Matt Davis, European Correspondent
Since it first appeared as the Le Mans Quattro Concept at the Frankfurt auto show way back in September 2003, the Audi R8 has lived up to its hype and then some. But now we finally get to have a go at the 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10 — the version of the R8 that we have always been waiting for, really.
Does it bother us one bit that this R8 with a V10 is just a longer and curvier Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4? Oh, yeah, sure, that really bothers us. Are you nuts?
We have driven this thundering, all-aluminum, all-wheel-drive 518-horsepower Porsche-stalker with immense pleasure over the likewise immensely pleasurable seaside hills of southern Spain. Audi has been telling us that the R8 would become a glorious combination of German practicality and Italian exuberance, and this drive in the 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro shows us that the Bavarian company has delivered on this promise beyond our wildest expectations.
There's a reason why the 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10's signature color is white, the traditional color of Germany in motorsports. This is more than just a fast car; it's a statement about Germany, about Audi. All that stuff about engineering with spiritual purpose? The hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of millions of dollars Audi has spent racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the last decade?
Here is where it has led us.
Attitude, Kid If ye be a shrewd one, you'll catch the dual oval exhaust tips gaping out the back of the 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10. The humble R8 with its 4.2-liter V8 — 5,500 of which were built by Quattro GmbH and delivered worldwide in 2008, about as many as the total number of 2008 Ferraris to hit the street in the same time period — has stacked twin exhausts on each side. But in this case, two mouths make more rumble than four. The V10's exhaust voice is unmistakably more basso than baritone, though, and even with a redline of 8,700 rpm versus the redline of 8,250 for the V8, we couldn't make the thing really scream in the lower gears during runs through the Spanish countryside. Just like the Lamborghini V10, the exhaust sound swells in girth and not much in height.
The car's dimensions don't vary much from the V8 model — the V10 measures just 3 millimeters taller and 4mm longer. This car is wider than the V8 by just over an inch, though, and this is because the wider side blades (i.e., air scoops) take in more air for cooling and, frankly, just add more badass-edness to the way the V10-powered R8 looks.
Besides the big-mouthed oval exhaust tips, the V10-powered version of the R8 makes its presence known with glossy black intake slots that now number just two instead of three. Audi also hopes you notice the world's first complete array of automotive LED lighting elements — the headlights, taillights, indicators and positioning lights all use LED lights. LEDs have a virtually limitless life span, and Audi's technicians insist that LEDs are less fatiguing to the human eye, provide better illumination in general and consume less energy. (Some of this might be true, but when a car thus equipped raises its nose in our sight lines, we are bedazzled for an instant and cannot be held responsible for what happens in that blinded moment.)
The 10-spoke wheels are lightweight, forged pieces with a Y theme, but their impact is really meant to be primarily visual. And in conjunction with the car's pronounced rocker sills, they help give the Audi R8 V10 the right touch of evil.
Empowering Owners We can't really say a single scandalous thing about the dry-sump 5.2-liter FSI V10 engine that's nestled in a carbon-look magnesium cradle within a lighted glass case behind the driver's head. At 569 pounds, this V10 engineered by the Audi-VW Group weighs just 68 pounds more than the 4.2-liter V8. The V8's output of 414 horsepower at 7,800 rpm bounces to the V10's 518 hp at 8,000 rpm, while torque increases from 317 pound-feet between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm for the V8 to a peak of 391 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm in the V10 after a relatively flat and fun run from 3,900 rpm.
In a way, this engine recalls the great V12 and V16 engines of the Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930s, the spiritual forbears of Audi, in that tractable power is more important than the silly whoop, whoop of a light-flywheel engine. If you've ever heard the smooth, swelling note of one of the Auto Union racing engines designed by Dr. Porsche, you'll never forget it, and indeed the sound of this direct-injected 5.2-liter V10 from either inside or outside the car is worth the price of admission.
Audi tells us that the 3,583-pound R8 V10 equipped with its R tronic six-speed single-clutch automated manual transmission (a conventional six-speed manual transmission is also available) will accelerate to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 3.9 seconds compared to the 4.6 seconds it takes the 3,450-pound R8. The 3,320-pound Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 with the same powertrain as the R8 V10 (except with 552 horses) gets the same job done in 3.7 seconds. (Do you see the potential for internal squabbling taking shape among Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt and Sant'Agata Bolognese? Boy, we do.)
Even though we feel that Audi's 15-inch ceramic brake discs should be standard equipment here instead of optional, we're not arguing with what we feel through the brake pedal while testing this car's conventional brakes, as the bite from the eight-piston front calipers is crisp and sure and there's no sign of brake fade from the steel rotors.
Not surprisingly, the power and torque delivery for this V10-powered Audi is just as sensational as it is for the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. The aggressive 15 percent front/85 percent rear torque split between axles for the R8's all-wheel-drive system works magic, combining the traction of all-wheel drive with the handling characteristics of rear-wheel drive.
Dynamics R Us Latched into this car's sport seats, we feel fast even before we launch. The combination of support for your shoulders and lower back is just right, so the seats help us anticipate a hard, long-distance drive with pleasure. Meanwhile, the entire practical interface for the driver is familiar stuff from the base R8, with only the instrument dials changing to reflect the higher revs we can reach for, not to mention a top speed of 196 mph. The top of the gearshift knob, speedo and tachometer also come etched with a red accent circle.
Audi has wisely specified its magnetorheostatic damper system as standard equipment for the R8 V10 and we cherish it all over again in this case. The rates for the dampers, springs and bushings have been stiffened to account for the added weight (distributed 44 percent front/56 percent rear), yet the car feels familiar as an R8 — tractable, easy to drive, even comfortable. The suspension can be left in the default mode to adapt as it feels necessary to our needs along the Spanish trail, or (the way we most frequently like it) you can choose a more stiff-legged setting to take advantage of the 1.2g of cornering grip Audi says this car can achieve with its 235/35R19 front and 295/30R19 rear tires. Transitions into and out of said multitude of curves on the Spanish highway are handled smoothly but with real authority.
Audi refers to the driver's cocoon as the "monoposto," conjuring up racing images for the marketing department to play with. This R8 V10 is, after all, the base material from which Abt Sportsline and Audi have built up the new R8 LMS GT3 racing car that is being put into the hands of privateers for endurance racing this season.
With a slightly wider front track and the standard lightweight 19-inch forged-aluminum wheels carrying low-profile Pirelli P Zero tires, plus an improved power-to-weight ratio over the R8 V8 (6.8 pounds per hp vs. 8.3 pounds per hp for the R8 V8), plus the trick AMR suspension, plus the very stiff all-aluminum body structure, we feel confident enough to fling this car around, and it responds readily and with minimal body roll (although not quite like a Ferrari 430 Scuderia when it comes to aggressive body control, if that's your thing).
In a straight line, hot throttle and braking can remind us that there's some added weight behind our head, but that's par for the course when you add two cylinders back there. Besides, this car feels more substantial and mighty for all of that. And the added heaps of power and torque pretty much negate any detrimental effects of additional heft anyway.
That Transmission At this point, Audi fully understands that we prefer the standard six-speed manual transmission in lieu of the un-incredible overall behavior of the R tronic single-clutch automated manual toggle-shifter. Even though Audi originally foresaw an installation mix of 70 percent R tronic and 30 percent manual transmission in the R8, you can actually switch those percentages now and be closer to the correct number.
To our way of thinking (or driving), the R tronic's tendency to upshift automatically below the redline and then furnish a programmed gear kickdown under throttle while exiting curves or overtaking (both while in Manual mode without the Sport button lit) are not desirable things in this caliber of car. Keeping the Sport mode lit like a beacon to your driving enthusiasm is the only current solution to these issues.
When we ask about a dual-clutch transmission for the R8's future, our Ingolstadt contact says, "The problem is, the sheer investment required to make the S tronic dual-clutch isn't viable for the R8 business case." Apparently the investment for a dual-clutch transmission compatible with the V10's torque and midengine packaging could be anywhere between $40 million and $100 million, so Audi is holding off until the worldwide economy finally gets its pants back on. So, we live with the R tronic until the second-generation R8 in 2013 or so. It can get its shifts at speed down to one-tenth of a second, but it is simply unsophisticated as an instrument for all-around driving.
Bigger Motors, Open Tops While Europe gets its Audi R8 5.2-liter FSI V10 delivered starting in late May of this year, Audi has not confirmed the car for U.S. sale, at least for the moment. At the earliest, U.S. sales wouldn't start before the first half of 2010. It'll cost $182,499 in Europe.
Quattro GmbH has been cranking out the R8 at maximum capacity — the aforementioned 5,500 units in 2008. The R8 V10 will make up 35 percent of the first-generation R8's life cycle, while the upcoming R8 roadster (in both V8 and V10 models) is expected to be the body configuration of choice for more than 50 percent of these clients.
One more anonymous source in the know tells us that Audi is not stopping at this already exceptional V10-powered R8, either. While the Audi R8 V12 TDI diesel concept car that we drove briefly last spring has now been officially killed off, Audi boffins are experimenting with an even faster supercar that will dare to go head-to-head with the Lamborghini Murciélago LP640.
It's taken Audi awhile to deliver the supercar that it's been promising us, but the 2010 Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10 appears to be just the beginning of a true German presence in the exotic car market. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz tried and failed to crack this barrier, so all credit to the romantic engineers at Audi.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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