Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
There’s no two ways about it: with the R8 we are in the presence of one of the greatest engines currently in production. This 5.2-litre V10 is available in three states of tune: 533bhp in the rear-wheel-drive RWD version, 562bhp in the standard Quattro, and 611bhp in the Performance. Whichever you choose, the engine provides a fusion of noise and visceral performance that beats the immediate competition hands down – all apart from the Lamborghini Huracan Evo, that is, which uses a more highly tuned version of the same 5.2-litre engine, sourced from the now discontinued Huracan Performante.
Being naturally aspirated, the V10 rips through the rev range and responds immediately without the turbo lag you experience in most rivals. You do have to work the R8 harder to release all its performance – the real fireworks don’t start until you’re past 5000rpm – but that simply adds to its glorious appeal. If we’re being sensible, even the 533bhp version is fast enough, but the added ferocity of the range-topping Performance version is exceedingly hard to resist.
But when you are more inclined towards a comfortable and quiet journey, the R8 can seamlessly switch to being a comfortable grand tourer. At a cruise, the V10’s snarl dies down to a mere purr and it pulls effortlessly from low revs. In manual mode, when you’re pushing on, the gearbox proves obedient and capable of lightning-fast shifts. However, leave it in auto and you can find that kickdown can be a tad clumsy, and manoeuvring can be a jerky affair. There are several driving modes, too, which allow you to soften or sharpen the car’s responses.
Even over our rough British roads, the R8's ride feels composed – especially in the entry-level RWD version. This model has beautifully-judged suspension damping that smoothes out even the most lumpen sections of tarmac; there’s none of the bobbing and bucking that’s typical of very stiff-bodied and short-sprung sports cars. That said, even if you go for the more stiffly sprung Quattro or Performance models, you won’t be disappointed. Both play the GT card surprisingly well, especially if you opt for the optional adaptive suspension, which provides plenty of compliance in Comfort mode.
The steering feels intuitive and enjoyable, but it doesn’t communicate grip levels and information about the road’s surface as well as the Porsche 911 or McLaren 570S. And that’s true of the RWD model, too; the only R8 that doesn’t have drive to the front wheels, which is something that can corrupt steering feel.
When you want to test the handling, the R8 responds well. It’s not quite as immediate or driver focused as the 488, 570S or 911, but still turns in with breathtaking immediacy and grips ferociously. The four-wheel drive system is rear-biased for playful dynamics, but it never feels like it’s going to bite, assuming you show it some respect. The RWD places you on a bit more of a knife-edge, though; with 100% of its power going to the rear wheels 100% of the time, it’s easy to get the tail to swing wide on the exit of second and third gear corners.This feels fantastic once you gain confidence, and represents another layer of driver interaction that’s missing from the four-wheel drive models, but the RWD is noticeably spikier in wet conditions than a 911 or an Aston Martin Vantage. This is a mid-engined car after-all.
The R8’s steel brakes offer good stopping performance and lots of feel, and those of Quattro versions can be upgraded to the carbon-ceramic brakes that come standard on the Performance model. These offer much the same ultimate stopping performance as the standard brakes, but will resist fade for longer during bouts of fast driving, such as when on a track. Just be aware that they introduce a rather firm pedal feel and are harder to modulate around town.
The 911 Cabriolet is a superb high-performance car for those w...
One of the very best open-top sports cars you can buy
Aston Martin’s best sports car to date, even if a Porsche 911...
The Audi R8 Spyder is as fabulous to drive as the R8 Coupé, an...