Singapore - It’s never easy for the new kid on the block to break into the cool clique… and this is exactly what Audi faced when it first showed its road-going mid-engine/quattro-driven two-seat R8 Coupe sportscar to the world at the 2006 Paris Motor Show.
Up till then, Audi had achieved great success in Le Mans racing – and in rallying of course! – from the early 2000s (it won the LMP class in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005) with the R8 ‘LMP’ (not to be confused with the road-going sportscar it would launch in 2006!).
In fact, the mid-mounted twin-turbo V10 Audi Le Mans quattro concept car from 2003, which would evolve into the production R8 V8 in 2006, was built to commemorate the brand’s three consecutive Le Mans wins from 2000 to 2002.
If you’re keeping score, Audi won Le Mans 13 times between 2000 to 2014!
At that time, Audi had just the compact Bauhaus-inspired first-gen TT as its token road-going ‘sportscar’, so the plan was for the R8 to break into the big league.
Moreover, as the R8 was a ‘clean slate’ project for Audi without any emotional baggage or legacy, it let the brand create its vision of a sportscar without any inhibitions.
With such stellar motorsports credentials, Audi intended for its upstart R8 to audaciously crack the inner circle of extraordinary, high-performance sportscars, which (then)-included the likes of the Porsche 911, Ferrari F430 and fellow VW Group stable-mate with which the R8 shares the platform, the Lamborghini Gallardo.
In many ways, the largely hand-built R8 channelled the spirit of the original NSX with its ‘friendly’ ergonomics and great visibility for daily driveability - this was in spite of its ‘exotic’ form, powertrain layout (just like the NSX) and a charismatic naturally-aspirated V8 with dry-sump lubrication.
It was regarded as the “thinking person’s” sportscar in some quarters, especially since there were none of the inconveniences many had come to associate with ‘exotic’ sportscars.
Moreover, with its svelte silhouette and clean styling, the R8 was never so flashy as to engender the sort of resentment some of its peers inadvertently stoked.
We should qualify though, that there was no shortage of ‘exotic’ as far as the R8 was concerned. For starters, it was built around an aluminium Audi Space Frame for weight savings with strategic use of carbonfibre and magnesium.
The original R8 also featured Audi Magnetic Ride from back in 2006, a system that could vary damping force by applying an electromagnetic field to the magnetorheological fluid in its shock absorbers to vary viscosity and hence, stiffness.
At market introduction, the R8 was available in V8 guise mated to a choice of either a 6spd manual (that we have here) or R tronic automated manual transmission.
Like the manual Gallardo and manual Ferraris up to the F430 and 599 GTB, the manual R8 features an uber-cool gated transmission, complete with satisfying clackety-clack as you hammer the gears into place.
The 4.2-litre is a rev-happy V8 that has ample verve, with the driver enjoying the cherry topping of mixing it up with the sweet 6spd honey-pot as you work your way up/down the gears.
This particular red example rides on 18-inch rims (it was originally delivered on 19s) and has the R8 GT’s gorgeous carbonfibre-backed bucket seats fitted, with the latter really enhancing the driving experience in terms of support and sensation.
With the 18s, the R8 V8 feels lively and tippy-toed light-on-feet, with a keen sense of fun and chuckability to its character that underscores its superlative sportscar credentials.
There’s a depth to the R8’s character that allows it to be driven precisely, as well as indulge in visceral, scruff-of-neck flings with your favourite corners.
As the original R8 was accepted into the exclusive club of sportscars, a V10 model (and accompanying V8 and V10 Spyders) followed several years later, which gave the R8 a soul-stirring exotic engine to go with the exotic silhouette.
The second generation R8 saw Audi’s flagship sporting machine really coming into its own as a compelling sportscar option to driving enthusiasts, with Audi defiantly sticking to its nat-asp guns… and that V10 is a very big gun!
Among the cognoscenti, the R8’s presence is no longer a question mark in the rarefied super-sportscar segment and Audi has daringly done away with the V8 as an entry-point.
The R8 is now only available with the glorious V10 engine and 7spd S tronic dual-clutch with its accompanying steering wheel shift paddles.
It receives sharper and more aggressive styling to up its street cred stakes, but the R8 silhouette is still instantly recognisable so you’ll never mistake it for anything Italian or British.
Moreover, there’s now a choice of quattro or an even more driver-focused rear-drive model, as well as higher powered ‘R8 V10 performance’ variants (previously known as the R8 V10 plus) for both drivetrain and body-style options.
The latest R8 Coupe V10 RWD is a tight package inside, outside and to drive. There’s an art to packaging confined spaces and Audi gets it spot-on with the R8’s sporty cabin… as it always has.
The air-con controls are intelligently integrated into a trio of switchgear that sits beneath the air-vents, which allow one to toggle between the various climate control features.
The door pockets are thoughtfully sized to accommodate the biggest smartphones and there’s a ledge behind the seats for extra stowage.
The hard controls for the various dynamic functions are familiar Audi RS territory so they’re intuitive to operate.
The driving position lets you sit deep in the snugly supportive driver’s seat and the ergonomics work well when you’re pressing hard.
The start/stop button and Drive Mode button are positioned on the steering wheel for quick access, so your hands never have to leave the helm.
This isn’t the sort of sportscar that is designed around an engine… and what an engine the V10 is!
It may not deliver the same punch as one of the many latest turbocharged offerings from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche, but the thrilling experience of wringing a throaty nat-asp engine to its redline remains one of the great wonders of the world.
The dual-clutch 7spd S tronic gearbox is a perfect match to the nat-asp V10, as its lightning-quick shifts work with the ferocity of the V10’s power delivery to create poetry in motion.
Very few things can rival the sight and sound of a V10 tearing through every gear at redline, but the R8 delivers a lot more than just straight-line performance.
Despite the Audi Virtual Cockpit and other digitised elements in the cabin, the R8 is a wonderfully analogue drive – more so than ever with the V10 RWD.
It’s sharp, incisive and furiously feisty, with a lovely balance to the lively chassis that makes it come alive with every fast drive, leaving you tingly and sweaty-palmed from the exertion.
Given the R8’s level of maturity, it’s sometimes hard to believe that Audi’s flagship sportscar is ‘only’ 15 years young.
Pay no attention to the lingering critics who continue to throw shade at the R8 – a lot of them are brand snobs who struggle to look beyond the ‘Audi’ badge.
If anything, it is because of Audi’s fresh take on its sportscar at its inception and the subsequent evolution from V8 quattro to V10 quattro and now V10 rear-drive that the R8 has been able to deliver so much and has come such a long way towards helping it crack the clique...
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
Audi R8 4.2 FSI quattro (Type 42)
Engine 4163cc, 32v, V8, nat-asp
Transmission 6spd manual
Top speed 300km/h
Fuel Consumption 14.6l/100km
Audi R8 5.2 FSI RWD (Type 4S)
Engine 5204cc, 40v, V10, nat-asp
Transmission 7spd S tronic dual-clutch
Top speed 324km/h
Fuel Consumption 12.9l/100km