In the pantheon of supercars, one natural prerequisite is speed. But it is not the only requirement, nor the one buyers should necessarily focus on.
The fastest Ferraris and Lamborghinis are tremendous cars but they usually place performance and handling above most other considerations. That has left the door open for rivals who want to expand the envelope and give consumers a more “livable” supercar.
Honda broke the mold with the original NSX in 1990, a car that could be driven hard at the race track but was just as comfortable running down to the supermarket. The latest-generation Acura NSX is a much faster car, but still retains a relatively practical, user-friendly character.
And the same can be said, to an even greater degree, of the 2017 Audi R8, which has been thoroughly redesigned and engineered for its second generation. The result is a car with both more power and more cabin comfort and refinement.
Test driving the 610-horsepower R8 V10 Plus flat out at Daytona International Raceway, I reached 180 mph on the banking before braking fiercely for the twists and turns of the infield course. It’s an exhilarating experience that few regular drivers, even those with the car’s near-$200,000 purchase price burning a hole in their pocket, will ever share.
Yet the day before I had been driving the same car at slow speeds in traffic and congested urban areas. In both extremes the R8 performs flawlessly. That’s not to say that the R8 is as practical as a regular sedan or crossover vehicle. In the Audi you only get two seats, luggage space is limited and there is a significant, over-the-shoulder blind spot.
But on the positive side, the car is such a mellow driving companion around town that it is easy to forget that you are in an all-wheel-drive supercar with a 5.2-liter V-10 engine capable of hitting 60 mph in just over three seconds and topping 200 mph. Even at elevated speeds, road and tire noise — normally a bugbear in supercars — are subdued in the Audi.
For 2017, the R8 is completely reworked with a shorter, wider, more aggressive body design and a chassis and suspension shared with the exotic Lamborghini Huracan (Lamborghini is a sister brand to Audi, under the VW Group parent). But while the Huracan suspension is tuned for all-out performance driving, the Audi aims to provide a degree of ride comfort you don’t normally experience in a supercar. The R8’s engaging Canadian project manager, Alwyn Watkins, wanted the car to be more driver-friendly and usable on an every day basis. “Lamborghini had its targets, which is fine,” he says. “But we wanted to widen the appeal of the R8, while keeping its high-performance capabilities.”
During development a lot of attention was paid to increasing chassis stiffness and redesigning the front suspension, partly to dial out some of the handling foibles of the previous generation R8.
In the powertrain department, the previous V-8 motor was dropped in favor of two reworked versions of the V-10 engine, one with 540 horsepower, and the Plus model with 610 horsepower, making it the most powerful production Audi to date. Both are mated to an ultra-smooth shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Inside, the 2017 R8 benefits from the infotainment and driver-aid advances seen in other new Audi models recently. These include the cool “virtual cockpit” map display and a drive-mode selector that allows the driver to choose between different suspension and powertrain settings depending on the conditions.
Pricing starts at $162,900 for the standard V-10 model and ramps up to $189,900 for the V-10 Plus. Expensive? Sure. But supercar thrills never come any other way.
John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at email@example.com