February 21, 2009 Saturday

Not 8, but a smashing 10

Beefy physique, blinding speed and razor-sharp steering. This German supermodel has it all

By edric pan, in marbella

Audi sweetens its R8 deal with a formidable V10 engine, sourced from the Lamborghini Gallardo. -- PHOTOS: AUDI

When your range-topping sports car already boasts 420bhp from its mid-mounted 4.2-litre V8 and hits 100kmh in 4.6 seconds on its way to a top speed of 301kmh, it needs more power like the world needs more investment bankers.

But that is precisely what the wacky engineers at Audi have given the R8 - more power, not investment bankers.

And it is not just a mild increase in output. It has plugged in a 5.2-litre V10 borrowed from the Lamborghini Gallardo, and it thumps out 525bhp, a crushing 105bhp more than the R8 V8 can muster.

Cosmetic changes to distinguish the R8 V10 are minimal and tasteful: newly styled 19-inch rims, fewer strakes on the air vents under the headlamps and taillamps, a black finish for the panel surrounding the rear number plate and a more sculpted 'sideblade' (the different coloured vertical panel ahead of the rear wheels) which results in larger side radiator intake openings.

The R8 V10 also boasts all-LED headlamps, a world first.

While the car looks a lot like its lesser sibling, it is unmistakably different to drive. The extra capacity is immediately evident the instant you move off, there is a huge amount of low-end torque (over 400Nm from 1,000rpm). This gives you an instant shove-in-the-back acceleration at any revs, in any gear.

But it is when you extend the engine that things go berserk. The subdued V10 purr suddenly turns into a snarl as you cross 4,000rpm and the engine's war cry as well as the already urgent acceleration escalate simultaneously into an almost violent crescendo as you close in on the 8,500rpm redline.

The R8 V10 hits 100kmh in 3.9 seconds, 200kmh in 12 seconds flat and maxes out at an amazing 316kmh. But if you have experienced its blinding performance for yourself, you will not need all that data to tell you that it is monstrously quick.

The R8 V10 is not just a straight-line hero. It has one of the most extraordinarily composed chassis as well. It is mid-engined and has a slightly rear-biased (44:56) weight balance, which make it very agile. But it also has an unusually wide track and long wheelbase, which give it a leech-like roadholding power and keep it resolutely planted through bends, even those taken at insane speeds.

The steering is quick, utterly slack-free and beautifully weighted and the car targets wherever you want it to go without hesitation.

The R8 is all-wheel-driven. But with 85 per cent of the power being channelled to the rear wheels most of the time, the handling is very throttle-adjustable.

Its handling is not darty and hyperactive like a lightweight track car's (it feels a bit more grown-up) but the experience it offers is every bit as thrilling.

And incredibly, the R8 rides comfortably too. This is thanks largely to adaptive electromagnetic dampers, which have the ability to evaluate driving style and conditions and to instantly firm themselves up when roll resistance is needed, while allowing an acceptably compliant ride the rest of the time.

We sample a manual version as well as one equipped with an R-Tronic semi-auto gearbox. While the manual gearbox has a fabulously slick and well-weighted shift, the R-Tronic proves to be an even better driving tool at the limit.

On the relentlessly ducking and diving mountain roads of the launch site in southern Spain, the R-Tronic allows us to tackle the route at incredible pace, endlessly flicking up and down the gears via the steering-mounted paddle-shifts as we charge from bend to bend, all the time with both hands securely on the wheel.

Each down change was accompanied by the most exhilarating engine blip and with the gearbox's Sport mode engaged, gear changes were nanosecond-quick.

In town, the R-Tronic demonstrates its versatility by being decently smooth-shifting as well. In this regard, the gearbox software appears to be an improvement over the R8 V8's, which has a tendency to lurch about somewhat in urban traffic.

The R8 V10 will be wickedly expensive (expect a price tag in the region of $600,000 when it arrives here late this year) but bear in mind that the brilliant car that is the V8 has turned into the extraordinary V10.

Perhaps those deviant Audi engineers have a point, after all.

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Price: To be announced
Engine: 5,204cc 40-valve V10
Transmission: Six-speed manual/ Six-speed R-Tronic semi-auto with paddle-shifts
Power: 525bhp at 8,000rpm
Torque: 530Nm at 6,500rpm
0-100kmh: 3.9 seconds
Top speed: 316kmh
Fuel consumption: 13.7 litres/100km (combined)
Agent: Premium Automobiles