Editors at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2010 Audi R8 to bring you this hands-on road test of its styling, performance, comfort, safety and features. TheCarConnection's experts also compared the new R8 to other exotic cars, to bring you the best shopping advice and information possible. The companion R8 review condenses opinions from other respected automotive sites, to bring you a summary of other opinions from around the Web. High Gear Media accepted travel expenses to San Francisco, to be among the first to drive the 2010 Audi R8. Editors drove various 2010 R8s on the road and track near Sonoma, California, to write this hands-on road test.
Consider the 2010 Audi R8 an entry-level exotic car-entry-level only in reputation, possibly. Audi doesn't have the track record of Ferrari, Lamborghini or even the Corvette, but with the R8, and particularly the new V-10-powered R8, it's stepped without hesitation into the rarified world of ultra-performance machines. For the 2010 model year, the R8 adds a V-10 option and a handful of new features. The base price remains $115,400, but V-10 versions top out at $156,300 before options are added.
From its audacious silhouette, to the "sideblades" that give it a vertical visual calling card, the Audi R8 looks every bit the exotic. Its low-flying wedge looks tailor-made for high-speed runs, and typical of Audi, even the most dramatic styling cues play some part in the car's staggering performance. Those sideblades don't merely make a technical appeal to your heart: they cloak extensive ductwork for engine cooling and brake venting. Likewise, the huge wheels staggered in size, front to back, look sharp-and aid in razor-sharp handling. Some frippery exists, but not much-you might call the nose's LED light bar a the glass engine cover that displays the LED-illuminated engine wasteful, but most of us will admire how it puts the powerplant on jewel-box display. The cabin? Useful and distinct in the mode of the original Acura NSX, with a low cowl, at-hand controls and a light touch of style-though plenty of buttons and controls dot the R8's dash. With the new ten-cylinder version comes some light visual differentiation too: the V-10 wears more black and chrome trim, wider side sills, gloss-black sideblades, oval exhaust pipes and a distinct set of gauges, gear shift knob and door handles.
With the original V-8 coupe, Audi's supercar performance fell midpack among the $100,000-plus super coupes-somewhere among the Aston Martin Vantages, falling short of the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and Porsche 911 Turbo (not to mention the $80,000 Nissan GT-R.) The unchanged V-8 edition still doesn't feel particularly torquey, but its revvable 4.2-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 delivers brisk performance with either a six-speed manual or R-tronic automated manual shifter. The V-8 spins to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, tops out at 187 mph and delivers up to 19 mpg in freeway driving along with a lushly mechanical whir. It's good enough to rush ahead of the Aston and 911s and other coupes, but the V-10 engine is clearly the category killer Audi intended all along. With a 5.2-liter, 525-hp ten-cylinder derived from the unit in the Lamborghini Gallardo, the R8 rips to 60 mph in about 3.7 seconds, tickles a near-200-mph top end (it's 196.4 mph, in case you need four sig figs) and overachieves with highway fuel economy of up to 20 mpg. The sound from the V-8 is a nice baritone, but not so loud that it brings on fatigue, while the V-10 imparts a distinct throaty roar that blends German and Italian timbres. Audi's cars are the most emotional of the German Big Three, and the R8 is easily the most expressive-looking and sounding car in their range.
It's still a tick behind the Bugatti Veyrons and GT-Rs of the world, but the R8's newfound power vaults it into 911 Turbo territory. So, to tame the power reliably, Audi's fitted the V-10 with a "launch control" mode that preserves clutch life and directs power through its all-wheel-drive system to ensure repeatable, stunning 0-60 mph runs. The launch control helps give the transmissions more life, too. Of the available gearboxes, TheCarConnection's editors prefer the automated R-tronic setup. The manual gearbox has distinctive metal shift gates inside and shifts easily, though with a long throw; the R-tronic gearbox can shift roughly in leisurely driving, but it's the choice for track driving, where it nails down shifts faster than the most experienced drivers and blips the throttle expertly on downshifts to maintain control, without a clutch pedal.
You don't have to drive the R8 at illegal speeds to enjoy it, though it sure does have a presence on the racetrack. The entire vehicle weighs only about 3,400 pounds and has a near-perfect (rear-biased) weight distribution to take advantage of the engines' location just behind the front seats. It's also fitted with a magnetorheological shock system, which uses magnetic force to adjust shock stiffness between Normal and Sport modes, which allows some leverage in driving off the beaten track. The R8's composure is in the direction of phenomenal: it feels hefty and stable at triple-digit speeds, while also managing to convey lightness and nimbleness at low speeds and more than reasonable ride quality. Meanwhile, the all-wheel-drive system, which can send up to 35 percent of torque to the front wheels, puts the power to the pavement without drama. With V-10 cars, Audi adapts new eight-piston brakes, 19-inch wheels and tweaks the suspension to capture all the R8's high-speed potential.
The 2010 R8 is about five inches longer than the Lamborghini Gallardo (with which it's somewhat mechanically related) and has several more inches of seat travel and legroom than the Italian stallion; even tall people will find the R8 ample in space. Headroom isn't tight once you're in, but some might bump their head on entry or exit. The layout of the cockpit area is very driver-centric, like that of a racecar, with controls and displays angled toward the driver. The R8's interior lacks storage compartments and cubbies for small personal items, and cargo space is limited to a modest area underhood at the front of the car and a cargo shelf that's good only for a small duffel bag.
Neither of the major U.S. crash-testing programs has put the R8 into a wall, and probably won't because of its exclusivity and pricetag. However, TheCarConnection rates the R8 highly for safety since it takes a comprehensive approach to safety. Performance-oriented electronic stability control system is standard on the R8, along with side impact airbags and dual knee airbags. A set of front and rearview cameras are available on V-8 coupes-and recommended, since rear visibility isn't great-and standard on the V-10, along with LED headlamps.
Standard features include power features; leather upholstery; an audio system with twin slots for SD cards, a CD changer, and Sirius satellite radio; and Bluetooth. Major options on the base R8 include carbon-fiber trim, upgraded leather upholstery, a navigation system, a parking-sensor system, and a premium Bang & Olufsen sound. For the V-10, the navigation system is standard and adds real-time traffic; the premium audio becomes standard as well, and Audi adds distinct colors and interior trims to the options list.
The Bottom Line:
The 2010 Audi R8 brings the expected Germanic, technical appeal to the supercar arena-but it's the imported Italian V-10 that reveals some true lust in its heart.