Second Gen Audi R8 V10 Plus Prototype First Ride
Will the New R8 Upstage Its Italian Cousin?
I'm standing three feet from the exhaust pipes in a small pit garage, when the second-generation Audi R8 project manager Roland Schala decides to detonate the 5.2-liter V-10. A spike of revs settles to a fast buzz-saw idle before he blips the throttle, sending explosions ricocheting off the walls. He sticks his head out the window, grinning: "Now that's a proper supercar sound, right? No sound enhancers, just an engine and pipes."
It's an important point he's making, too, because while the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 650S have both turned to smaller-capacity turbocharged V-8s, the all-new R8 is about to unwittingly become the analog supercar of choice. One where the relatively conservative maximum torque on this European-spec prototype of about 413 lb-ft is delivered at 6,500 rpm -- not at tick over -- and there's a purpose to chasing the 8,850 rpm redline. And we couldn't be happier.
But first, some context. At the beginning of March, the second-gen Audi R8 will be revealed to the world at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. Before the curtain comes up, we've been invited behind it to spend a day exploring every curve and sinew of a lightly disguised prototype at the Ascari race resort in Spain. Later, I'll be putting my life in the hands of Frank Stippler, one of Audi's factory development drivers, to find out from the passenger seat what the new R8 is capable of. Meanwhile, key engineers responsible for the car's development are standing by, ready to peel back the bodywork and tell the technical story underneath.
Developed alongside the Lamborghini Huracan, the R8 is billed by Schala as a more "controllable and usable kind of car," while he refers to the Huracan as a "beast." But if the VW Group's plan was for the R8 not to upstage its Italian cousin, something got lost in translation along the way. From launch the only engine available will be a naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V-10 in two states of tune -- an 'entry-level' 540-hp and the 610-hp V10 Plus model we're here to meet today.
To satisfy the tax-driven demand for smaller-capacity engines in markets such as China, a V-8 model will come – likely to be the twin-turbo 4.0-liter with around 500 hp -- but for now we'll make do with the V-10. Naturally, quattro all-wheel drive is standard (although a rear-drive all-electric R8 e-tron will also debut at Geneva) and there will be no manual gearbox this time around, only a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission. In 610-hp tune, the new R8 covers 0-62 mph in a manufacturer-claimed 3.2 seconds, 0-124 mph in 9.9 seconds and hits a 205-mph top speed. That's not just close to Huracan territory, it's bang on in terms of straight-line pace and 3 mph faster at the top end.
Within the first few corners around Ascari, though, it's clear that the two cars are very different beasts. we drove the Huracan on this same track last year and our buttocks definitely remember it feeling edgier and stiffer than the new R8 prototype does right now. Clearly, Stippler's silky driving style and god-like car control needs to be taken into account, but the car is playing its part -- smoothing the transition between huge cornering speeds, quick direction changes and normally-brutal braking zones to make the forces on the car, and its passengers, seem less extreme than they really are.
But fear not, this is still a monstrously quick car. On the exit of every corner my helmet is smashed back into the headrest as all four tires key into the tarmac and turn every engine rotation into meaningful forward momentum. And the sound: the metallic gnash, that becomes a blare, that turns into a soprano at the top end, is a source of endless joy.
There's panache to the way the new R8 handles too. Using an electronic clutch on the front axles, a mechanical diff on the rear axle and the ability to send up to 10 percent of the torque to whichever axle needs it the most, the revised all-wheel-drive system lets the R8 handle like a supercar should. A new electromechanical steering system, available with or without a variable ratio, requires less lock than its predecessor and sends us spearing into each bend. By trail braking, Stippler manages to tuck the nose in a little tighter and, when he gets back on the power, dials in a few degrees of oversteer for good measure.
The R8's predictable handling and smooth transitions can partly be explained by its new platform. Shared virtually wholesale with the Huracan, but with a 30mm longer wheelbase, it uses mainly aluminum bolted to carbon fiber elements for the transmission tunnel, rear firewall, and front boot. The result is a weight loss of about 110 pounds compared to the outgoing V10 Plus, while torsional rigidity is up by 40 percent.
Standard carbon ceramic discs play their part in that weight loss figure and explain the face-distorting braking power at the end of each straight. There's a choice of suspension setups, too: magnetic dampers are optional on all models, while fixed-rate steel springs are standard – tuned to sit slightly closer to the magnetic damper's sport setting than its comfort mode. The test car Audi produced for us to play with was fitted with the standard suspension, which suggests it sees it as the optimum setup.
As for the second-gen R8's styling, well we'll reserve judgment for the Geneva show stand, but it's clear the design has been evolved rather than reinvented. Slimmer LED headlights, double front air intakes and a TT-style, sharper hexagonal grille are all visible through the psychedelic wrap. At the rear, oval pipes from the old V10 are replaced with trapezoidal exhausts, there's a full width diffuser underneath, and the V10 Plus model gets a fixed carbon rear wing, while the standard model gets a pop-up spoiler. Audi hasn't ditched the side blades, but they do appear to have shrunk.
No pictures of the interior were allowed, but we had the chance to explore it undisguised in order to show of the feast of new technology inside. The basis for the layout is the same 12.3-inch TFT 'virtual cockpit' screen you'll find in a 2016 TT -- as a result the rest of the interior is an exercise in extreme minimalism and exemplary quality. It's the steering wheel that forms the main control station for the car's brain: a red starter button fires up the V-10, another switch turn the exhaust volume up to eleven, and a Drive Select button allows you to toggle through the four driving modes -- Comfort, Auto, Individual, and Dynamic - each tailoring the throttle response, steering weight, gearbox, ESC safety net, torque split of the all-wheel-drive system, and suspension stiffness if magnetic dampers are fitted.
Finally there's a performance button that lets you choose between dry, wet, and snowy conditions and takes every parameter to its absolute extreme accordingly. You can always turn the ESC off completely of course, but this, says Audi, is the quickest way around a race track even in the hands of someone like Frank Stippler.
We won't pass judgment on the second-gen Audi R8 before we get behind the wheel ourselves, but from the passenger seat it ticks all the most important boxes -- melding mind-scrambling chassis technology with an old-school screaming V-10 to extraordinary effect. In other words, Audi hasn't tinkered with the R8's formula too much, and that's fine by us.