What Car? says...
A spaceship landing in the car brand's line-up. That’s how the Audi R8 was described – by Audi – when it was launched.
Back then, we were used to Audi’s considered approach to its everyday models and also its flurries into motorsport, most notably with the legendary Audi Quattro rally car. But a supercar? That was new. That was news. And, a decade or so on, the R8 has garnered the respect of its rivals.
This latest version represents formidable competition to the Aston Martin Vantage and the Porsche 911. It serves as a halo model for Audi Sports’ performance line-up, but it’s also been joined by the Audi E-tron GT high-performance electric car.
That’s interesting, because the Audi R8’s naturally-aspirated 5.2-litre V10 petrol engine is, perhaps, the very antithesis of the electric car. Looked at in basic terms, it’s a positively antiquated piece of engineering, and yet... it’s one of the best engines on sale today.
We’d go so far as to say that its only true rival in the Top Trumps of the best sports cars is the wonderful naturally-aspirated 4.0-litre flat six in the Porsche 911 GT3. Why? Well, you can read all the reasons later in this review, but reason number one is: it sounds awesome. It can make anyone with a nuanced love of cars weak at the knees.
The Audi R8 engine comes in two different power outputs, both well over 500bhp. There's a choice of rear-wheel drive or quattro four-wheel drive, and whichever you go for, you get an S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Is all that enough to make it the pick of a talented bunch of seriously respected supercars? Read this review to find out. And whichever car you settle on, visit our free What Car? New Car Buying service to see how much we can save you on scores of makes and models, with lots of new sports car deals to be found.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Audi R8’s wonderful 5.2-litre V10 comes in two states of tune: 562bhp in the Performance RWD (rear-wheel drive) versions, or 612bhp if you opt for Performance quattro four-wheel drive versions.
Whichever you choose, there’s one constant: the fusion of noise and visceral performance that beats rival sports cars hands down – well, apart from the Lamborghini Huracán which uses the same motor but with even more volume. And perhaps the fantastic flat six in the Porsche 911 GT3.
Regardless, there’s much to be adored about the R8’s V10, and whichever version you choose, it sounds belting. At low revs, it’s rich with deep induction noise. At mid revs, you get the distinctively discordant V10 tune. At high revs, it’s screaming with the mechanical thrash from its four flailing cams. It’s thrilling.
On top of the noise, there’s another reason the R8’s V10 is so good: it’s naturally aspirated. That means there’s no turbocharger to induce lag (the delay between putting your foot down and the car starting to accelerate), so the V10 responds instantly to every tendon twitch and rips through the rev range to 8000rpm.
It doesn’t feel as forceful at low revs as a turbocharged engine, but it’s far from weak, and in higher gears, at low speeds, it starts pulling well from 3000rpm. Yet the real fireworks begin after 5000rpm, and that staged trajectory adds to its appeal: the shove isn’t all in one hit, like a turbocharged slam dunk at 1500rpm.
You’ll be rewarded for revving it out with potent performance, and the entry-level RWD rattles off 0-62mph in 3.7sec. Not quite fast enough for you? The Performance quattro knocks over half a second off that (0-62mph in 3.1sec).
So, what about handling? Well, while the steering is well-weighted it doesn’t quite give the same engagement as the 911 GT3, nor does it communicate information about the road surface or how much grip you have with quite as much clarity. Even so, it’s intuitive and direct enough to allow you to place the car accurately.
Likewise, the R8 isn’t quite as hungry to dive for an apex as the Ferrari F8 Tributo or 911 GT3. But we're talking small degrees here, and the Performance quattro versions have the advantage of amazing traction. At the same time, their four-wheel-drive system is rear-biased, so they’re still playful but unlikely to bite by spinning you through a hedge.
The R8 RWD is just as approachable. It rotates from the rear as you back off the accelerator on the way into a corner, then maintains a predictable slide as you power out. It’s so much fun that it’s our favourite version, even though we accept that the Performance quattro is technically superior, especially in the wet.
When you need to slow down, the R8’s standard cast-iron brake discs offer good stopping performance and lots of feel at high speed, but they’re a bit snatchy around town. The Performance quattro is equipped with ceramic brakes, which are less likely to overheat on a circuit.
The R8 also turns out to be one of the most useable supercars you can buy. When the engine’s not being thrashed, it’s pretty quiet and there are no annoying theatrics, such as the contrived pops and bangs you hear from the tailpipes of the Aston Martin Vantage.
The gearbox, which is as fast and responsive as you need it to be on a track, is smooth and jerk-free around town. What’s more, at 70mph on a motorway, the R8 is pretty hushed, suffering from less wind and road noise than the Porsche 911 – a car that’s generally perceived as the go to ‘usable sports car’.
The R8 also rides better than the 911, especially the RWD. It doesn’t have fancy adaptive dampers that can change stiffness at the touch of a button. Instead, you get one setting that is unbelievably compliant, working as well at keeping things settled at speed as it does absorbing sleeping policemen in the city.
There’s no sense of peril every time you’re faced with a ramp or ridge, either. Unlike the Huracán, which will graunch its nose on a piece of discarded chewing gum, the R8 climbs them with ease.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Audi R8’s steering wheel doesn’t have quite the range of steering wheel adjustment that you’ll find in the Porsche 911 but it is comfortable and you’ll easily find your perfect driving position.
The seat itself is comfortable too, and on a long drive it won’t give you the kind of backache the Lamborghini Huracán can. In fact, you’ll step out of the R8 feeling like you’ve done the journey in something more like the Audi RS3 than a supercar.
The low windscreen scuttle and narrow pillars give you a great view forwards, and although the rear window is small, it's relatively easy to see out of the back (as sports cars go). Front and rear parking sensors plus a reversing camera are standard and take the jitters out of manoeuvring, and the LED headlights work well at night.
The R8’s multi-function steering wheel controls many functions, including the driving modes and on-screen menus. You can control the whole infotainment system – which is viewed on the 12.3in digital driver display – using the steering wheel, but the rotary controller mounted behind the gear selector provides a more sensible and less distracting way of interacting with it.
It's one of the easiest infotainment systems to use, actually, with responsive software and simple menus that put some rivals to shame. The screen resolution is a bit old hat now, but you get mod-cons including built-in sat-nav, wireless phone-charging, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring.
All the other controls are well laid out, including the simple, physical buttons for the climate controls. They are also beautifully made, like the rest of the R8's interior, and you’ll enjoy superior build quality to the Aston Martin Vantage. It’s just a shame that the R8 shares parts with other Audi models, because it detracts a little from the sense of 'specialness'.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The first thing that strikes you about the Audi R8 is how easy it is to get in and out of – when you can open the doors fully, that is. Even someone relatively mature should be able to slip in and out without groaning. The doors are very long and thick, though, so getting them to open fully in a tight car park can be a problem.
There's plenty of head room and leg room, but the Porsche 911 offers that bit more room all round to stretch out if you’re tall.
Odds and ends storage space is acceptable. You get shallow door pockets that will each take a small bottle of water, and a glovebox big enough for that jar of coffee you dashed into the supermarket to collect. Your takeaway coffee, meanwhile, can sit securely in one of the two cupholders.
In the nose of the car, there’s a small 112-litre boot that’s capable of swallowing a couple of overnight bags or a carry-on suitcase. The R8 is a two-seater, and there's nothing behind the driver except a shelf, which provides some extra storage. It's not as useful as the small rear seats you get in a 911, though.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Compared with the Ferrari F8 Tributo and Lamborghini Huracan the Audi R8 looks good value, especially the RWD version. However, it still costs considerably more than many other sports cars including most versions of the Porsche 911 and the far cheaper Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
With its powerful V10 engine, it's obviously not going to be cheap to run, with insurance, servicing costs, fuel consumption and road tax all coming in at 'extremely pricey'. At least the R8 should depreciate fairly slowly, which is good news if you’re buying on finance or planning to sell in a few years. That said, both the Corvette and 911 are predicted to lose their value slower.
As a cash purchase, the Performance RWD, our favourite model, costs far more than the entry-level 911 but you make a lot of that back in the equipment it comes with. The highlights include 19in alloy wheels, keyless entry, heated seats, metallic or pearlescent paint, climate control, Nappa leather with Alcantara sports seats and power-folding door mirrors.
Upgrading to Performance quattro adds full Nappa leather bucket seats, 20in alloy wheels, some exterior styling tweaks, extended Nappa leather throughout the interior and, of course, more power, four-wheel drive and upgraded brakes. Both models are available in Edition versions, adding styling tweaks and an upgraded Bang and Olufsen stereo system.
The R8 doesn’t come with as much safety and security kit you find on more down-to-earth Audis (but then neither do most sports cars). You get four airbags, an alarm and immobiliser, and that’s about your lot. A tracker is available as an official dealer-fit accessory for extra security.
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The R8 shares its V10 engine with the Lamborghini Huracán but they are very different cars. The R8 is more useable every day than the more focused Huracán and will cost you less to buy outright.
If you want the fastest R8 that you can buy, you’ll want to go for the Quattro Performance. It gets the same V10 as the RWD but with its power boosted from 562bhp to 612bhp, four-wheel drive for extra grip and upgraded carbon ceramic brakes to slow you down more quickly.
We’d class the R8 as a supercar and then some. You see, while it’s fast, loud and capable, it’s also very pleasant and comfortable to drive around normally and it’ll easily climb speed bumps that most supercars will scrape their noses on.
We think the best choice of R8 is the entry-level V10 Performance RWD. It has plenty of power, is great to drive and comes with lots of standard equipment, but keeps the price tag down.
|RRP price range||£135,045 - £171,150|
|Number of trims (see all)||2|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||21.7 - 22.4|
|Available doors options||2|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£9,796 / £12,468|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£19,593 / £24,937|