The Audi R8 proves the V10 is still king
I don’t want an argument and to be honest there shouldn’t really be one, because I’m right. The V10 is the best engine layout the human race has ever come up with.
There’s never been a properly bad V10 car. Can you think of one? The only thing I’ve ever come up with is those yellow American school buses that have a Ford Triton V10 that spit their spark plugs up through the bonnet sometimes.
But the story of the V10 engine is quickly becoming a tragic one, seeing as there are only two manufacturers now that you can buy one from – Lamborghini and Audi.
I had to get myself in one before the emissions meteorite struck, and I had to take it somewhere special. So I took an R8 V10 Performance to the Scottish Highlands.
The engine was awful
Joking, it was a masterpiece. That 5.2-litre naturally aspirated engine feels like it has been freshly plucked from an LMS car and somehow snuck past the Audi lawyers to produce one of the most characterful engine in a current supercar.
Twin turbocharging a V8 suddenly seems like the most boring, muted practice possible. The R8 lets the natural suck of the engine do all the work and once you’re past 5,000rpm, you can’t imagine ever wanting to be powered along by anything else.
It is one of the angriest engines on sale and once amongst the rock walls of Glencoe, I couldn’t wait to lower a window, click the paddles down to second gear and open up the engine as far as is legally possible.
Is it quick?
Audi says the R8 Performance hits 60mph in 3.1 seconds but once your foot is to the floor and that engine is allowed to truly open its lungs, it feels very much like a two-point-something car.
The highlands, although achingly beautiful, are riddled with rental Ford Focuses and Hyundai i10s, but the R8 has an overtaking talent like nothing else I’ve been lucky enough to drive. Get the V10 primed in the right gear and you will go from 40mph to plenty more mph before you can say Glenfinnan.
Quattro felt a lot more rear-wheel drive than I expected
An all-wheel drive supercar is the perfect choice for demolishing country roads in the weather conditions that a place like Scotland throws at you. However, thinking that you can be a bit silly with the throttle with any steering lock on in the wet is still an express ticket to a surprise, even with quattro.
While chasing the weather to the coast, I got on the power just when the engine was coming on cam out of a corner. Suddenly, the back kicked out and a combination of last-minute quattro trickery and a small amount of rescue countersteer was needed to keep that Vegas Yellow from becoming rather muddy and laced with the rare scratches of a Scots Pine.
In the wet, third gear is your friend and will deal with everything from corner exit up to licence-losing speeds. You can have a crack at second if you want to get the chassis moving out of the tighter corners, but you’ll really feel the benefit of that all-wheel drive system to shuffle those 600 brake horsepowers around.
Caption: Unless you’re an R8 aficionado, you will have no idea about any silly restrictive filters
The outside is awesome, the inside is a let down
The facelift of the R8 has been a contentious one, with people not agreeing whether the three slats over the mouth of the car has been a good move or not. I get it, it has sharpened the front end and it’s now a part of Audi’s design language that has bled into the rest of the cars it makes. But sharper doesn’t mean prettier and the first generation R8 is still the nicest one to look at for me.
The rear end is more successful, especially when the side blades are contrasted with this grey, despite them being plastic. And then you peer over to that glass engine cover and see two banks of cylinders with a V10 badge in the middle and you want to just lie across the back of the car and absorb the engine’s heat for a second.
But then it all goes a bit boring once you feel for the door handle and slide on in. It isn’t special enough for a V10 supercar. It is fine for what the R8 used to be – skirting that line between sportscar and supercar – but now that it’s competing against the likes of McLaren, it needs to be more exciting than some leather and the odd metallic dial. Dare I say it, the R8 felt like a TT inside.
I had the Clarkson Ferrari 612 motorway hum
Does anyone remember when Jeremy drove a 612 Scaglietti to the Alps against Hammond and May on public transport? And how he was driven mad by a buzz precisely at motorway speed? Well, the R8 provided me with my own high-pitched nightmare.
There must have been an engine bay seal that had given up on life, because when cruising at 50mph, there was a constant whistle from the left-hand side of the cover. The best bit is that all the average speed camera sections on the way up from London were all 50mph. Chvrches were blasted for many an hour to cope, although should that really be happening when your shelling out around £150,000?
On a proper piece of road, it all comes together
There’s a specific section of road where the R8 ascended to a whole new level. Once you leave Fort William, the A82 snakes its way through the tree-lined lochs of Lochaber towards the coast, with many of its hairpin bends and blind sweepers being connected by long lengths of tarmac to be able to flick through the gears.
Turning in, the front end bites as sharp as it looks, with the engine rotating just behind you and making its presence felt as you load up the outside tyres. The combination of the all-wheel-drive system and slightly numb steering means that really throwing the car into the corners is less confidence-inspiring than something like a 600LT. But once in, quattro and 620bhp works together to produce one of the quickest things I’ve driven from corner to corner.
With the powertrain in sports plus, you have just enough time to be piledriven out of the corner in second, flick up to third after the V10 lets out its brutal roar before getting on the carbon ceramics which put the cars on its nose to avoid visiting the local lochside wildlife.
Over the largest yumps of the highlands, the engine did attempt to overtake me mid-flight, leading to a couple of sketchy moments, but the all-wheel drive is constantly there to help you gather things up and devour the next stretch of road. I have driven the A82 in some fairly lovely machinery over the past past few years and I have never had a car obliterate it quite like the R8, all the while having that V10 reverberating under the quaint railway bridges and stony corridors.
We don’t know how the long V10 engine has before it is consigned to the history books. Audi has been threatening to turn the R8 into a V6 twin turbo hybrid and Lamborghini will surely need to bite the hybrid bullet at around the same time too.
The Dodge Viper, Carrera GT, LFA, E60 M5 – the V10 engine has consistently created legendary cars and the current R8 V10 Performance seems to still fit that mould. It has its shortcomings and there are better supercars out there, but have the confidence to rev the engine into its ferocious sweetspot and it’ll make you want to write an appeal to Ingolstadt to keep its ten cylinder production going. Please Audi, do it for the petrolheads.