Sports car or supercar? This is the heated debate often enjoyed in pubs across the land, when it comes to cars like the Audi R8. It is seriously desirable poster machinery that is priced substantially lower than rivals, such as the Lamborghini Huracán and McLaren 570S, but offers comparable performance tempered with arguably better everyday usability. The R8 even undercuts its closest rival – another ‘budget’ supercar – the Porsche 911 Turbo, although the slightly slower Mercedes-AMG GT S will cost less than the R8.
Certainly, with a 532bhp 5.2-litre V10 and quattro active four-wheel drive with torque-vectoring, which can (in extreme use) send all the power to either front or rear wheels, even this lower-powered of the two R8 models sounds up to the supercar tag.
What’s the 2016 Audi R8 5.2 V10 like to drive?
This sort of car lives or dies on making the driver feel special, and boy does the R8 live. That engine dominates from the moment you set off, delivering explosive yet high-revving and predictable performance that makes you crave the next clear stretch of tarmac, however ordinary it may be. Every one of the revs up to the 8500rpm limit feels free of inertia, and eggs you on to keep reaching for that raging, crescendo of a redline.
For all that, the engine and throttle response also make it easy to drive the R8 smoothly around town, albeit with the odd unpredictable lurch from the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which is otherwise hard to fault in its rapid-fire yet smooth and well-judged shifts.
It’d be difficult to not enjoy the light-footed, reactive handling of the R8, too. The steering is a little light, and would benefit from offering more bite as you build cornering forces, but it still offers enough feedback to give confidence and let you enjoy the keen-but-not-nervous way it turns into corners and then grips as if magnetically attracted to the road surface.
This neutral, massively grippy, all-weather appropriate handling is as likely to be seen as a benefit as it is a let down. After all, those who want a car like this to use regularly, and who favour safe but exciting handling over the all-out, no safety nets sort of handling that purists may hope for, will be absolutely delighted by the R8. It’s spot on. Those who do want that sweaty-palmed sense of being wholly in charge of the vehicle and unfettered by fancy four-wheel drive and electronic aids may find the R8 a touch inert. Not enough slip from the rear, and not enough of the fibrous, organic sense of being in total control of the car.
Frankly, for the vast majority of people the R8 will thrill at every turn, be it on road or track, and even those who do find it short of playfulness won’t be able to deny its remarkable talent for flattering the driver in any sort of driving.
Ride comfort is also very impressive. Our car rode on standard passive dampers and 19in alloys, and we’d say that’s all you need. It keeps the body tightly in check for near-flat cornering, yet even on UK roads, it softens most bumps to maintain a settled ride much of the time. It’s only over quite severe undulations or ruts that you get the typical buck and shimmy of a stiff-bodied, firmly-sprung car.
On top of all the effortlessly thrilling performance and handling prowess, you’d have to be emotionally flat-lining to not be moved by the raucous, thundering soundtrack of the V10. Granted, our car came with an £1800 sports exhaust, which will make a big difference, but it’s a small price to pay in this rarefied class (and on an otherwise well-equipped and comparably good value model). The results – and the way you find yourself craving the next tunnel or high wall – are certainly key to what makes the R8 such an addictive car to drive regardless of how ordinary the journey may be.
Otherwise, the Audi is actually quite a bit quieter than a Porsche 911 Turbo from the inside, because it has noticeably less tyre noise and exhaust boom when you’re just tooling around, making it one of the quieter cars in this class if you can ever bring yourself to turn off the Dynamic exhaust noise.
What’s the 2016 Audi R8 5.2 V10 like inside?
The R8 is at a disadvantage to the Porsche 911 in that it is a two-seat only car, where the 911 offers two small rear seats which, granted, are more useful for extra luggage space than for passengers.
Still, while the R8 is never going to be the most practical car in its small, exclusive niche, it’s still easy enough to live with that you could use it daily without concern or frustration. The driving position is good, and with full electric adjustment seat and lumbar adjustment, it’ll cater easily to most shapes of driver.
Visibility is also decent for such a sports-focussed car, although you’ll be grateful for the standard rear parking sensors when it comes to parking in tight spots. You’re more likely to get annoyed with the very long doors and their pointy edges, which are easy to catch and can make getting in or out quite awkward if you don’t have plenty of room.
The dash is a real selling point. It feels faultlessly screwed together, and finished with top-notch feeling leather, plastics and metal finishes. It’ll take some getting used to the infotainment system, which is controlled via the steering wheel or shortcut buttons and a rotary controller set in between the seats. The broad digital screen can be set to focus just on speed and revs, or offers alternate views to bring the map or other menus to the fore. It’s clear to read and, in time, the controls become quite easy and you can enjoy having full command of the infotainment without taking your hands from the wheel.
Electrically adjustable, heated leather seats, auto lights and wipers, LED lights, sat-nav, DAB, Bluetooth, voice control, climate control and rear parking sensors are all included, and you even get metallic paint in many bright hues thrown in. The boot is a small but deep cubby in the front of the car that – at a push - will take two soft weekend bags.
Should I buy one?
Hell yes. If you’re looking for something that exudes a truly exotic feel, yet is also easy to enough to live with daily and has a touch of value about it in the context of these upper echelon performance cars, the R8 is what you’re looking for. In fact, so good is this fairly standard, entry-level R8 that we’d say it’s the better buy over its £15k more expensive, albeit more powerful R8 V10 Plus model.
You don’t even need to add many options – certainly avoid the Dynamic steering and adaptive Audi Magnetic Ride, as the former makes things less enjoyable and the latter is unnecessary. The £650 Driver Assistance Pack, which brings cruise control and rear view camera, and that £1800 sports exhaust, are the two options we’d say are worth adding.
In that form, whether you’d categorise this as a sports or a supercar, the R8 is a well-rounded and suitably intoxicating proposition that entirely lives up to the hype.
What Car? says...
Mercedes AMG GT
Audi R8 5.2 V10
Engine size 5.2-litre V10
Price from £119,520
Torque 398lb ft
Top speed 198mph
Fuel economy (Official) 24.8mpg
CO2 emissions 272g/km