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Car reviews - Audi - R8 - 5.2 FSI quattro coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Phenomenal engine performance, spine-tingling engine note, no effect on neutral R8 chassis, exclusivity
Room for improvement
High pricetag, expensive options, lacks differentiation from R8 V8

12 Aug 2009

AUDI’S low-slung R8 turned the supercar establishment on its head two years ago, when the now 100-year-old German brand produced its first ever no-holds-barred super-coupe.

After years of releasing high-quality premium hatches, sedans, wagons and even a coupe in the iconic TT, the all-new A5 two-door emerged with hitherto unseen chassis balance, steering response and ride/handling, heralding a whole new era for a model line-up that never quite matched its most direct European rivals in terms of dynamics.

But it was the R8 super-coupe that combined, for the first time, cutting-edge Audi hallmarks such as an all-aluminium spaceframe chassis that weighed no more than 210kg, a permanent quattro all-wheel drive system with 60 per cent rear-biased torque split, and a mid-rear-mounted engine with direct-injection petrol technology.

Powered by a spine-tinglingly raucous 4.2-litre V8 from the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing RS4 sedan and wagon, the combination was an instant hit in the R8, which banished the sub-standard ride quality, feel-free steering and understeer-prone hallmarks of many Audi models, demonstrating a depth of engineering never before seen from the VW premium brand.

The R8 V8 didn’t come cheap, however, with a circa-$275,000 pricetag making it more expensive than Porsche’s popular rear-engined 911 coupe, not to mention the new-generation Nissan GT-R that arrived earlier this year with 911 Turbo-like performance for an even more accessible $155,800.

Just as sales begin to slow, however, Audi has now slammed down the top-shelf R8 5.2 FSI, powered by a V10 sourced from sister company Lamborghini’s lighter, sharper and more expensive Gallardo.

There’s no doubt about the high-revving R8 4.2’s pace, which is already more than enough on any public road, but the V10 is simply stronger and faster in any gear, from any speed – as you’d expect for the near-$75,000 price premium.

Both engines are dry-sump to handle the taxing g-forces the R8 is capable of and although the Audi V8 is still one of the most hair-raising sounds in motoring, the V10 has a more sophisticated, almost F1-like metallic engine note.

While the V8 has the typically deep burble of a hairy-chested, high-tech German V8, the V10 sounds even more special as it fires up and sound positively Lamborghini-like as it shrieks to its 8700rpm redline – 200rpm more than even the highly strung V8.

There’s more response and acceleration from the same revs in any gear as well, and the V10 has a top-end power delivery that few cars can match.

Audi had a number of R8 4.2s on hand at the launch this week at Queensland’s Lakeside Raceway and the V8’s performance was more than enough for the recently resurfaced but still bumpy track, whose undulations and long corners make it one of the fastest circuits in Australia.

Australian touring car driver and Audi ambassador Brad Jones was on hand to demonstrate the abilities of both cars at Lakeside and while he could just hold the V8 at full-throttle through the fast kink at the end of the main straight, the same simply wasn’t possible in the V10.

With the same 44/56 front/rear weight distribution as the V8, the V10 accelerates harder and gains speed more quickly than the 4.2, yet turns in with the same kick-free poise and precision.

The 60kg weight penalty is not apparent at all and the R8 5.2 can be even more confidently adjusted at the limit because of its extra midrange torque and response.

The V10 has the same superbly neutral chassis feel as the V8, providing the perfect balance between understeer and oversteer mid-corner, but the V10 lights up the stability control warning light a lot more often as it more readily breaks traction both front and rear.

Audi also made the TT-S and RS6 available for hot laps on the day, and while the 200kW two-seater coupe was brilliantly balanced but felt slow in comparison, the big RS6 sedan (which weighs more than two tonnes and runs a 426kW/650Nm twin-turbo version of the S6’s 5.0-litre V10) felt cumbersome.

Despite having more torque on tap than the R8 5.2, its much narrower powerband and less responsive torque delivery – combined with excessive lateral wallowing and fore-aft pitching – made driving it a chore after either R8.

We found the manual R8 5.2’s tightly-gated manual gearshifter surprisingly easy to use and, although the shift throw is slightly long, the manual R8 V10 is highly user-friendly with a notchy but intuitive shift feel. With so much torque on top and a lighter than expected clutch pedal action, the manual is a doddle to drive at low speeds.

But it’s the six-speed R-tronic self-shifter that will be in most demand and so it should be, with lightning-quick shifts at your disposal via steering wheel paddles, the same claimed acceleration, just 5kg of extra weight and notably lower fuel consumption.

Of course, there is the outrageous $15,900 premium to consider, plus the fact the sequential manual transmission still doesn’t match a traditional torque converter-equipped automatic for smoothness at low speeds.

There’s no doubt the V10’s significant price premium brings with it an equally significant performance improvement. For some, only the best will do, and the exclusive new V10 flagship stamps the R8 even more unequivocally as a bona fide member of the supercar club.

The R8 4.2 is seriously quick, but the V10 is even quicker.

But if demonstrating that is important to you, be aware that only R8-spotters will appreciate the V10’s LED headlights, extra grille chroming and oval exhaust outlets.

And if money is an object for you, remember that the R8 4.2 looks every bit as good, goes almost as hard, sounds even better, uses less fuel and costs almost $75,000 less.

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