On a bad day, car criticism is about finding faults with the very things car critics enjoy. You are invited to watch the dreary, bloodless business of marking demerits on a new car's record for shoddy switchgear, insufficient verve or?whatever.
Today, friends, is not that day.
Today, we consider the 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI (yes, that's the one with the V10), a car so well conceived and executed that we haven't the slightest interest in quibbling or equivocating.
This is a great car.
The Particulars and Caveats
We will not pretend in this particular tale that we weren't swayed by Audi's offer to let us do whatever we damn well pleased with its $164,050 worth of carbon fiber and aluminum on a roughly 2,000-mile road trip. That one company representative actually laughed heartily when we told him we'd unintentionally vaporized a not-small hare on a nighttime run on a lonely Nevada highway with the company's car might also have had some sway with us.
Indeed, it wasn't the R8 V10's performance during our few giddy laps of Infineon Raceway that impressed us most, although on that treacherous road course it impressed mightily and scared us in roughly equal measure. Neither the 525-horsepower midengine missile's performance on a steamy evening at the Sacramento Raceway Park drag strip nor its impressive numbers on our own test track sold us on the R8 V10. Though predictably, it killed there as well.
No, what impressed us most was the R8 V10's ability to turn 11.8-second quarter-mile runs while reminding us why we fell in love with manual transmissions in the first place, while impressing standers-by yet not so much that they assumed we were insufferable rich guys, and while handling with aplomb the indignities dished out by public roads and two tall guys on a long road trip.
This Ain't No NSX
It's true that an R8 V8 equipped with the identical six-speed manual could accomplish many of these same things for something on the order of $30,000 less than this V10 model. (And we love that car, too.)
What the V10 model brings is no need for excuses. With some justification, the regular R8 with its 420-hp V8 has been criticized in some quarters as staking out the same ground that the Acura NSX once did — that of the no-muss, no-fuss everyday supercar.
Implicit in that back-handed compliment is the notion that, like the Acura, the R8 V8 is a bit underpowered to truly rival comparable models from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche. The R8, in fact, lost our 2007 comparison test to the Porsche 911 Turbo for that reason. The Audi was spectacular to behold and operate, but a 12.8-second run through the quarter-mile simply would not cut it against the 480-hp Porsche.
The V10 version, with its additional 105 hp and 74 pound-feet of torque, needn't make any excuses. Numbers matter in this game. No pitcher wants to throw the slowest fastball in the game.
With a quarter-mile run of 11.8 seconds, the high-revving, dry-sump V10 (a variation of the same motor that powers the Audi S6 and Lamborghini Gallardo chops a full second off the R8's quarter-mile time. It also shaves seven-tenths of a second from the car's 0-60 run. It'll now do 3.7 seconds (3.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip).
The rest of our test results are, predictably, within the margin of testing variation compared to the previous R8s we've tested. We say predictable, because except for the engine, little of the R8's mechanical makeup has changed for the V10 model. The V10 carries the same size Pirelli summer tires (235/35R19 front, 295/30R19 rear) as the standard model. It carries the same magnetorheological two-mode adaptive dampers as the last V8 we tested. It has the same cross-drilled steel brake rotors clamped by the same eight-piston front and four-piston rear calipers.
The V10 circles the skid pad with 0.97g of grip (which is between the 0.98 and 0.96 of the two V8 R8s we've tested). It stops from 60 mph in 104 feet (1 foot longer than our previous best effort in a V8 car). And a skilled driver can weave through our slalom at 70.7 mph (again, between our results from the two V8 test cars). The handling results are better than that of the Porsche Turbo we tested (again) and the braking figure is the same. It's hard to imagine the V10 wouldn't have won that comparison test against its German rival.
There are faster cars, certainly, but not many. The cheaper Corvette ZR1 is a few tenths faster through the quarter and the much cheaper Nissan GT-R is as fast through the quarter as the Audi.
On public roads, though, there are few cars that can match the R8 V10's broad range of talents and satisfactions. We've taken up a fair amount of bytes extolling the virtues of the R8's open-gate shifter. It clicks and clacks as you move the lever through the gears in a way that is wholly satisfying to anyone with a shred of mechanical sensitivity.
That it's connected to this ripping V10 makes it all the more rewarding to work. As impressive as the numbers indicate, they don't capture the thrill of it all. With an 8,000 rpm power peak and an 8,700 rpm redline, this motor is the gift that keeps on giving. It just keeps accumulating thrust in a mad rush that ceases all conversation in the car. Or it does until you check the speedometer and say something along the lines of, "Oh, damn!" a millisecond before you back off.
And the car is utterly unflappable on any curving road you'd care to mention. Slow, tight mountain roads? No problem. The car is supernaturally nimble for its size. Open, sweeping valley roads? It is capable of such smooth, stable progress that you will be going much, much faster than a sane person would.
That all of this titillation can be contained in a car that's so comfortable over the road — so composed and so refined — is the R8 V10's true accomplishment. We don't typically subscribe to the theory that there's virtue in a car doing some things poorly and some things brilliantly. This is the flawed car-guy logic that allowed Ferrari to get through the 1970s and '80s with its reputation largely intact. At least we don't see virtue when a troubled piece of industrial design is compared to cars that do it all really, really, really well. The R8 V10 is such a car. Hell, you can even see out of the thing.
In the Details
At a starting price of $150,200, the V10-powered 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI is not cheap. For this roughly extra $30,000 compared to an R8 V8, a buyer gets not just the power but also a long list of standard equipment that should take some of the sticker shock out of the final bill.
Our test car came with an absurd amount of optional carbon-fiber trim both inside and out that was largely responsible for jacking its as-tested price to $164,050. Unless you have a fetish for the woven black stuff, you can opt out and put $8,400 back in your wallet. All of the non-trim items — high- and low-beam LED headlights, navigation system, killer Bang & Olufsen sound system and heated 10-way power seats — are standard.
Lest we forget, the R8 V10 comes with its own exterior trim package, including shiny black trim in place of flat-black trim, a splash more chrome, unique wheels, oval exhaust tips in place of the four round tips of the V8 and flared side air intakes. We could take or leave these changes from the standard car. They neither improve nor detract from the basic look of the R8. About one in 10 people that approached us during our road trip recognized this R8 as the new V10. That, it seems to us, is about right for the wildest-looking unassuming supercar you can buy.
What are we going to do, complain about the switchgear? It's all worth it.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says:
It might be hard to believe, but I'm conflicted about Audi's ne plus ultra supercar. I'm impressed with what the R8 5.2 FSI does. I can appreciate the amazing engineering that went into its design and production, and I'd like to see what it'd do to a proper road course someday, but I don't love this car. It is, indeed, a supercar. It looks, sounds, accelerates, brakes, handles and costs like it. So what the heck is my problem?
This car has too much chill and not enough thrill. Unlike a comparable Ferrari or Porsche, the Audi R8 5.2 is so highly polished, ultra-controlled and well-sorted that it feels antiseptically cleansed of the typical OMG thrills associated with road-missile capabilities like these.
I drove the car for numbers at the test track and later for the video shoot. I think I spent more time above 100 mph in the R8 5.2 FSI than in anything in recent memory. And do you know what? It never scared me: not once.
Even with the stability and traction controls defeated, the R8 did exactly, calculatedly as it was told. Lively? Sure, but I got the distinct feeling that I wasn't the first person who had driven the car to its limits. Mind you, when the R8 5.2 is on the limit, things are happening in a damned hurry, but it's so easy to predict and maintain on that edge that I felt like it didn't really need me aside from moving its shift lever from one slot to another. While I typically applaud a manufacturer for building a car that has such extreme performance that is so accessible, the midengine R8 V10 needs more mystery to captivate me.
This car doesn't need me. I don't love it and it doesn't love me back. It's a cold-hearted supercar, if there ever was such a thing.
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