The plan was to fly to the South of France at 9am, then spend the rest of the day driving around the glorious Var region. But fog-related delays meant we didn’t arrive at Paul Ricard until darkness was setting in. The next morning there was rain of biblical proportions.
That’s not the ideal way to show off the capabilities of a car that, on the right day, can reach 204mph and accelerate to 62mph in 3.2 seconds. So it was comforting to discover that the new Audi R8 remains as reassuring to drive as its predecessor.
But don’t expect more of the same: the new R8 has had more than a makeover; it’s a whole new car.
Thankfully, it still has the Quattro fourwheeldrive system, which helps with the inclement conditions, maximising the levels of traction, while the usual efforts that supercars make to intimidate the driver are suppressed in a thoroughly Audi-like manner.
And goodness, it feels mighty quick. There’s no longer a V8 engine, just the V10 in two versions. This £134,500 R8 Plus produces 610hp, although if money’s tight there is always the base V10 with 540hp. The more powerful car has the same engine Lamborghini fits to its Huracan – so you’ll want that one, right?
Set the Audi R8 up in its sportiest mode – there’s a lot of button-pressing to achieve this – and all hell breaks loose when you floor the throttle (if, indeed, you have the courage). The transmission will automatically shift down, not just one or two gears, but three or even four, then the R8 snarls forward like an angry bull.
The transmission is fantastic, both for its ability to cosset you when required, but also by making you appear to be the best changer of gears in the world. Your passenger will believe that you’re a driver of some genius. The crackle and pop from the sports exhaust simply adds to the aura.
Inside, the R8 is modern, classy and interesting, with a myriad of buttons and controls and a special flatbottomed steering wheel on the V10 Plus. It compares very favourably with the well-worn tradition of the Porsche 911, even though this is still very obviously an Audi interior.
The R8 also has Audi’s latest virtual cockpit, with the best sat nav screen you’ll find in Christendom. The fact that you can get the same in an A4 doesn’t override its greatness.
Our test cars were fitted with the optional sports seats, which were too hard for my liking; save the money and add cruise control and an ashtray instead. Yes, they are both optional extras. The powerful LED headlamps would be more useful still.
The latest R8 carries over the basic style of the original and adds a whole technofest of changes. The chassis is still aluminium, but there’s now plenty of structural carbon fibre to bring the weight down.
The steering is electrically assisted, but none the worse for that, and there is other cleverness to help the green credentials (if “supercar” and “green” can be used in the same sentence). The R8 will freewheel if you lift off the accelerator, and one bank of five cylinders will close down under light engine loads. That’s beneficial when it comes to those vital CO2 numbers, which are down 12 per cent. You’ll still struggle to better 20mpg, though.
So it’s a fabulous sports car. There will always be those who demand the exclusivity of a McLaren or Aston Martin, but here is a stunning alternative that simply cannot be overlooked.