Review: Audi R8 V10

The entire week I spent behind the wheel of this stunning, steerable projectile, one word kept popping into my head: “delicious.” Seriously, the 2017 Audi R8 V10 is a sports car bursting with so much flavor, you can almost taste it. The sanded-wedge bodywork alone had me smacking my lips long before I even climbed into the driver’s seat, but once there, with the V-10 alive right behind my ears, the glorious cockpit of leather and aluminum and winking screens laid out before me, the flat-bottom steering wheel thick in my hands, my senses were on full anticipatory alert, every bit as primed for an unforgettable repast as if I’d just taken a seat for dinner at New York City’s Le Bernardin.

The R8 V10 — all new for 2017 (the V-8 version is dropped) — is a unique machine, with a taste unlike any other automobile’s. With its light controls and designer cabin, it feels dressier and more delicate than a Porsche. It’s calmer, less tightly wound than a Ferrari. It’s nowhere near as brash as the Lamborghini Huracán with which it shares its chassis, transmission, and engine. The R8 is deceptive, harder to pin down than its rivals. Ease it around town for a while, in fact, and you could easily be convinced that it’s really just a two-seat luxury grand tourer, a snazzy transport that places style and plushness above liver-twisting thrills.

But here’s the truth: that’s totally wrong.

At low revs, yes, the R8 is all politeness and manners. There isn’t much torque on tap down low, so it doesn’t surge away from stoplights like many of its beefier brethren. And thanks to magnetic shocks and Audi drive select (now standard), in comfort mode, it’s even a gentle ride. Ah, yes, do pass the salmon croquets, please. But get the R8 out into the mountains, switch it into dynamic mode and press the gas down until the tach needle is swinging past 6000 rpm and — holeeeee heaving horizon!!! — suddenly the subtle flavors of those elegant hors d’oeuvres have been torched under an onslaught of flaming Sriracha chili. Let me tell you: when gunning toward its 7800-rpm power peak, this thing screams. Again, it’s unique, a sound different even from what you’ll hear in its Lambo sibling. But it’s electrifying just the same, a howl that, for all its pulse-raising stridency, sounds utterly polished, Swiss watch-like, the valves and gears and con rods whirling away to well-oiled perfection mere inches from your skull. It’s delicious, all right.

Optional Dynamic Steering ($1400) varies the wheel resistance based on vehicle speed and the drive select mode you’ve chosen. I left the R8 in Dynamic nearly all of the time I had the car. For one, Dynamic kills the annoying engine stop/start feature. More important, though, it adds a welcome sharpness to the suspension while also upping the throttle and transmission responsiveness. I always used the paddle-shifters, too; the 7-speed S Tronic dual-clutch transmission is every bit as quick and satisfying as the PDK gearbox I’d sampled in a 911 Turbo only a few weeks earlier. And, hoo-boy, does that Quatto-fed chassis hang on to the pavement. Normally I associate “Audi” with “understeer,” but the R8 V10’s front end kept right on biting the more I wound in the lock. For sure, much of the credit owes to the potent computers firing away to maximize grip and handling poise. In fact, if necessary, the Quattro system can feed 100% of the torque to the front wheels — though in practice any shifting in torque bias is all but imperceptible. All you feel is a car that goes right where you point it — without ever stepping out of line.

For all of the R8’s mind-bending speed — it can blow to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds and reaches a top speed just one digit under 200 mph — this is also an automobile you could happily live with day in and day out. As mentioned earlier, the cockpit is a feast for the eyes — gorgeous diamond-stitched red leather seats, quilted Alcantara dressing much of the space, artful dash shapes, smartly engineered displays. Rather than a central LCD screen above the center console, the R8 aggregates everything — performance gauges, nav directions, info for the standard Bang & Olufsen audio system, and more — into a single wide screen behind the steering wheel. At first it takes some getting used to — almost every other car separates the speedo/tach data from the infotainment stuff; the absence of a central display is almost startling. But after a day or two, I was loving the R8’s approach. If you were a fighter pilot, you’d get it right away — everything you need right there on your HUD. In the R8 it’s all there around the tach. Live Google maps show you exactly where you are and where you want to go. Call up other systems using the big MMI controller on the center console. Shift to reverse and an excellent rear-parking camera appears in the screen to guide you effortlessly into your space. This is ergonomics done right — and with flair.

There’s no denying the deliciousness of the R8’s sheer presence. My test car was dressed in optional carbon-fiber side blades and engine compartment ($5600). The available silver-finish 20-inch wheels ($1500) added refined muscle. And for the real show-stopper, just step around to the back. There, under glass, lies the big, beautiful V-10 in all its German-perfected glory.

Don’t ask me to justify the $183,000-plus sticker. After a week savoring the Audi’s culinary delights, my taste buds are too enraptured to find much fault. The meal is worth the lofty bill. This latest R8 is one delectable dream machine, a car to make any garage the most prized (and visited) room in the house. I knew how much I love this car when I had to say goodbye. In mere minutes, I was hungry for more.

2017 Audi R8 V10 Specifications
On Sale: Now
Price: $165,450/$183,050 (base/as-tested)
Engine: 5.2L DOHC 40-valve V-10/540 hp @ 7,800 rpm, 398 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, AWD coupe
EPA Mileage: 15/22 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 174.3 x 76.4 x 48.8 in
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Weight: 3,750 lb
0-60 MPH: 3.5 sec
Top Speed: 199 mph (electronically limited)

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