There was a time when driving a supercar required balls of steel. You needed leg muscles the size of a bull’s, a sixth sense for parking and skin thicker than Janet Street-Porter’s to deflect the amount of abuse you’d get.
Thankfully things are different these days – and there’s no better example of that than Audi’s staggeringly brilliant R8. It shouldn’t really come as such a surprise as to just how good the German firm’s supercar is, but it still does. Audi actually has an impressive back catalogue of pant-wettingly good sportscars: RS6, TT-RS, original quattro, RS4, the list goes on…
But the R8 Spyder tops them all. It’s an intoxicating mix of drama, looks and sheer ability that marks it out as a true automotive great. It’s so capable, even in our ham-fisted mits, that it’s clear to see why these supercars practically sell themselves. My first stint behind the wheel is on the five-hour journey to our Denbigh base from our Gosport HQ. On the motorways it’s the perfect mix of power and comfort. With the top up, it’s entertainingly throaty and packed with toys that ease the passing of monotonous motorway miles. Our test car came with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, hugging leather seats, rear-view parking camera and sat nav.
But no one’s really interested in the kit. Nice as it is, most people wouldn’t care if it was paneled with balsa wood and featured a tape player – because the real draw is that V10 lump. Derived from the Lamborghini Gallardo powerplant, the V10 is one of the best ever. Streaked with power throughout the rev range, push the needle towards the redline and the sound it makes is truly divine. You can keep your Ferrari V8s, if I had to own one engine in one car for the rest of my life it’d be this one. It’s that good.
And that aural delight is accompanied with sensations that make for motoring perfection. The steering is absolutely spot on. Packed with feedback and accuracy, it inspires confidence. And the open-gate gearbox is special like supercars should be. There’s nothing quite like the click-click of metal shifts to add to the sense of occasion when you’re behind the wheel of a car of this stature. But it’s not just about the drama – the ’box is precise and wonderfully accurate with every shift.
What really impresses about the R8 though is just how easy it is to jump in and drive fast. Relax and dawdle around town and you could be in an Audi TT, just like Porsche, Audi knows how to make its cars ‘feel’ similar and with that familiarity comes ease of use. And for a supercar that’s impressive. When you want to press on it’s so easy, anyone can jump behind the wheel of the R8 and reach silly speeds.
Chasing the Boxster across the back of a Welsh valley, painting a red and white streak between the sheep strewn hills, the Audi makes me feel like a hero. The sound of that engine, punch of all 520 horses and the grip the four-wheel drive generates is mind-boggling. If, after this drive, I’m told my licence is to be revoked forever then I really couldn’t care less. I can’t imagine experiences behind a steering wheel getting any better.
And we haven’t even mentioned that roof yet. Dropping it is an occasion in itself. The movement is beautiful, spinning and twisting pieces disappear like a Transformer, while the fact it can be carried out at speeds of up to 30mph makes it even more of an event. At one stage on the M40 the rain began to fall and I had to peel off at a junction to put it up – all of which was carried out while driving around the roundabout without stopping. Rather cool.
Apart from the price, I really can’t think of a reason for buying the hardtop. There’s no drawbacks, only positives from having the canvas roof – and even with the top up the R8 looks gorgeous. This is one of the most desirable supercars of the moment and the fact it’s so good – and easy – to drive only makes me want one even more.
Watch our video of the Audi R8 taking on the Porsche Boxster Spyder on incredible Welsh roads by typing bit.ly/audiporsche into a web browser.