First Drive Review: 2010 Audi R8 5.2 V10 FSI Quattro
By Jens Meiners of Car and Driver
Building the R8 has been one of the best decisions Audi has ever made. At launch, Audi had almost everything right. Indeed, avant-garde styling, light weight from an all-aluminum body and structure, and nearly perfect handling with a standard all-wheel-drive system all contribute to the car's special nature. Alas, one thing was missing from the package: brute force.
It's true that tuners such as MTM in Wettstetten, Germany, have squeezed extra power out of the R8's standard 420-hp, 4.2-liter V-8, bringing it into supercar territory. But it has been a poorly kept secret for some time that Audi was planning its own, more-powerful version of the R8, with a V-10 installed behind the driver's head. And now it has arrived.
Simple to Accomplish
In deference to the Volkswagen Group's internal pecking order, the R8 V-10 is rated at 525 hp, 27 less than the Gallardo's. It is also noticeably quieter than the super-loud Lambo, although it sacrifices little in the character department. The engine's tone is unmistakable as being racing-bred, whereas the regular R8's V-8 timbre possesses less fullness.
Make Sure You Have a "Get Out of Jail Free" Card
Despite its all-wheel-drive system, the R8 behaves a lot like a rear-drive car. It sends almost all of its power to the rear wheels, with up to 30 percent of the power transmitted to the front wheels once wheelspin is detected. The weight distribution is about 44 percent in the front and 56 percent in the rear, and the bigger engine doesn't add much heft. At 569 pounds, the V-10 is just 68 pounds heavier than the V-8.
The limits of the R8 V-10 are extremely high. The ESP stability-control system has very little work to do even when you corner at insane speeds. The steering is precise and direct but not exceedingly aggressive. This car will stay neutral for a long time, and when it finally breaks loose, it doesn't bite like other mid- or rear-engined sports cars. Just don't stomp on the throttle clumsily.
Unless, that is, you plan to use the V-10's launch control system. When driving an R8 equipped with the optional six-speed R tronic automated manual, the launch control procedure is thus: Turn the ESP off, push the transmission's Sport button, put the car into gear, step on the brake with your left foot, and floor it. The engine settles in at a nice 5000 rpm. Lift off the brake pedal and hang on. (You even get launch control with the six-speed manual transmission. Remove the Sport button bit, and substitute dropping the clutch for standing on the brakes, and the method is the same.)
The V-10 is more powerful and serves up more torque (391 lb-ft versus 317 lb-ft for the V-8), and it also revs to an 8700-rpm redline versus the V-8's 8400 rpm. Audi claims that 0 to 62 mph comes up in 3.9 seconds versus the factory's conservative 4.5-second figure for the V-8. (The original R8 has reached 60 mph as quickly as 4.0 seconds in our tests.) Top speed climbs from 187 mph to 196 mph. As a comparison, our tests show the Gallardo LP560-4 covering 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds and reaching a top speed of 202 mph.
To shift gears using the R tronic, you have a choice of paddles on the steering wheel or using the gearlever, which is maddeningly backward with its push-forward upshifts and pull-back downshifts. Instead, you could just stick with the manual gearbox, which is operated through a beautiful open gate. It's so easy to match the revs when downshifting, and the shifter makes such a beautiful clack-clack sound, that we wouldn't miss the R tronic for a second.
Double-Clutch Fun? No. Ceramic Brakes? Maybe.
Europeans get to choose between fine-performing regular brakes and optional ceramic stoppers. The ceramics virtually eliminate fade and are so aggressive that you won't ever forget you paid €8820 — $11,000 — for them. It's not clear whether they will be offered here.
Still Livable, Still Beautiful
You might need to be an Audi aficionado to notice the changes to the exterior. The areas around the front and rear air intakes and vents are now painted black, the side skirts and the rear diffuser are altered, the rear lights are darker, and the trademark side blades behind the doors are wider to suck in more air. The V-10 also gets specific 19-inch wheels with a futuristic and edgy 10-spoke design.
Full LED headlights, which are optional on the European R8 V-8, are standard on the V-10. Disappointingly, neither the standard xenon headlights of the V-8 nor the LED units provide swiveling or cornering lights. Audi says the LEDs are the quickest high-beams on the market, for whatever that's worth. But even though flashing to pass is not considered good etiquette in Europe anymore, these ultraquick LEDs come in handy when you are perhaps in too much of a hurry to consider the feelings of those moving roadblocks ahead of you. Unfortunately, the super-cool LED strips that serve as rear turn signals won't make it across the pond, as they are too thin for U.S. regulations.
Audi has built more than 10,000 R8s in just two years, and the plant that assembles the car in Neckarsulm, Germany, is running at capacity. The V-10 cures the V-8's single problem — its relative lack of power versus other supercars.
In fact, Audi is so confident about its new top dog that it has priced the R8 5.2 FSI a proud €35,000 ($44,750) above the 4.2. We believe that the V-10 will cost about $150,000 in the U.S. when it appears in the fourth quarter of 2009. That's not an insignificant chunk of change, but what's an extra dash of brutality worth these days, anyway?