When it comes to the everyday supercar, the R8 does it best. But is it all about the engine? We drive the 2021 Audi R8 V10 Performance Spyder.
Some cars are made legendary because of their engines; let’s think about the Toyota Supra, Nissan Skyline GT-R, Pagani Zonda and Lexus LFA. All of those cars mentioned feature engines that are legendary and held in the highest possible regard, but would the cars be as revered as they are now should the engine not have been present? Possibly not.
That’s where this 2021 Audi R8 V10 Performance Spyder comes in. The term “everyday supercar” has become a very real reality today, made possible in part because of the 1989 Honda NSX, a true everyday supercar that took the fight to Ferrari. When the Audi R8 arrived in 2007, it brought with it a car with bucket loads of performance as well as a car that was no harder to drive than the countless A3s Audi churns out each day. But therein lies Audi’s issue, the R8 hasn’t been as profitable as its flashier sibling wearing a Lamborghini badge because of the abundance of regular hatchbacks it also sells, the four rings aren’t special enough. But, that V10, well that is, and that’s what drives the R8’s appeal through the roof. Puns were very much intended…
On the surface, while the R8 V10 is a pretty car to look at, it doesn’t strike you like a supercar should, it feels and looks simpler, rather than being an in-your-face look-at-me tool. This image is aided by Audi’s 2021 updates to the R8, which saw the optional sports exhaust system removed thanks to EU emissions laws as well as the removal of the valve-opening button for the exhaust on the steering wheel. As a result, at low speed and low throttle input at least, the valves remain closed and you can go about your business in a respectable manner. Yes, a V10 supercar can go under the radar, even in the most built up of areas.
As mentioned previously, the Audi R8 is a very easy car to drive. Using a dual-clutch transmission, shifts are seamless, and left in automatic mode through town, changes are smooth, fast and unnoticeable. While you sit low in the seat, your visibility around all four corners of the car is still good, you can quickly get a feel for the size of the car making negotiating side streets where a £170k motor might have you wincing at the sight of curbs, a doddle.
In its comfiest setting, the dampers soften off to a respectable level, divots and potholes do unsettle the ride, but given we’re driving a supercar with 21-inch tyres, you can forgive it for being a touch fidgety. On the subject of everyday driving, front boot space is limited, smaller than the likes that Porsche offers, although you do have the additional hardware for the quattro system, and economy wise you should expect around 20mpg on average through town.
Inside, the Audi R8 V10 Performance Spyder looks and feels exactly like an Audi TT RS, which is no bad thing given how delightful the Virtual Cockpit is, doing away with the central infotainment screen and incorporating that into the instrument display enabling drivers to keep the eyes forward. I must admit, to begin with it takes some getting used to, given the infinite sub-levels of each category, however, it is a sophisticated system that works well and de-clutters the entire cabin. It’s a lovely place to sit with nothing but brushed aluminium, carbon fibre and leather throughout.
So, is the 2021 Audi R8 V10 Performance Spyder all about the engine?
OK, so we’ve gone long enough without talking about that engine, so here goes. In a word, yes, this car is all about the engine. There are fewer driving experiences that will top the sound of a 5.2-litre V10 engine climbing all the way up to near-as-dammit 9k rpm, producing a whopping 614bhp and 450lb ft of torque along the way. The resulting mixture is an acceleration time of 3.2 seconds to 62mph from a standstill and 124mph in under 10 seconds.
The engine is this R8’s party piece, the constant shifting of tone through the rev range would be enough for a performance at the Royal Opera House, it starts off as a deep growl before building in pitch to a whale right at the top. Down changes offer all the pops and crackles you could ever want, and roughly between 3 and 4krpm is where the valves open and close automatically, there is a small gap, when in say 4th gear at 30mph, that when you press the throttle, you’re greeted with nothing but deep intake noise. It sounds silly but the eclectic mix of noise on offer from both the engine and the exhaust system adds that extra element of character that would otherwise be missing from a 200mph supercar spoiled by muted turbocharger noise or electric motors.
There are some pitfalls with the Audi R8 though, the main one being that it never feels as sharp or razer edged as other supercars like Porsche or McLaren. The steering isn’t as direct, it feels that touch lazier, but still performs well. There is also the question mark over its weight, and at over 1700kg, it’s certainly not the most petit of vehicles, especially when you compare it to a McLaren that comes in at closer to 1400kg. However, what it lacks in feel it more than makes up for in lateral grip. OK, dive into a corner too quickly, and power through on tight corners and you will induce understeer, but, be smart about your driving and unsettling the car becomes almost impossible. Even in the damp conditions we had to battle with during our time with the 2021 Audi R8 V10 Performance Spyder, the plucky supercar continued to grip on via all four wheels, constantly adjusting torque to maximise traction. Boy does it work, a quick switchback road showcases the R8’s ability to hop from corner to corner without raising an eyebrow.
During spirited drives, that V10 and its fairly long gear ratios means 2nd/3rd is all you ever need on a backroad, allowing the car to slowly decrease revs rather than upshifting to then inevitably downshift.
In its race mode, the suspension is tightened up to a point that doesn’t feel uncomfortable, but certainly feels stiffer. It allows for a shaper change in direction, aiding its agility, although never truly hiding its weight. That being said, once the road opens up again, planting your foot becomes addictive as you chase the revs time and time again.
Fitted to our test car were the wonderful carbon ceramic brakes. After about an hour or so hooning the back roads, the brakes were still razer sharp and performing to their maximum ability, which just so happens to be strong enough for your lungs to escape on emergency stops. And when you’re hurtling towards the next corner, and the next corner, the one thing you want to rely on is a strong pedal feel and brakes that stop you in an instance. It all adds to a car that is confidence inspiring, it wants to help you drive quickly and will reward you with the biggest of smiles when you’ve reached your destination.
The Audi R8 Performance Spyder is a special car, but take that engine away and are we left with what makes up a good supercar, but not one that has the excitement and drama that a supercar should have? It’s refined, elegant and ferociously fast, but that engine adds in the excitement that might otherwise be missing without a whaling V10 engine.
What this boils down to is a car that is as capable of taking you to work every day, make you feel special, but blend in so that you aren’t worried about where you leave it. It sounds silly but the Huracan draws in far more attention than the R8, despite the fact they’re almost identical underneath the body. That’s part of the Audi R8’s appeal, it does the supercar bit down to a T, but it’s also a car. And you can use it as a car. With a Lamborghini, I suspect you’re worried about leaving it wherever you go. While the experience might all be about the engine, that’s no bad thing, and the whether the R8 continues with its V10 engine or not, let’s be thankful it still exists today in a world of hybridisation and electric motors.