“Is this little red car for you?” asks the shuttle bus driver for the long-term parking at Austin-Bergstrom airport.
Audi was kind enough to leave me the keys to a 2017 R8 V10 plus for the week. I opened the front luggage compartment and crossed my fingers that my suitcase would fit. Voila! It fit perfectly. The week was already off to a great start.
After a quick inspection and taking a moment. I opened the door and got situated in the racing shell seats. The hard-shell seats are a bit tight with their fixed bolster, fixed recline and seat bottom with limited up and down adjustments only. However, the seating position was perfect for me, especially when enjoying the capabilities of the R8. You can also option the Sport front seats, which, ironically, are a bit less aggressive. The Sport front seats offer the typical Audi level of adjustment and are incredibly comfortable.
Finally, it was time to start her up. With my foot on the brake, I pressed the bright red start button on the steering wheel, and the cold 5.2-liter V10 came to life with an incredible growl. Audi uses the same high-revving V10 engine in both the street car and race car with very slight modifications. Audi Sport says that typically they only need to rebuild the engine every 20,000 Kilometers (12,400 miles) which is incredibly impressive considering that these engines will sometimes run multiple 12-hour and 24-hour races at nearly full throttle for the duration of the race before the rebuild is neccessary.
I took a few minutes to get situated and learn the new MMI setup. While the first generation R8 got by with a slightly modified version of the classic RSNE navigation, the new one has raised the bar significantly. The large Audi Virtual Cockpit screen now provides all the relevant information with only a glance. The steering wheel buttons and voice commands provide most of the inputs. The scroll wheel, touchpad and two toggle switches located on the center console control the rest. Overall, I felt that the ergonomics of all the controls are great and it is one of the easier navigation systems to use. The Audi Virtual Cockpit presents the map in two views that can be switched via a button on the steering wheel. There seems to be a nearly endless amount of options that can be displayed on the screen at one time.
I pressed the voice command button and provided the name of my hotel. The Google-voice-assisted search found my hotel in a few seconds and set the destination.
It Takes A Race Team
Also, new for the R8 is Audi Drive Select. Pressing the Drive Select button on the steering wheel offers the driver several driving modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual and on the R8 V10 plus, Performance. On the R8 V10 Plus, these modes modify the drivetrain behavior. In dynamic mode, the transmission switches into S, rev matching is enabled, and the gears are held longer into the red line and the bias of the quattro system changes. The Performance button allows you to switch the level of traction control. Around the Performance button is a rotary knob for selecting the dry, wet and snow traction programs.
The developers of the R8 worked in close cooperation with the racing drivers and engineers, and the result is a dramatic improvement in performance and handling over the first generation. Together the teams brought accumulated racing experience from the track, and the results bring the road car even closer to the race car.
It still behaves like a road car, though. As I pulled the paddle and shifted the R8 into drive, I eased it carefully over speed bumps, but it turned out that I had nothing to worry about – there was plenty of ground clearance. After pulling out of the parking lot, I switch the Drive Select to Dynamic mode, the revs rise, and I immediately hear the difference as the exhaust valves open.
I enter the onramp, press the throttle, and the R8 takes off like a rocket towards the redline. The symphony that is the high-revving Audi V10 is something that I will never get tired of listening to, especially as redline approaches and the onramp straightens, the shift point quickly arrives as the RPM indicator flashes green, yellow and red. The kick of adrenaline makes the hair on my arms stand to attention. As I lift off the throttle there’s a bit of overrun with its low rumble, I tap the brake pedal and instantly the incredible carbon ceramic brakes grab, slow the car, and the exhaust lets out a snap, crack and pop with my downshift. There’s no hesitation as I get back on the throttle and the continue on the toll road. This 80 MPH toll roads are something we are missing in Massachusetts.
After a few minutes of driving the R8 V10 Plus, you will immediately notice the racing drivers influence. The chassis feels very stiff, the steering response is precise, the fixed suspension is very rigid, and the sheer amount of mechanical grip helps build confidence. Understeer has been nearly eliminated compared to the first generation, and the engine start/stop button, drive select, exhaust and traction control (race mode) knobs have been moved to the steering wheel just like on the race car. The Virtual Cockpit screen features lots of performance information such as tire pressure, power and torque output, g-forces, and fuel consumption.
The next thing I notice is just how incredibly balanced the R8 feels. While the R8 with its 610 horsepower fits very comfortably into the supercar category Audi has struck a better balance between “Oops, I effed up!” and “Dammit, let me do that!” as a friend so kindly put it.
Even with 50 percent of the parts in this R8 shared with the R8 LMS race car, the R8 just soaks up the miles with ease. The optional Bang & Olufsen sound system is fantastic, but I found it was best left muted as I preferred the sound of the 5.2-liter V10 churning away behind my head.
I arrive at the hotel after enjoying some of the Austin toll roads. I look for a safe spot to park away from the masses and trees. Even then I’m greeted by two people with their iPads out and snapping photos. “Hey! is that the Iron Man car?”
Daily Driving In Austin
I did some research before arriving in Austin and quickly learned that there are so many excellent driving roads within an hour in almost all directions. Hill Country was the most highly recommended. With standout routes like “The Three Sisters” and “The Devils Backbone” I knew I had to explore. I picked up a friend who knows the area well, and he suggested that we head South to see what kind of roads we could find. After an hour or so of driving, he suggested that we exit the toll road and make our way into the Hill Country. These two-lane roads seem to go through the most beautiful areas that I’ve ever seen. The wonders of Texas continue to amaze me. The speed limits are decent, and the traffic is sparse, though the local Sheriffs keep a keen eye on these roads. The thing I noticed about these remote Texas roads is that while they are free of potholes, the surface can be unpredictable. However, the aero, sticky 20-inch tires, and quattro all-wheel-drive system always keep the R8 well planted.
I spent the next five days commuting between the hotel and office about 40 minutes each way. After work, we would often go out for team dinners, and it was always fun to let a co-worker ride shotgun. Most of them are not car people, but everyone was excited for a chance for a ride in an R8. It’s an experience that is hard to describe without experiencing it for yourself. Our journey down to the Salt Lick in North Austin through stop-and-go traffic was an experience that made the R8 stand out to me. Back in 2013, I called the R8 the perfect everyday supercar, and today I stand by that statement, and I feel even better about it today. Audi and its engineers pushed that boundary even further.
Not only is the engine incredibly powerful it is also efficient. I was able to average around 14.4 MPG around town and a bit more on the highway.
The Ultimate Audi R8
I never once thought that I would rather be in another car. However, I can imagine it getting old after a longer period. It’s not so much an issue with the car as it is the way other people on the road behave. I saw too many people trying to drive while taking their phones up trying to snap photos or following way too close or trying to race. It’s nearly impossible to avoid these situations, especially in a bright red R8.
I’d also say that the only other necessity with this car is a membership to your local track. The R8 V10 Plus is too perfect of a track car to limit to daily driving on regular roads. I’d imagine that as an owner you would get very frustrated with not being able to stretch the R8’s legs. Not to mention the stress relief that comes along with the track experience.
The track experience is where the distinctions between R8 V10 Plus and the R8 V10 start to become apparent. The R8 V10 gives up some power (540 hp vs. 610 hp), trades fixed sport suspension for Audi magnetic ride, the carbon ceramic brakes are optional, while the rear wing along with the Racing shell seats is exclusive to the Plus. Are all these things worth an extra $27,000? Without a second thought, I would say yes. If you are going to buy a car as perfect as the Audi R8, why not buy the best?
After returning the R8 V10 Plus keys to Audi, I walked away feeling like I need to work harder and find a way to buy one. While I could not see, it being my only car, it would certainly be a car that I could see myself keeping for a long time and racking up lots of happy miles.
This review first appeared on Quattro World