Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
This wonderful 5.2-litre V10 comes in three states of tune: 533bhp in the RWD (rear-wheel drive) model, 562bhp in the Quattro (four-wheel drive), and 612bhp if you opt for the Performance (also four-wheel drive).
Whichever version you choose, there’s one constant: the fusion of noise and visceral performance that beats the competition hands down – well, apart from the Lamborghini Huracan, which uses the same motor. Er... and perhaps the fantastic flat six in the Porsche 911 GT3.
Why is it so great? Part one of the answer to that lies in it being naturally aspirated. There’s no turbocharger inducing lag (the delay between putting your foot down and the car starting to accelerate). You get at least some lag in most of the R8’s turbocharged rivals, from the McLaren 570S to the Mercedes-AMG GT.
But this 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 who cares? Crikey, it’s not weak. 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, with a turbocharged slamdunk at 1500rpm.
When you rev it out it feels damn zesty, too. So much so that the entry-level RWD is fast enough, rattling off 0-62mph in 3.7sec. The Quattro knocks three-tenths off that and the Performance model the same again (0-62mph in 3.1sec), but partly that’s their four-wheel-drive traction drilling into the Tarmac more effectively.
Part two of why this is arguably the best engine on sale is its noise. 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. Quite, quite thrilling.
The steering feels intuitive, direct and engaging to an extent, but it doesn’t communicate the grip levels and information about the road’s surface quite as well as the 911 GT3’s or the McLaren 570S’s.
And nor is the R8 quite as hungry to dive for an apex as those more focused machines, or the Ferrari F8 Tributo, for that matter. We're talking small degrees here, mind, and the Quattro and the Performance have that advantage of amazing traction to counter. 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.
Somehow, neither does the R8 RWD, even though it’s driven solely from the rear. It’s slightly softer at the edges than the four-wheel-drive R8s or those other rivals we’ve mentioned. That makes it more progressive and approachable. It’s not a mere toy, though, like the Aston Martin Vantage and Mercedes-AMG GT have a whiff of being. It still rewards respect and a dab hand, but almost certainly isn’t as quick around a lap as, say, a 911 Carrera S.
Still, it’s more fun than the Carrera S. It really 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 Quattro and the Performance are technically superior, especially in the wet.
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 is equipped with ceramic brakes as standard, which are less likely to overheat on a circuit.
So far, we’ve been talking about the R8’s speed, noise and poise, but what about its usability? It turns out it’s 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 Vantage and AMG GT.
The gearbox, which is as fast and responsive as you need it to be on a track, is smooth and jerk-free around town. At 70mph on the motorway, the R8 is almost hushed; a 911, despite being perceived as the ‘usable sports car', has so much more road and wind noise.
The R8 also rides better than the 911, especially the RWD. It doesn’t have fancy adaptive dampers (optional on the Quattro) 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 Huracan, which will graunch its nose on a piece of discarded chewing gum, the R8 climbs them with ease.
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