Its ten-cylinder engine spins to 8,500 rpm yet a DSG and smooth stop-start mean the RWD R8 is neither overly polluting nor intimidating to drive. Could an eventual replacement possibly be any more engaging or exciting?
Approaching eight and still epic
Audi Sport has been building what was always an epic yet far from menacing supercar since the fourth quarter of 2015. R8 generation two is older than seven years though, as this model premiered at that year’s Geneva motor show.
Over the years, the shared-with-Lamborghini MSS platform has retained the same pairing of naturally aspirated V10 and seven-speed S tronic (dual clutch automatic transmission).
From special edition to very special permanent addition
Four-wheel drive was also a given, at least until November 2019. That’s when what had been a limited edition rear-drive variant became a permanent part of the line-up.
A year ago this month, Audi announced higher outputs for the two-wheel drive variant, the engine in the ‘R8 Performance RWD’ producing 419 kW and 550 Nm of torque.
VAG’s best DSG?
Volkswagen’s DL800, standard for all R8s, is one of the company’s best such gearboxes, being free of the clunkiness which blights certain of the Group’s other DSGs.
I’ve driven a few R8 quattros over the years and I don’t think the engine and drivetrain in any of them have been as close to perfect as the 570 PS engine and RWD+DSG drivetrain.
The roaring wail which accompanies full throttle acceleration is interrupted for only a split second on each up-change. On down-shifts, again via a paddle, automatic rev-matching delivers equally wonderful aural excitement.
No AWD weight but no quattro grip either
You do have to be careful not to get carried away by the RWD’s ability to powerslide so easily. A tiny part of the dashboard where a quattro badge normally sits serves as a handy nudge. In its place, one with three letters, a reminder that the back end can certainly lose grip if you push too hard. In any case, that sort of driving should be reserved for track days.
It isn’t just dinky delights such as the RWD plaque which provide novelty in this car. Nowadays Audi interiors look nothing like the R8’s. That’s a shame. Imagine any new vehicle which lacks a screen either integrated into the dash or plonked atop it. That’s almost unthinkable yet why should that be the case?
Audi’s (almost) oldest and best interior
Just as in the slightly older TT and Q7, lovely buttons and dials provide great feel and first-time accuracy of intended action. Why is it so hard for manufacturers to understand that newer models which have few physical controls are annoying at best and often less safe?
The driver may switch what they see in the digital instrumentation pod: small or large dials, economy and other trip data, music, phone, nav: it’s all there and just a toggle away via steering wheel buttons. Even CarPlay integrates perfectly on what’s a small-by-2022 size display. In fact, it’s just the right size: this is one of those cars which reminds you how distracting so many others are.
What feels like minimal padding in each of the two seats is perfect and it’s simplicity itself to get comfortable in the RWD. Steering wheel adjustment is manual (why should it be electric?), there’s a good-feeling perforated covering and two important large buttons. On the right, a red one fires or shuts off the engine while your left thumb presses its opposite black equivalent for drive settings.
The car defaults to Auto, which means the DSG will change up and down like a torque converter transmission. And while the suspension is really not hard at all, some owners may prefer to switch into Comfort.
Near-flat cornering and other fun stuff are best experienced in either of the two other settings: Dynamic or Individual. Just remember to pull the right paddle as you approach the redline. If not, the limiter kicks in and things can get a bit jerky.
Mental but not menacing
Acceleration is definitely in the category marked ‘Mental’ and while that’s also something that a lot of EVs can do too, none gives you anything remotely approaching the ten-cylinder wail of this car.
OK, EVs’ single speed transmissions and a flat torque delivery do mean a slingshot thrill, yes. And certain electric cars can beat the RWD’s 3.7 seconds for 0-62 mph. But they offer nothing at all when it comes to tingling-of-vertebrae. And does anyone ever turn their head to gaze upon clicking hot metal beauty while grinning from ear from ear after locking their triple-motor Tesla or Lucid?
Why the RWD is already a classic
Where and when could any R8 owner find the roads to test Audi’s “in excess of 200 mph” claim for the RWD’s top speed? Yet that’s not the point. Instead, that number shows just how capable this car is and how stratospheric the engineering standards were in its development.
It might be that legislation or some other factor prevents the R8 mark three from being quite so fast. That’s even presuming that a successor is launched at all. Current rumours do at least suggest that a programme has been approved. If that’s true, the next model could be electrified and set to share a platform with the future Porsche Boxster/Cayman and Lamborghini Huracán.
If, as is expected, R8 3.0 becomes a hybrid with the Volkswagen Group’s 4.0-litre V8 as the ICE part of that powertrain, then today’s R8 V10 RWD Performance with that thunderous 5.2-litre engine will be set for classic status.
Audi will end production of generation two next year, the just announced RWD GT being the final edition. Even though the 456 kW (620 PS) and 565 Nm engine has the same outputs as the R8 V10 Decennium from 2019, weight is lower. So while most of the R8s built between 2015 and 2023 were quattros, the rarer RWDs are likely to retain a special status as the wildest in the R8’s bloodline.
The R8 V10 Performance RWD is priced from GBP129,725 or GBP138,415 as a Spyder.