By Kris Hansen
The Audi of supercars.
Much has been written about the Audi R8 5.2 V10FSI, but its truly impossible to fully appreciate this car until you drive, or at the very least, go for a ride in one. We found the R8 5.2 V10 to be unlike any other car we’ve ever driven, and not necessarily for the obvious reasons. Like every other Audi, this car is useful for day to day driving. The seats are comfortable, and supportive. The cabin has ample room for 2 adults, even those of exaggerated size, provided neither intends to bring a lot of things with them as storage is severely restricted. Outward visibility is excellent for a car of this nature, though the rear 3/4 views are impeded by the very thick C pillars and miniscule windows aft of the doors. Thankfully our car was equipped with Audis (standard on the 5.2) excellent rear view camera and parking sensors, otherwise a spotter would have been required for tight parking and garage doors.
Unlike Audis of the past, this car is a little brash, a little (ok, a lot) extroverted, practically screaming “look at me”. Having only 2 seats and a small trunk, it’s not the most incredibly practical family car in the world.
Regardless, the R8 is a true Audi. Its luxurious in every way. Attention to detail throughout the car is unsurpassed. Every R8 is hand built by Quattro GmbH (the specialty arm of Audi, who previously built the RS 6, RS 4, and all aluminum Audi Space Frame vehicles) and as beautifully as regular Audis are built, this car is, dare we say, perfect. The interior is bathed in perfection. From softly padded leather to smooth, glossy (and not inexpensive!) optional carbon fiber trim, knurled aluminum, or richly textured plastic, its a rich environment. Occupants are kept comfortable with great heat, A/C, heated seats and mirrors, its even got a rear demist. The flat bottom steering wheel makes entry and exit easy for such a low car. It can be had with an excellent Bang and Olufsen sound system and CD changer, satellite radio; its even got an AUX input for an MP3 in the center console cubby. Its quite comfortable on long trips, or just around the block. Clearly Audi intended owners of this car to DRIVE it.
And what a car it is to drive. The all aluminum quad cam FSI direct injection 5.2 liter V10 shrieks out 525bhp at 8000 rpm. It revs incredibly quickly (think race car) and it feels like it wouldnt mind reaching around to the 10 mark on the tachometer, if only the engine management would let it. This engine produces the most marvelous sounds we’ve ever heard. Driven casually, its quiet, and calm. Even at part throttle, if allowed to rev a little, the engine is mellow, and smooth. However, put the pedal on the floor, and a vacuum actuator opens a valve in the exhaust, causing the engine note to change character. Gone is the relatively quiet and calm sounding engine, replaced with a low growl. As the revs climb, the note turns more angry, and at 8000rpm, it’s screaming like a Formula 1 car. It’s addictive to say the least.
This awesome engine works incredibly well to propel the R8. To call it quick does not do it justice. Its downright fast. Not in a violent or scary way, but in an eyeball flattening, cheek flapping, time bending way. In the lower gears, full throttle results in what feels like the hand of God reaching down, and giving the car a firm push. Overtaking slower cars is completely effortless, in any gear. Audi reports 0-60 in 3.7 seconds with a top speed of 196, and we have no doubt as to the validity of either of those numbers. Launching from a standstill was a no-drama affair, even at full throttle, thanks to the very responsive quattro all wheel drive system (which has a rearward bias ranging from 85% to 70%). The 6 speed manual has a beautiful gated shifter, which has a nicely weighted feel. Normally we find that gated shifters are difficult to acclimate to, but in the R8 it was easy and fun to row through the gears. The clutch is very light and easy to use considering what its tasked with. Since the car we drove was fitted with a MASSIVE set of snow tires, we did detect a fair bit of tail wagging under very hard acceleration, but again it was never alarming. It was however somewhat easy to excite the traction control, which steps in and cuts the throttle to regain its grip on reality. Even with the ASR turned off, the car was nearly impossible to upset.
We had the chance to drive in some snow here in Vermont, and were amazed at how well the car performed on this low-friction surface. Not only was stopping and starting drama free for the R8, but we were amazed at how well the car handled on fully snow covered roads, even at speeds nearing and above the posted limit. The only time the ASR kicked in was when we got silly with the gas pedal. The car even ascended the world famous Hansen Family Driveway of Doom with NO issue.
A car with massive power that cant manage a corner is no fun, and luckily the R8 5.2 devours corners with a voracious appetite. The R8 comes standard with Audis magnetic ride system, with continuously adjustable magnetorheological damping, along with Sport and Normal modes for further driver control. Even in the non-sport mode setting, cornering is flat, and predictable. It doesn’t mind being driven casually, but it craves being driven hard. Giving the sport mode button a push results in instantaneous firming of the dampers, and incredibly tight handling, but its almost unbearable on bumpy roads. In normal mode, its more comfortable than many lesser cars. The brakes are massive and powerful. Brake late, trail the throttle to set the car up, find the apex and leap on the throttle, the car hurls itself through and on to the next corner. The only thing that the R8 FSI has against it is its weight. Its not a lightweight for sure, at 3715lbs. It doesn’t drive heavy, but at the same time, it certainly doesn’t feel like an ultra light, but thats ok with us. The luxury we mentioned earlier does add weight, and we feel its worth it. The R8 would not be the same car if it was stripped out to nothing. A great track day car, perhaps, but not a great every day car.
The R8 also has a completely enclosed flat bottom, with ground effect style aero tweaks at the front and rear. At speed the car feels glued to the road. At no point does it feel light or skittish, even in cross winds. Its nice that Audi are able to accomplish this without gaudy wings (there is a very small pop-up spoiler at the rear) or door stop shapes.
As if being content with a luxurious interior isn’t enough for Audi, this car is jammed with technology. For instance, every single light in and on the car is an LEDs. The entire headlight array is entirely high intensity LED. They are incredibly bright, well focused and aimed. The high beams are perhaps a little soft given the capabilities of the car, but at realistic speeds, they are excellent. The R8 was the first Audi to wear the now ubiquitous LED Daylight Running Lights, and it wears them well. When this car appears in your mirrors, its got a menacing stare, practically demanding people to get out of its way.
The 2010 R8 also gets Audi’s new 3D navigation system, with real time traffic monitoring service. This is an improvement over the older style navigation system in that it more accurately depicts intersections and interchanges.
The ABS and ASR systems are very good, with suitably high thresholds for such a high performance car. It’s also got a hill holder feature, which holds the brakes while you start on a hill, so you don’t need to use the hand brake. It’s fully automatic too. Foot on clutch, release the brake, and you have a few seconds of braking while you engage the clutch. We found out by accident that it had this feature, while we were experimenting on an icy hill.
The thing about the R8 5.2 FSI, it never lets you forget that its a supercar. This car attracts more attention than a supermodel at a fraternity party. The body is beautiful, with its sculpted doors and sideblades, sexy curves, low stance, and aggressive angles. The 19 inch 5.2 V10 wheels are dramatic. They give the car a very unique look and contribute nicely to the supercar effect. We received more smiles and waves and thumbs-ups (even from some local police officers we encountered) and photos snapped of the car than weve ever experienced driving any other car. Everyone wanted to know more about this car. Our favorite part of what we came to refer to as the fishbowl effect was the massive positive reaction from every other Audi driver we encountered. Being an Audi owner is already a cool thing, and seeing the ultimate Audi on the road is a pretty awesome thing as it turns out.
What makes the R8 5.2 V10 so great is what it isnt. It isnt difficult to drive. It isnt uncomfortable, or fussy, or only good to drive once in a while or anything else that supercars are supposed to be. Its a great all around car, which happens to be blazingly fast and fun to drive.
Its the Audi of supercars.