2014 has been very good to the Tame Geek when it comes to cars. From the magnificent BMW i8 and the rapid little Audi S1, to the utterly abhorrent Fiat 500L, it’s safe to say there have been some ups and downs. The ups, however, vastly outnumber the downs when it comes to the ‘Summer of Supercars’.
The summer started with the i8 setting the bar. Some month’s later, an opportunity came my way to get some track time with an Audi R8 V8. Well, I was never going to say no, now was I?
The Audi R8 has been around for what seems like forever. In car and technology terms, it sort of has. Arriving in 2007 (same year as the first iPhone) to knock the Porsche 911 off it’s perch as thee performance purchase. When it first landed, the R8 was packing a 4.2L V8 that could be found in many of Audi’s RS and S models. The R8 was to prove that Audi could do pure performance with an air of elegance.
That target seemed to be achieved, given that in the past 7 years, everything they have done to it has been tinkering. New headlights here, engine upgrades there and the odd special edition or two. The R8 even inspired Audi’s electric concepts that would then subsequently die and then come back to life years later as the technology improved. There was even talk of a Diesel V12 version based loosely on the Le Mans car.
With the background now covered, let’s talk about what it’s like to drive this well established performance car round a track.
When you get in to the R8, there’s only two kinds of opinions you can have. If you have never been in an Audi from the last 8 years, it will feel drive focused and well put together. If you have been in an Audi from the last 8 years, everything will seem very very familiar. The dash is effectively the same from the A4 and A5 (which was lifted from the A6 that pre-dated them) and that can kind of feel like a let down. That is until all of the little changes come in to sight. The dials, the gear leaver, the steering wheel. They all are more purposeful than a motorway cruiser and feel like they will take some punishment from being used at speed.
Coming on to speed, the Audi R8 shifts. Not surprising with the best part of 420bhp on tap. The V8 in the R8 really seemed to like to be revved and to be honest, it’s not a problem obliging it in that regard.
Having driven electrically assisted and turbocharged engines a bit this year, having a naturally aspirated engine to work with did require a quick tweak to my mindset. There’s a noticeable lack of power in the lower parts of the rev range, which, is typical and can be expected from an engine this old. The best way round that is with the liberal application of the right foot. Giving the gas a good thrash will wake the engine up, but, there’s one thing to make sure of before you do it. Make sure you’re awake! The R8 will gather speed up the rev range quicker than you think it will and by the time you’ve realised you’re going to need to change gear, it’s getting very close to the limiter.
Here’s a controversial statement – I prefer modern automatics to gear stick manuals. I think it’s a combination of computer games and driving some seriously swift cars with paddle shifters fitted. I mentioned this in the S1 review, I think you can go faster with paddles than you can with a stick. (There’s a track test for the future!)
Why do I mention this? Well, as noted above the heavy gear-leaver and time you’ve got to change gear can make for the odd grind here and there. I also think that it’s a lot harder to fix a bad gear choice with a stick than it is with paddles.
All of this adds up to give you an impression of the R8 I didn’t have until I drove it. Honestly, for the longest time, I thought the R8 was just a supped up TT and a toned down Lamborghini Gallardo.
That was an unfair opinion. The R8 really can be a ‘drivers car’. Manual gearbox, naturally aspirated, mid mounted engine with good breaks and grip you wouldn’t believe, makes the R8 a car to learn and I suppose, to fall in love with. You’ll have to earn this car’s respect, but when you do, it will deliver a high turn of pace that, on the right road will feel amazing.
Oh, did I mention that you can pick one up for about £44,000? Makes the new BMW M4 look very expensive, doesn’t it.