Words by Jennifer Jensen
Photos by Steven Pham and Jennifer Jensen
We have had Audi’s all-new R8 V10 Plus for the better part of a week, and the bulk of my time behind the wheel has either been parked in bumper-to-bumper LA traffic or to reposition it as we take pretty pictures.
I will say that the R8 has been graceful and courteous during all of this and has shown no attitude. It just performed as asked. But after all this tiresome and grueling monotony there is something calling to me: Highway 1.
It is one of the most beautiful ribbons of concrete and asphalt in the continental United States, and I am about to tackle it in the R8 V10 Plus.
That “Plus” is important because it takes the standard V-10’s output of 540 horsepower and, through the magic of something the Audi engineers must have found by reading the Harry Potter series, turns up the wick to 610 horsepower.
Torque from the 5.2-liter, race-derived V-10 is also increased in the “Plus” model from a not-inconsequential 398 pound-feet to 413 pound-feet at the same 6,500 RPM.
The Plus model also dresses itself in carbon fiber everything, including the front lip spoiler, the side blades, the rear diffuser and a fixed rear wing. The Plus is also less because it drops 110 pounds from the standard R8 V10.
But let’s talk about numbers later, Highway 1 is calling to me.
I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. as our crew is still holed up in a hotel in north Los Angeles. The Dynamite Red R8 has been with us for a few days, but I’ve barely had a chance to turn the wheel. It is a Sunday, and I am hoping to hit the famous highway before the masses do because it is going to be a long day of driving. I need to be in San Francisco by nightfall.
At 5:23 a.m. my brain kicks in, and I jump out of bed, canceling my unneeded alarm along the way. A quick shower, and I toss my hair into a ponytail through the back of a hat. No need to try to look decent today as I expect anyone who sees me won’t be able to peel their eyes off of the car long enough to know there is even a driver inside.
The early morning sun is simply gleaming off the sharp creases in the R8’s bodywork.
When Audi launched the first-generation R8 10 years ago, it was a stunning car in the flesh. Aggressive yet elegant, which is a hard combination to pull off successfully. The shape has proven to be desirable as the early cars have aged very well and still look fresh on the road today.
Audi has followed in Porsche’s footsteps with this second-generation car and favored evolution over revolution. When you see it, you still know it is an R8.
However, the flowing lines of the previous car have been hardened and the edges more clearly defined. In the initial press photos it was hard to discern any real significant differences at all. But now, staring at those fresh lines in the flesh, it is clear that this is a harder-edged sports car than the original.
I toss my soft bag into the “frunk” and climb into the carbon-fiber sports seat.
I have two concerns at this point.
First, that frunk and a small shelf behind the seats, is the only luggage area in the entire sinuous body. I wonder where I would have put my bags if I did not have another crew car with the bulk of my gear in it. Or what I would do if my sweetie and I were to go on a weeklong excursion to find some awesome back roads.
Thule luggage rack perhaps?
The seats themselves provide my second area of concern. They slide fore and aft. That’s it. No tilt, no recline, no lumbar support, no adjustments at all. You could specify a different seat than these track-focused buckets though I’m not sure I would.
Twelve hours in the car should help me settle that one.
I push the red engine start button on the right-hand side of the steering wheel and the V-10 just over my shoulder fires to life with a whirring buzzing chatter that sounds completely different than any other engine I have heard in recent years.
At low RPM there is a synthetic quality to the noise. It’s musical and entertaining but does not sound too dissimilar to a dozen pint-sized sewing machines stitching together tiny little blankets.
The engine initially seems muted to my ears but just below that start/stop button is an exhaust button. I push it, and the R8 finds its true voice: throaty, deep and burbling. The finer hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand at attention.
Let’s get moving!
The R8 used to be available with your choice of a DSG or a manual transmission. No such choice is available in the new car — DSG only. So, I reach over to the center console mounted gear lever, push the button on the side in and push the lever forward to engage reverse.
Yes, forward to go backward. Genius. Maybe someday the PRNDL will come back.
I back out of my overnight spot at the end of the hotel’s lot and engage drive. You guessed it, pull the lever back to go forward.
Let’s see how this thing shifts when left in “Auto” mode. Out of the parking lot and onto the road. It’s going to be a warm day and the engine comes to temp relatively quickly. A couple of miles later, and I merge onto California Interstate 5. Because it’s Sunday morning, the bumper-to-bumper traffic is gleefully absent.
The R8 is calm and sure-footed. The gearshifts are almost imperceptible just loping along on this highway. It’s louder in here than I thought it might be, and depending on road conditions, the cabin becomes an almost echo chamber for road noise.
It’s a good thing there is an incredible Bang & Olufsen sound system custom tailored to the R8. It’s a pricey option, but to my ears it is worth every single penny.
I take Highway 126 west to connect to the 101. The cabin is filled with nice materials. Leather is everywhere and the extended leather package is one of the options selected for this particular car. The posh cabin makes the sport seats feel a little out of place, but my back isn’t barking at me yet.
The 101 is a little more trafficked, and my pace slows to just below the posted limits. Audi has cleaned up and modernized the interior of the R8. The cabin is dominated by a large interactive screen where the instruments used to reside in the binnacle straight ahead of the driver.
Dubbed the “Audi Virtual Cockpit” the display measures 12.3-inches and is in full, high-resolution, color. The refresh rate is 60 frames-per-second and one of the options when running through the different views is to make the nav screen all encompassing of the screen. It uses Google Earth mapping and it looks absolutely fantastic!
Just north of Santa Barbara, I top off the 19.3-gallon tank, which shows a range of about 400 miles. I’m guessing that will drop rather rapidly once I get to play in the upper reaches of the rev range.
As I get away from any major cities I am elated that the roads are definitely less traveled. Up to this point I’ve let the R8 choose its own shift points and throttle response by making good use of the car’s “comfort” mode.
Shifts are early and the magnetic ride control is soft-ish. I push the “Drive select” button on the left side of the steering wheel and let things settle into “Auto” mode.
This is when the R8 is supposed to read my mind and react appropriately.
If I’m hard on the throttle very often, then it’s going to hold my shifts longer. It should also tighten up the steering and suspension if I’m driving aggressively. Not surprisingly, all of those things happen.
But I’m not one to leave things to a guessing computer, so I hit the button again to get to “Dynamic” mode.
There is an immediate downshift from 7th to 6th gear. Revs jump up from about 2,600 to 3,200, and the car almost instantly feels more alive. The steering wheel begins to dart about in my hands, and the chassis is more buttoned-down, hugging every curve of the road as I finally turn north onto Highway 1.
Ah, Dynamic Mode, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
At least 8,500 ways because that’s where redline comes into play. Peak power is reached at 8,250 RPM, but somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 RPM, the engine note switches from overactive sewing machines to an insane growl and thumping that ignites my heart.
The ceramic brakes haul all 3,627 pounds of R8 down in no time flat. In fact, these brakes are fantastic. There is no stickiness, no grabbing, just smooth easy progression depending on how hard I push the pedal.
With a digital G-Meter on display in the configurable dash I speed up to hear the engine howl, and slam the brakes again. One full G of deceleration, and the tires don’t even argue.
It seems all of the Weekend Warriors are heading home. My plan was foolish from the get go. I should have known. Pickup trucks towing campers, rental Mustangs, family filled sedans and camera-happy tourists are clogging the beauty of Highway 1.
I’m probably the only driver here that is more focused on the road than the gorgeous scenery to my left as the sun glints off the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of turnouts, but no one is using them!
So, I trod along, well under the speed limit and start to get frustrated because I know, I KNOW what this car can do, and this is my only chance to fully exploit the R8.
A few deep breaths and I turn my attention back to the infotainment system. The voice recognition software actually works quite well. Perhaps better than any other car I’ve been in.
I try to trick the system but it picks up on my intent and serves up what I am looking for. From radio stations to climate control to navigation, this system works really well. The MMI (Multi Media Interface knob and buttons) on the center console allows for quick interaction with the system if you don’t feel like talking to it.
Wait a second. Wait. Just. One. Second. The top of the MMI knob is a mousepad!
You can use it to “write” in the infotainment system. I spend the next 20 miles handwriting with a single finger on top of the MMI knob. The system recognizes everything I write — even accents and tildes!
Well done, Audi. Well done.
I get pretty tired of being in a line of 30 other drivers and use one of the turnouts to my advantage. It affords a beautiful view for some photos of the striking design and also lets me get out of traffic for a few minutes to get some breathing room to exercise the chassis.
Back behind the wheel the Quattro system, engineered to provide a rear-wheel-drive feeling, has a bit of difficulty getting traction on the sand as I spin all four wheels launching the R8 back onto the highway.
Speed gathers at breakneck rapidity, and I, once again, rely on the ceramic brakes to scrub off my smile as I quickly catch up to traffic.
I am simply floored at how well the DSG works in this car. I loved the fact that the previous generation R8 offered up a manual transmission in either V8 or V10 iterations. With the third pedal gone from the footwell, I felt that the R8 might be a little less involving.
The difference is that this new car is so much faster.
I could never shift this fast. I don’t know a single human being who could. There is a satisfying click when you engage a gear whether going up the speeds or down. And in this wonderful Dynamic mode there is an addictive crackle whenever you let off the gas. The overrun pops reverberate off the mountain wall as I speed up just to slow down.
This car is as hilarious as it is accomplished.
As the sun begins to fade away and I get closer to civilization, the traffic slowly disappears, and I finally get the opportunity to stretch the R8’s legs. Click down a few gears and stomp on the throttle. The R8 digs into the road and I expect to see asphalt chunks flying in my rearview mirror. I am propelled forward, and my smile is no longer optional.
Off the throttle as I guide the nose through a tight turn across the apex and on throttle coming out. The Quattro system, supported by torque vectoring, makes it almost too easy to drive fast around these hairpins.
The R8 is alive in my hands and below my rear. The road rises and falls as it clings to the western-most edge of the US.
I’m working harder, and the R8 just continues to deliver as if it is not even trying. We press on, using the “magic hour” of light for driving instead of beauty shots.
This is a drive I will remember in my dreams for years to come.
I skirt the edge of legal limits because I just want to know how far this R8 will go. How capable it really is under real-world pressure on one of the most iconic roads available because I just don’t have a track.
And for the first time in a while, I want a track, I need a track, please give me a track!
Therein lies the problem with the R8 V10 Plus: It is simply brilliant.
The technology inside the cabin is new, innovative and, above all, it just works. The R8 looks the part and the powerful V-10, magnetorheological dampers and the rest of the chassis deliver on those looks.
But to feel it work, to feel the joy that this car can deliver, you need to push beyond the typical legal limits we have here in the US. It is so accomplished, it’s hard to have the playful fun you want a car like this to deliver unless you’re breaking the law.
Unless you can make it to a track on a regular basis, owning this car is going to drive you nuts.
The R8 V10 Plus is, perhaps, too good. And I want one anyway.
Learn about the latest Audi R8 Coupe at audiusa.com
Originally published in 2016.