In the summer of 2008, I was blown away by Audi’s then-new R8, a mid-engine exotic sports car that looked like nothing else on the road. With a 420 horsepower V8 tucked behind the passenger compartment, its performance was thrilling yet civilized.
Audi has since released an upgraded version of the car, called the R8 5.2 FSI. Visually, it’s pretty much the same as the original (and still available) R8 4.2 FSI but with one very significant difference. Under the transparent rear hatch sits an even bigger jewel of an engine with two additional cylinders: an all aluminum V10 borrowed from Audi’s corporate cousin Lamborghini.
The beauty of the basic Audi R8 is that it’s arguably the most user-friendly high-performance sports car on the road. Early reviews raved that it could serve as someone’s everyday car due to its comfort and ease of operation in normal road traffic. Only when pressed harder did its supercar manners come to the surface, almost like an automotive version of Jekyll and Hyde.
When Audi announced that there would be a second, more powerful iteration of the R8, there were some who wondered if its refinement and civility would be compromised by the extra 100-plus horsepower and slightly revised chassis. I can say for certain that the R8 V10 is still capable of being an everyday car, but is much more capable out on a windy road or even a race track.
Visually, it’s not easy to distinguish the V10 from the slightly lesser V8 model. There are small chrome insignias on the front fenders, and if you see the car from the rear the exhaust tips are two large ovals instead of four smaller round ones. The side air intakes are also a bit wider in order to bring more air into the radiators, but you’d have to be a real eagle eye to spot them. Finally, the V10 gets LED headlights as standard, though they are now optional on the V8.
The differences between the two cars are noticed more by the ear than the eyes. At the first twist of the key the mighty ten cylinder engine barks to life in a deep rumble. At low speeds the engine is actually fairly quiet and sedate. But then that Jekyll and Hyde nature shows up when the throttle is opened and the revs climb. A V10 has a distinct shriek, especially as this one is wound up to its 8,700 rpm redline.
Like the V8 model, the R8 5.2 FSI can be equipped with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, or the company’s R-tronic semi-automatic 6-speed that’s essentially a manual gearbox with a hydraulic automatic clutch. At maximum throttle and with the transmission set in “sport” mode, the gears change in 0.1 second either on their own, as the driver moves the aluminum gear lever in it’s +/- gate, or via steering wheel mounted paddles.
Thanks to the engine’s power, the transmission’s crisp shifting, and the standard all wheel drive system, this new R8 can rip to 60 miles per hour in under 4 seconds, and has a top speed of 196 miles per hour, according to Audi. (No, I didn’t try to verify any of these numbers myself, but did get a chance to exercise the car a little and have no doubt of their claims.) Those numbers compare favorably with just about any other high-end sports car on the market.
And compared to most other high-performance exotics, the Audi R8 is still the most civil to live with. Plenty of room for tall drivers, and other than an obvious need to stoop down for entry to the low seat, a very comfortable cabin. The layout of all the controls is just like most any other modern Audi, and things like the navigation system are very easy to use. If so inclined, someone could truly make this their day-to-day transportation car.
Fuel economy isn’t even what you’d call terrible, especially given the car’s exotic performance. The EPA says the R8 5.2 FSI with the R-tronic automatic transmission should get 13 miles per gallon in the city and 20 on the highway for a combined figure of 16. On a late night drive home to the Valley from an event near LAX, my test car was getting right around 19, even at speeds that might have been a little higher than what the government tests cars at.
And while this car is certainly expensive by pretty much anyone’s standards, it’s not outrageous for the engineering and performance it offers. Base price for a manual transmission model is $146,000, while the R-tronic example is $155,100. Everything pretty much comes standard, including the outstanding Bang & Olufsen sound system. That and other items are optional on the V8 version, which is more than $30,000 less.
If you’re considering an exotic sports car and care more about engineering and execution instead of just the logo on the key fob, the new R8 5.2 FSI is hard to beat. Figuratively and literally.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.