Select Drive from the standard-looking Audi gear selector and dab the accelerator, and you’ll find there’s nothing savage about the response. The R8 gets away smoothly and its engine pulls effortlessly from low revs. Whether you use the automatic mode or manually flick the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the gearchanges are nearly imperceptible.
Even over our rough British roads, the R8's progress is composed, too. You get a fair amount of the bobbing and bucking that’s typical of a very stiff-bodied and short-sprung sports car, but the superb damping keeps the ride from getting crashy. We reckon that most will be more than happy with the R8's standard set-up, but optional adaptive dampers are available that, in their softer Comfort setting, offer even more compliance.
You can also add variable-ratio steering, which makes the steering react faster to inputs as you apply more lock. However, the standard steering feels more intuitive and enjoyable.
When you want to test the handling, the R8 responds well. It’s not quite as pin-sharp and keyed in to the driver as a McLaren 570S, Porsche 911 GT3 or Ferrari 488, but still turns in with breathtaking immediacy and grips ferociously. The four-wheel drive system is rear-biased for playful dynamics, but also means you can enjoy the car with relative ease even in poor conditions.
However, while the handling errs towards safe rather than dramatic, compared with its fiercest rivals, the engine is a fascination of noise and visceral performance that beats the competition hands down – all apart from the Lamborghini Huracan that is, which uses the same 5.2-litre motor. The naturally aspirated V10 rips through the rev range and responds immediately without the turbo lag you get with most rivals. And sure, it lacks the torque of a turbocharged engine at low revs, so you have to work the R8 harder to release all its performance, but that simply adds to its appeal.
The standard R8’s steel brakes have good stopping performance and good feel. The Performance model gets carbon-ceramic brakes (optional on the regular R8), which offer much the same ultimate stopping performance but will resist fade for longer. Just be aware that these have a firmer pedal feel and are harder to modulate around town.