Audi R8 V10 review - better than the V10 Plus?

533bhp entry-level model (for now) joins the second-generation R8 range. Is it enough to stop you yearning for the Plus?

The Audi R8 V10 slots into the R8 range below the R8 V10 Plus, which was the first of the new generation of R8 we were able to test. It develops less power but still houses a 5.2-litre V10 beneath its glass engine cover and the striking styling is nearly identical - perhaps even more appealing, without the slightly gratuitous fixed spoiler found on Plus models.

Engine, transmission and performance

Recently I’m getting bored of hearing myself think ‘I wish this came with a manual gearbox’. In the case of the R8 it’s not just any old manual ‘box that I’m missing, but that delicious open-gated, knurled-knobbed, clack-clacking six-speeder which graced the previous generations of Audi’s super sports car. It really was a particularly special gearbox.

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I’m sure the same luddite thought crossed my mind when I drove the Plus version of this car for the first time, but it seems more nagging this time. Perhaps it’s the fact that with 69bhp and 15lb ft less, the standard car doesn’t have quite the rabid edge to its acceleration that the 5.2-litre V10 does in Plus guise. Some cars are simply so fast now that a paddle shift gearbox seems like the only sensible option. But in this 533bhp R8 I feel as though a manual might not feel such like a hindrance to progress. Or it could be that with simple passive dampers rather than the adjustable Magnaride set up, steel brakes rather than carbon ceramics and with standard rather than Dynamic steering, this feels like a beautifully back to basics car that deserves to go the whole hog and have three pedals in the driver’s footwell. As it stands, you can only have it with a seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic gearbox and same quattro four-wheel drive system as the Plus. 

What's it like to drive?

Pushing all such thoughts to the side for a moment, the standard R8 V10 is a very lovely car. The standard seats are comfortable yet supportive and the low, wide view out is both thrilling and liberating in the way it seems to put you right in the nose of the car as you skim down the road. The fixed-rate dampers strike a perfect balance between making the R8 useable everyday, but keeping everything under control when the pace increases. There is actually a surprising length to the travel, which gives the car real grace and composure when you’re pushing hard down a bumpy road. Combined with phenomenal grip, it allows you to attack B-roads with something approaching the abandon you would in a hot hatch although it’s demeanour errs towards secure rather than playfully adjustable.

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With the standard steering rack in place (as opposed to the optional Dynamic Steering, which varies the ratio dependant on speed while also changing the steering torque to match) the ratio is locked at 15.7:1. This is somewhat slower than the Dynamic rack and it feels it on the road with the nose not snapping into corners in quite such a darty fashion. However, it feels easier to place and calmer to drive and feels more like the previous generation of R8, which is no bad thing. The steering does change in its weighting as you go through the Driver Select modes and the gloopy sensation around the straight ahead as you select the sportiest setting is unpleasant although it does recede after a couple of seconds. For all my open-gated desires, the dual-clutch paddle-shift ‘box is also superb. I don’t like the little plastic paddles but the shifts they summon arrive as fast as you can move your finger and so smoothly that they never unsettle the car. It’s hard to imagine them being bettered in any road or race car.

Some basic interiors (notably the McLaren 540C’s) can feel rather bland and cold, but wreathed in black leather the Audi’s architecture looks crisply cool. Add in the Virtual Cockpit display that slickly combines dials and infotainment on one TFT screen and it’s a great place to spend time. Our test car had relatively few options, but one of them was the £1800 sports exhaust, which would seem like a very good box to tick. It’s not antisocially loud, it merely sounds that way I would expect an R8 to, making the best of that V10 which starts pulling hard around 3500rpm then kicks again at 6500rpm sounds gloriously angry until it hits the limiter 2000rpm later.

Price and rivals

The standard R8 V10 comes in at £122,450. I’m sure everyone will spend the extra £15k on the Plus but there’s a strong case for this being more than enough. Of course there are rumours that there might yet be an R8 below this, one that will potentially be rear-wheel drive, too while retaining the glorious V10. This would, of course, put the R8 V10 dynamically on a par with the £126,000 rear-wheel drive McLaren 540C. If you must have four-wheel drive the £128,692, 533bhp Porsche's 911 Turbo is an obvious rival. 

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