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Audi R8 5.2 V10 FSI quattro

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“First, let’s get the
  big numbers out of
  the way: 103,215;
  197mph; 517bhp.
  And some of the
  significant smaller
  ones, too: 3.9
  [seconds from
  zero to 62mph];
  12.3 [seconds
  from standstill to

AND THE CLINCHER: Audi's 197mph mid-engined, two-door, two-seater, all-aluminium-bodied V10 sports coupe is not only one of the world's best sports cars but it's also the most user-friendly. There are faster cars (but only a handful); there are more powerful cars; and there are other supercars that cost ten times as much. But whatever the price, only one or two of them can, in real life, come close to the R8 V10 as the perfect everyday, all-round driving machine.

Two core features help maximise the R8's undemanding yet at the same time immensely satisfying real-world driveability: Audi's renowned quattro all-wheel drive system; and, another major advantage over others of the supercar breed, the lightweight all-aluminium space-frame construction that is the backbone of the R8's superb balance — in itself one of the R8's most admirable characteristics.

Presence, street-cred, call it what you will but it's indispensable for any supercar. And the R8 V10 has it with a capital P. The V10 costs a justifiable 20K more than the 'ordinary' 4.2 V8 version but the only external clues are the edgy 10-spoke 'Y' design 19-inch alloys, wider side cooling vents within the trademark not-just-for-show 'side blades' and the dramatic all-LED headlights that shoo slower traffic out of the R8's path.

Defined by a symmetry of menacing slats, blades and deep grille the R8, even standing still, is formidably handsome. Our test car proved a camera magnet that equalled even the latest Ferraris or Aston Martins. And like Ferraris and Astons, most people will never own a R8 V10 — but that didn't stop lots of them pointing their camera-phones at it, clustering around it in car parks and peering through the windows (particularly the glassed-in engine bay that at night is illuminated to show off the magnificent V10!), or just nudging their friends and giving us an easy thumbs-up as we drove by.

While the outside is dramatic with a D, the R8's cabin is typically A-list Audi: tasteful and thoughtfully laid-out. Swing open one of the wide doors and drop into the leather seats and, driver's or passenger's side, the first thing that catches your eye will be the gorgeous-looking polished aluminium open gate of the six-speed manual 'box. In a sense this single detail epitomises what the R8 is all about: sheer driving pleasure.

Temperamental? Never.
Highly strung? No way.
Tractable? Always.
Explosively quick?
Anywhere and
You can, should you prefer, opt for the R tronic semi-automatic sequential transmission with super-fast shift-by-wire paddles on the steering wheel — but do so and you'll miss out on the unbelievably satisfying manual gear change. As mentioned, it operates through a great-looking open gate and every shift is accompanied by a terrific clack-clack sound that links you in to the machine in a way that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Just believe me when I tell you it is wholly addictive. On a purely mechanical level, the six-speed manual's change action is smooth and fluid and matched to a perfectly weighted and cleanly progressive clutch.

For the record, the 'lesser' R8 — the 4.2 V8 — musters 414bhp and 317lb ft. While it's undeniably a quick car, the V8 needs 4.6 seconds to get off the line and hit 62mph before going on to its 187mph maximum. The V10 — almost identical in construction to the unit powering the R8 LMS racing at customer level in the GT3 class — is quicker still: its 517bhp and 391lb ft of torque at 6,500rpm rocket the R8 to 62mph from standstill in an electrifying 3.9 seconds and from 0-124mph in 12.3.

Fire up the V10 from cold and it idles with an unmistakably race-bred growl. Pull away and you immediately know you're piloting something very, very rapid. The tell-tale 'urge' of relentless power is palpable and undiminished even in sixth gear. In fact, the sheer depth and usability of the V10's 391lb ft of torque comes close to making the sequential shift auto option redundant — in town the manual 'box+V10 combination makes the R8 as sweet and good-natured as an ordinary Golf.

But let it rip and the bark of the exhaust and the growl from the V10 is a soundtrack you'll want to listen to again and again. At the tail, a slim ramp of the rear deck rises to increase down-force. Keep your foot planted and the R8 feels as though it's never going to stop accelerating. And as the revs climb so too does the hard-edged, spine-tingling wail from the V10. Sadly, although probably for the best, the one option not available for this wickedly quick car is a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card.

Despite its genuine near-200mph top speed capability and scorching 0-62mph time, the R8 will happily potter along in city traffic, lope leisurely on open roads or play to win on track day outings — whatever level of performance you ask of it, the R8 will nonchalantly deliver. Temperamental? Never. Highly strung? No way. Tractable? Always. Explosively quick? Anywhere and everywhere. The real ace up its sleeve though is that unlike most other supercars, the R8 really can be used every day of the year and, more significantly, in all weathers.

This is a supercar
you can drive for the very
first time to Tesco’s or
s and reverse
easily into a real-life
parking space when you get there
Even with the dry-sumped V10 mounted longitudinally behind your back, the R8 is a truly civilised supercar. But that doesn't stop the cockpit, like that of a well-considered race-car, being first and foremost functional. It's a single-minded functionality that starts with the key — a straightforward Audi jack-knife design, so no separate starter button. Just insert the blade, twist and go.

The airy cabin is a model of sensible ergonomics and stylish fitments and contains an undisputed 'ample sufficiency' of kit including a first class 465-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system with 6-CD autochanger, top-level SatNav, power windows, power-fold door mirrors and electrically-adjustable seats (heated, naturally, as are the mirrors), auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto lights and wipers, stainless steel pedal set, aluminium gear knob and lever gate, electronic climate control and driver's information system.

Driver and passenger both travel in real comfort thanks to generous and supportive sports seats upholstered in fine Nappa leather. The driver has a grippy, three-spoke, flat-bottomed, leather-covered multi-function steering wheel, a great dash and instrument cluster with crystal clear dials and a first class driving position. Smart polished aluminium and satin chrome detailing and cross-cut aluminium switchgear add to the cabin ambiance, as do low levels of road, wind and tyre noise — amazingly good given the 235/35 19-inch Pirellis at the front and the massive 295/30 19-inchers at the rear.

Long trips in the R8 are about as stress-free as they come; despite its racing bloodline, the 5.2-litre V10 is unexpectedly muted in general driving: while it growls deliciously as soon as you give it some welly (it revs all the way up to 8,700rpm — almost as high as a racing engine), the mechanical soundtrack is never tiring even at full blat. Great visibility is something else usually given up by supercar owners but the R8 has it in spades. This is a supercar you can drive for the very first time to Tesco's or Sainsbury's and reverse easily into a real-life parking space when you get there. Practical too: there's decent storage space behind the seats and 100 litres in the front boot.

Also standard fit on the V10 is Audi's driver-adjustable magnetic ride with adaptive damping. Given that this R8 is such a hardcore performance machine, the ride is amazingly supple. Yes the suspension is firm but that doesn't stop it riding compliantly. Speed bumps are taken with equanimity and most of the time it feels supremely well damped and nothing less than a pleasure in which to travel or drive for mile after mile.

Like its 4.2 V8 stablemate, the V10 R8 feels — and is — perfectly balanced. And despite seeming to be glued to the road, it also manages to feel playful — a state helped by the quattro's power split favouring the rear to the degree that most of the time the R8 feels genuinely rear-wheel drive. However the quattro system is constantly apportioning power to the front and rear axles in constantly varying degrees as dictated by the road conditions, so there's never any of that 'waywardness' that very powerful mid-engined, rear-drive sports cars sometimes exhibit. Not so the R8, which is always as composed and unruffled as you can get.

All cars have handling limits — 'Ye canna cheat the laws of physics' — but the R8's are high enough to honestly call it unflappable. Even cornering like Penelope Pitstop doesn't give the ESP any real work to do because the R8 stays neutral for such a long time — and even as it finally breaks away it doesn't bite.

And when it comes to reining in the R8 the brakes prove to be totally reassuring: huge ventilated and perforated discs with 8-piston callipers up front and 4-piston callipers bringing up the rear ensure the R8 stops as quickly and as smoothly as it accelerates. Naturally the R8 comes with a comprehensive package of safety aids including the latest-generation Electronic Stability Programme (the driver can also select different ESP settings to suit different driving conditions).

Factor in the brilliant suspension, idiot-proof handling, precise and beautifully-weighted steering, superbly rewarding manual gear change and the awesome ten-cylinder engine and the 197mph R8 delivers a singularly satisfying driving experience. While stunning performance is always on tap, the R8 is without a doubt the easiest supercar to live with on a day-to-day basis. In fact, we just can't fault it. —

Audi R8 5.2 V10 FSI quattro | 103,215
Maximum speed: 197mph | 0-62mph: 3.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 19.5mpg
Power: 517bhp | Torque: 391lb ft | CO2 351g/km | Insurance group 20