke to fully settle after you’ve loaded it up. And the ceramic brakes get quite pongy and grumble when you’re leaning on them. If you’re spending this much money on fade-free stoppers, they shouldn’t complain.

What’s the verdict?

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If you’re the sort of steering-feedback connoisseur who lies awake at night wondering what tread pattern will give the richest road-reading texture, the R8 can’t oblige like a 911 GT3 can.

However, if you’ve always fancied an R8 but thought its all-wheel drive was a fun-zapper, then give this one a look. It’s that rarest of things: a fun Audi. An Audi that makes you grin. And, if you get a bit cocky, spin.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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