A very brief first drive of one of 2015's most hotly anticipated cars: the second coming of the Audi R8. The first-gen car was a revelation in the everyday supercar game: fun, fast, usable and relatively affordable.
It did more for Audi's reputation than handing out free sweeties and flu jabs with every new A3 would have. Short of the turbocharged Ferrari 488 GTB, few cars this year have a predecessor as tough to emulate. No pressure, then.
Only a brief drive, though?
Afraid so. Audi said we could drive the new R8, but only for one fairly fast lap around the full Le Mans de la Sarthe circuit, on a sweltering June afternoon. Oh, and there was the small matter of 250,000 spectators, as we commandeered the circuit an hour before the 2015 race kicked off. Yikes.
We'll be driving the car more extensively in just a few weeks, but this encounter is a tantalising chance for the R8 to make a good first impression.
Which R8 are we talking here?
Naturally, the quickest. We tried the R8 V10 Plus, which uses a reworked version of the old car's 5.2-litre V10 engine to drive all four wheels. The entry-level V8 is dead, so too the delicious open-gate manual. All new R8s, whether you get the £119,500 532bhp V10 version or the £18k pricier, 70bhp dicier V10 Plus, are fitted with a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox.
Audi claims this 602bhp flagship car will hit 62mph (100km/h) in 3.2 seconds and top out at 201mph. Take note, fact fans: it's the fastest road-going Audi ever.
It's far from an ugly car, and certainly more handsome than we'd feared judging from those dreadful early CGI shots. But, beyond a few straighter edges and the splitting of the nicely distinctive “sideblade” into two sections, it's quite “facelifty” to look at. Much like the new TT, the good vibes are saved for inside.
Because wow, does the R8 have a good interior. It pinches the TT's air-con vent screens and Virtual Cockpit instruments, but the architecture is so arch-modern. It's also more intuitive than the Lamborghini Huracán, with which this R8 shares its aluminium-carbon chassis, engine and transmission. The Star Trek-spec gear selector is particularly cool – a huge, macho lever you retract with gusto to select Drive. Looks like it's come off some classified military hardware.
Visibility trounces the “letterbox windows equals sense of occasion” Lambo too, and the shorter steering wheel paddles fit your hand more comfortably than the Italian car's razor blades. Feels like you sit a little too high, maybe. So far, so R8.
What's the new R8 like to drive?
Easy. We didn't get time, or chance, to pootle in the R8. It was a case of strap in, flick the engine start button and nail the thing out of the Le Mans pit exit. So how it rides on the road, and how the gearbox behaves on part-throttle will have to wait. This is what the R8 is like to drive fast. A doddle.
No, just that even in raw-protein-shake Plus guise, the R8 is still fabulously approachable. Quattro traction is absolute; it took full throttle on half a turn of steering lock out of the tight Arnage right-hander. Not a whiff of under- or oversteer. It just “steered”. Rather nicely in fact, with a helpful touch of weight just off-centre and easy turn-in. Bodes well...
Carrying more speed through Tetre Rouge or the sweeping Porsche Curves shows the R8 hasn't lost any of its balance, but also that it's got very fast. Lambo Huracán fast. The mid-range sucker punch of the twin-turbo McLaren or Ferrari rivals is absent, I'd suspect, but can they offer an 8,500rpm redline, or noise and throttle response this sharp? Hurrah for natural aspiration.
Full credit for the car's superb transmission can't go to the new R8 – Audi squeezed S-tronic into the old car when it was facelifted. It's a seamless piece of kit, with just enough of a nudge in the back in Dynamic mode to treat you for hitting high revs.
Brakes? Yes, it's got some. Ceramic as standard on the Plus, with slightly dead pedal feel. But I barely got them past room temperature on the solitary lap, so we can't tell you if they fade or run out of ideas before the driver. Sorry. Doubtful, though.
A good first encounter, then?
For sure. But, given how close the new R8's recipe is to its forebear, we'd have been a bit shocked if Audi had screwed it all up. On this very brief, smash-and-grab first taste, we'd wager it's business as usual.
A version of this story originally appeared on TopGear.com.
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