The new R8: for lovers of hard driv­ing

FIRST DRIVE/ The up­dated mid-en­gined Audi does it all bet­ter than be­fore smoother, sharper, calmer and more ex­cit­ing, all at the same time, writes Michael Tay­lor

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Con­fes­sion time: I love the Audi R8. Every time I get the nag­ging thought that it may be the last big-banger nat­u­rally as­pi­rated ju­nior su­per­car.

The end of cars such as the R8 is in­evitable, and what we’d lose is im­mea­sur­able. The R8 Per­for­mance qu­at­tro de­liv­ers authen­tic, un­syn­the­sised char­ac­ter like no other car near its price point.

The re­vamped R8 just looks meaner, with op­tional laser head­lights and stan­dard LEDs. Chrome is stripped from the nose, there are three hor­i­zon­tal vents, a front split­ter that trails off down the sides, and a huge air dif­fuser at the rear.

The en­gine note is one of the most heart­warm­ing sounds known to man and the throt­tle re­sponse verges on synapse­fast. And it helps you to shift your butt faster and fur­ther than be­fore, with a 3.1-sec­ond burst to 100km/h and a 331km/h top speed.

The charm isn’t just the speed. It’s the shame­less bee­fi­ness with which it gath­ers it, at­tack­ing the hori­zon, the ears and every piece of skin that touches part of the car with equal en­thu­si­asm.

At 456kW and 580Nm the Per­for­mance ver­sion hits 7kW and 20Nm harder than be­fore.

Even the stock R8 qu­at­tro’s power has seen its power rise from 397kW to 419kW and lifted its torque 20Nm to 560Nm, and it’s ca­pa­ble of sprint­ing to 100km/h in 3.4 sec­onds and top­ping out at 324km/h.

This is a car that prefers to give life to the 5.2l en­gine’s per­for­mance, not just to de­liver it. Every sin­gle point in the rev range has its own char­ac­ter and sound, and it runs into every other point in the range log­i­cally and beau­ti­fully, cre­at­ing sym­phonies of in­take noise and throat­i­ness and sheer gris­tle ris­ing to arias at 8,500rpm.

While the beau­ti­fully crafted man­ual gear lever faded into his­tory with the first-gen­er­a­tion R8, it left the R8 with a sev­en­speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion that spreads drive to all four wheels. It can spread them quickly from one end to the other and is ca­pa­ble of fir­ing all of the torque to the front or the rear and from side to side via the skid-con­trol sys­tem.

It’s all based on an alu­minium space frame chas­sis that’s backed by a car­bon-fi­bre re­in­forced poly­mer rear bulk­head, trans­mis­sion tun­nel and two Bpil­lars that add body stiff­ness. And it’s not a small car, with a 2.65m wheel­base. There are lighter mid-en­gined cars out there, but not many of them have an all-wheel drive as so­phis­ti­cated as the Audi.

The real steps for­ward here aren’t the ex­tra power but the R8 Per­for­mance qu­at­tro’s ex­tra man­ners and fun. It has stiffer springs and dampers and the soft­ware is more sta­ble in its stan­dard modes, calmer in the rain and looser and faster in the dy­namic mode.

There are more op­tional tricks up its sleeve. The mag­netic dampers have had a speed up­grade over the old cars, dy­namic steer­ing, and a light­weight car­bon-fi­bre re­in­forced poly­mer front anti-roll bar with red mount­ing brack­ets.

We did day and night laps of the pri­vate As­cari race re­sort in Spain’s south, with the R8s shod with track-bi­ased Miche­lin Sport Cup 2 rub­ber in­stead of the stock Pirelli PZeros.

The han­dling is crisper and more ac­cu­rate than be­fore. It’s also more fun than be­fore es­pe­cially in its dy­namic mode and with its crash-bust­ing soft­ware switched to its higher-drift plane and even more so with its crash-bust­ing soft­ware switched off.

For lovers of hard driv­ing and, oddly, those who drive in cities by ne­ces­sity the dy­namic steer­ing is a big ad­di­tion. It comes with a range of steer­ing ra­tios. Ef­fec­tively, it pre­dic­tively short­ens the driver’s steer­ing in­puts for a given cor­ner, es­pe­cially if it’s a tight cor­ner. In some bends, like hair­pins, it cuts off more than a quar­ter of a turn of steer­ing lock.

The up­dated R8 is happy to drift its way into cor­ners, with the skid-con­trol nu­anc­ing the car’s way to the apex time and again, mak­ing it fun and fast at the same time.

The brakes, too, feel like they are fool­proof, though our cars car­ried the op­tional car­bon­ce­ramic units and not the reg­u­lar steel­ies.

The best part about the R8 is how ego­cen­tric it is. It feels as though every rev change is just for you to en­joy, every cracked gearshift is for your en­joy­ment and every hard-pushed slide is in­ten­tion­ally de­signed for you.

But it makes sure of it by turn­ing the in­te­rior into a homage to the driver. There’s ex­actly zero stuff for the pas­sen­ger to play with, even though there is 226l of lug­gage space be­hind the front seats.

The 12.3-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen is for the driver’s eyes only, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing about nav­i­ga­tion, speed, revs, fuel, lat­eral ac­cel­er­a­tion and torque and power use. And it’s re­ally all you need. It ar­rives in SA in the third quar­ter of 2019.

THE HAN­DLING IS CRISPER AND MORE AC­CU­RATE. IT’S ALSO MORE FUN, ES­PE­CIALLY IN ITS DY­NAMIC MODE

The new Audi R8 is a bit faster than be­fore, but much eas­ier to drive quickly.

The 12.3-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen is for the driver’s eyes only.

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