It’s weird to call a $184,000 supercar humble, but that’s how I’d describe the 2017 Audi R8 V10.
Oh, it’s a screamer, all right—540 horsepower on a massive V10 engine it shares with the Lamborghini Huracán. It has carbon fiber blades that span its sides like weapons. And it has a rumble that your friends and family will come to associate with you indelibly, whether you like it or not.
But that’s just it. While the Audi shares the same engine; transmission; carbon-fiber outer, upper B-pillar and rear bulkhead; chassis; steering; and general electronics as the shard-like Huracán, it is the decidedly more understated of the two Volkswagen-owned siblings. When I say “humble,” I mean it relatively.
In fact the R8 is the nuanced choice in a group of supercars that includes the McLaren 570S ($184,900), Porsche 911 Turbo S ($188,100), and Mercedes-Benz AMG GT ($111,200). This is a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say. It also happens to be a rare supercar-caliber machine that is soft enough around the edges that you could be happy, rather than annoyed, to drive it every day.
It is more reserved in style and tone than the McLaren, less ubiquitous than the 911, and less, um, overcompensatory than the AMG GT. It is Goldilocks’ middle bear, but in the context of expensive European supercars. Just right.
Minimal Changes to the Body
This is the latest generation offering on the coupe Audi introduced in 2006. The price has risen considerably since then; you could get an early model for $114,000. Nowadays there is no option for a smaller (read: less expensive) V8 engine.
But the 2017 does come with a choice: the 5.2-liter 540-horsepower V10 that I drove or a 5.2-liter 610-horsepower V10 Plus engine. The base model has 398 pound-feet of torque; the Plus has 413 pound-feet. The extra power brings the starting price to $189,900, but doesn’t offer that much more thrust; I’d spend the extra cash on such things as the scarlet brake calipers ($700) and go with the standard V10. It’s likely no one—including you, the driver—will know the difference anyway.
The same subtleties go for how this newest model looks compared with last year’s offering. Critical eyes will notice the tightened angles of the headlights and the new carbon fiber accents (Carbon Exterior Package: $5,600) along the sides, bottom, and rear. They may notice the 20-inch wheels with 10-spoke forged rims ($1,500) and full LED head and tail lamps that light up in stages across the rear.
From the side, if you squint a little, you can see a family resemblance between the Bugatti Veyron and the R8—something about the soft line from the rear fender forward. The effect is dramatic, in a less outlandish way. (One man outside a pizza shop in SoHo told me he liked how it looked, and when I thanked him, he responded: “No, thank you. I’m just happy to see it.”) But in general, Audi has left the compact, rounded styling of the R8 untouched from previous years.
Drives Like a Video Game Star
You’re going to love the feel of this mid-engine rocket ship: zero-to-60 mph in a speed-of-sound-fast 3.5 seconds; top speed is 199 mph. (The V10 Plus does zero-60 in 3.2 seconds with a top speed of 205 mph.) The 7-speed, all-wheel drive comes standard. When I was driving to the beach yesterday with a girlfriend, the slightest push on the gas gave us a smooth, sleek acceleration that felt as close to driving inside a video game as any other car I’ve driven in its class. Take it to 177 mph on the track, as I did with champion racer Tom Kristensen at Daytona earlier this year, and you’ll feel as though you've entered a different dimension altogether.
The R8 comes with Drive Select (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic) and also with a Performance mode that is optional on the V10 and standard on the V10 Plus models. That mode unlocks three extra settings (Dry, Wet, Snow) that adjust the car for aggressive driving during inclement weather. Do note: Efficiency on this tops out at only 22 mpg on the highway (it’s 14 mpg in the city), which incurs the $1,300 federal gas-guzzler tax. (Final price on the car I drove was $183,050, which includes this cost.)
The brakes on the R8 are gentle—and quite good. They coddle you into complete blind trust, like a baby in a basinet. The steering handles as well as anything you’ll spend $100,000 more on. Weaving through traffic feels like the easiest game of tic-tac-toe you ever played, as if you’re driving with your eyes open while everyone else is blindfolded. To wit: One well-known movie star I know who owns one (I mention his notoriety and profession only because he’s the sort of guy who can afford to drive whatever he wants) told me this week that he’ll sell his in a year or two—but for now he’s having too much fun jumping up and down the 405 to drive anything else. He’s right. While the Mercedes AMG GT and Porsche 911 have a raw, red-blooded intensity to their power, the R8 feels like the cool celestial blue of the future. If they’re rock music, the R8 is jazz.
Inside Feels Big and Futuristic
There is a slight hum to the car when you accelerate; it sounds cool and progressive and complements the personality of the interior, which is where the R8 becomes truly singular. The minimalism of the design is augmented with spots of functionality: Dials are kept to low numbers on the center console, while the Drive Select and red start button are both set ON the steering wheel. The look echoes the Huracán’s fighter-pilot interior but is slightly more refined.
Three big round knobs along the dash control the automatic climate; the navigation and radio and most of the other controls are shown in the center of the steering wheel, right below your line of sight when you drive. It can take some getting used to, but it’s efficient and ergonomic once you habituate yourself. Navigation, Bang & Olufsen sound, and an excellent parking system with rearview camera all come standard. So do the 18-way power-adjusting seats (with side bolsters for your legs!). The problem with the seats, though, is that they don’t slide back far enough for some drivers—a small storage ledge behind your head prevents them from extending super far, as they would in a Corvette or that Merc.
I loved the quilted Alcantara that coats just about everything inside, including the high ceiling. (It’s also on the seats if you pay $5,000 extra for the Diamond Stitch Leather package.) If you spring for such things as the Carbon Interior Package ($3,400), you’ll find Audi has done a great job of making the interior feel expensive but not stuffy or cluttered with unnecessary technology/buttons/screens.
Did I mention the trunk is in the front of this car? That’s because the engine is showcased in a glass safe in the rear. The trunk is big enough to carry a beach bag for one, but not two, women. (My friend and I learned this the hard way on the way out east). Does that give you an idea of the size? While the legroom is satisfactory as long as you’re not too tall, and the headroom works for even the tallest drivers, the storage here is nil. If you plan to do a trip longer than a day in this sucker, pack lightly.
Then again, that’s kind of the point of this car. It is at its best transporting you into another world—not reminding you of the hassles of this one.