In her relentless forward march, progress can be quite a cruel mistress. She scoffs at nostalgia and often makes painful sacrifices in her single-minded quest for more - more speed, more power, more technology. Mechanical technologies have been dumped for more efficient electronics and while they offer better performance, they also bring a disconnected feel. Audi got it so right with the last generation R8 that it's a serious cause for concern. Is the new car as good as the last one, a car that was one of the best all-round, do-it- all mid-engined supercars ever made?
Let's start with the good news -- the awesome, fire-breathing, naturally aspirated V10 not only remains but now offers even more power! Internationally, you can have the R8 with 540PS in the base model or with the full 610PS aural riot in the R8 V10 Plus, coincidentally the only model available in India. Two things make me very happy about this. One, this is the same power as a Lamborghini Huracan offers, marking the first time the R8 matches its more expensive and extreme cousin. And two, this car is seriously, seriously fast -- the fastest we've ever tested! Launch control activates easily -- simply slot it in Performance Dry mode, hold the brake, floor the accelerator and watch the revs being held at 4,500rpm. Take a deep breath, release the brake and prepare for the ride of your life. The R8 launches like an unsuspecting bull rudely jabbed with a cattle prod. The violence of the acceleration is only matched by how cleanly the all-wheel drive system puts the power down. In 3.6s you've shot past 100kmph, and 200kmph flies past in just over 11s. All the while, the gearbox swaps cogs at the near 9,000rpm limit with speed you cannot believe. Even though the driver has little more to do than keep the pedal floored and the wheel pointing in the right direction, it really is an overwhelming experience. Very nearly as momentous as launching a litre-class motorcycle which remains the most rapid acceleration I have ever experienced.
Accompanying all this performance is one of most glorious soundtracks in the automotive world. Hit the red start button on the steering wheel and the motor barks to life with an explosion of sound that is guaranteed to wake the entire neighbourhood on a quiet morning. After a futile attempt at quietly crawling to the main road, the V10 really shines. On the go, she roars, pops, bangs and screams relative to the engine speed. From the outside, Launch Control mode sounds similar to the Super Trofeo spec Lamborghini Huracan racecar banging away on the pit lane limiter! Modern turbocharged engines have started sounding great, but I doubt they will ever match the crispness and clarity of a naturally aspirated engine like this.
Interestingly, the gearbox adds to this noise porn. The lightning quick gearbox shifts so seamlessly that it feels like you're playing a video game -- you only hear a change in sound but feel no break in acceleration. You can literally create a soundtrack by rapidly swapping up and down through the gears using the paddles. Unlike the BMW M5, which allows you to tune how violent you want the gearshift to be, this dual-clutch box only provides a minor jolt on full bore upshifts at the redline. Otherwise, upshifts are utterly smooth and seamless.
The chassis is an updated version of the Audi Space Frame that now uses 13 per cent carbon fibre in the construction. The result is 5 per cent less weight and 40 per cent more stiffness. The all-wheel drive system gets an electro-mechanical multiplate clutch that translates to an even tauter and more responsive driving experience than the old car. The grip levels are tremendous and the R8 can carry incredible corner speeds with ease. Sadly, the steering too has gone electric and it feels a little dead compared tothe old car. Very quick, very precise, but you can't really 'feel' the car through it and that's a bit sad.
Strangely enough, despite all this angriness, the R8 has another incredibly calm and docile side to itself. Slot it in Normal mode and the exhaust goes quiet -- five cylinders deactivate under a gentle cruise and it's easy to think you're in a slightly firm A6! Credit for this goes to the excellent suspension set-up. Ride quality is firm but also surprisingly usable for a car like this. You can tell there's limited suspension travel on all four corners, but within that travel, a surprising amount of road imperfections gets damped out. Obviously, it's no limo but the usability factor is impressively high. I often found myself thinking the R8 is no stiffer than a Mini Cooper S, and that's high praise for a supercar! Similarly, ground clearance is reasonable -- a gentle crawl over speed breakers is mandatory, but with care, the R8 can be a genuine daily driver. Funnily enough, the only thing that intimidates in traffic is how low you sit. Everything around you looks frightfullylarge. Altos look like crossovers, and having an XUV crawl up towards you in a jam is positively terrifying!
Mumbai appears to have become desensitised to exotic cars, and the concept of maintaining space around what is clearly a very expensive vehicle doesn't seem to exist. Everyone wants to take an unsettlingly close look at the lurid orange 'racecar' they just spotted. And why not, the R8 is stunning and she looks far prettier in the flesh than most images reveal. Audi has got the stance absolutely spot on, and I'm floored by the cab forward position that lets you know the engine resides behind the passengers' heads under that massive rear windscreen. I do feel the R8's face has lost a bit of identity with new headlights that could easily belong on a Q3, but the rest of the design is pure eye candy. Speaking of the headlights, these come with a laser high beam that claims about twice the distance of illumination. Sadly, we never drove the car in the dark and didn't get to experience the lights. Unlike the old R8, which had a rather nondescript cabin, the new one has one of the funkiest interiors to ever come out of Audi. The racecar- like steering wheel, separated driver's area, fully digital dials and funky aircon controls really make the occupants feel special.
After a few hours behind the wheel, I felt like the R8 and I were fast friends that had known each other for years. And that got me thinking - if I were rich enough to have a supercar, would the R8 have a permanent place in my garage? The new R8 is a tremendous machine, but it's not the most visceral and connected feeling supercar you can drive. This was the case even with the old car but has become even more so now, thanks to the electric steering. Then again, most buyers will love how approachable, usable and easy this car can be. And there's also the fact that this could be one of the last cars with such a magnificent naturally aspirated engine. And that alone makes the R8 a keeper!