The second edition of the "everyday supercar" is sublime and stupendous.
Supercars are like lingerie: sexy to look at, exciting to take off and the cost is inversely proportional to the amount of space they occupy. The Audi R8 fits the above criteria.
However, the Audi engineer I'm talking to takes pains to emphasise this is an "everyday supercar". At the launch of the second generation R8 at the Algarve racetrack in Portimao, Portugal, we scope the stats sheet and the supercar bit is self-evident.
It is sublimely easy to drive the R8 at stupendous speeds
Favouring frantic revs over forced induction, the mid-engined V10 — in two states of tune with up to 449kW and 650Nm — harnesses all-wheel drive to hit 100km/h in an adrenalin-activating 3.2 secs.
Launch control ensures that performance can be reproduced by enthusiastic (and well-heeled) amateurs and is part of this car's appeal: it is sublimely easy to drive the R8 at stupendous speeds yet still be satisfied using it as a daily driver.
The "everyday" aspects of the two-seater are less evident. It'll take a set of golf clubs behind the seats, a case of beer in the front "boot" and that's about it for storage.
Audi Australia spokesman Shaun Cleary says it is too early to talk pricing (the car won't arrive here until the second quarter next year but hopes the R8's starting price will drop from the current $366,900.
The $41,000 premium for the coming V10 Plus will add extra carbon-fibre, forged rather than cast wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes to help trim weight by 40kg.
The new model looks subtly different to the original R8, with sharper lines at every angle and the colour-contrasting side blade design now a two-piece job in place of the solid slab down the flank.
Interior changes are more obvious — and appreciated. The R8 picks up the digital "virtual cockpit" from the TT coupe, complete with satnav overlaid on a cinematic-quality Google Earth view and untold configurable options. The initial information overload soon transitions into instinctive glances and the setup remains one of Audi's best innovations.
The quilted headlining and seats look and feel premium, as does the aircon switchgear with in-dial rotary buttons and tap-to-activate toggle switches.
Plenty of prestige cars can match the interior ambience. It is once you hit the steering wheel-mounted start button the R8 reveals its true nature.
On the road
Firing up the V10 is spine-tingling. Mounted centimetres behind the occupants' heads , it shakes the senses with its initial bark, then begrudgingly settles into a menacing rumble; the snarl before the avalanche hits.
It is naturally aspirated so the aural experience is aligned with the acceleration — peak power arrives at just under 8000rpm in the V10, just over in the V10 Plus and maximum torque doesn't hit until the engine is prodded to 6500rpm.
You'll hear the R8 long before you see it — and that's the way Audi intends it to be, providing that's the mood the driver is in.
It is technically possible to sneak home in the R8 but it will require the discipline of an ascetic — and they're not the kind to drop $400K on a car.
Noise from the massive tyres can penetrate the cabin when cruising on coarse chip. The solution according to the Audi engineers is to use the paddle-shifters to drop down a couple of cogs: "If you are driving it properly you won't hear the tyres." Silly me.
Those shifters are among few disappointments on the R8 — they're plastic and on this kind of car I expect an exotic alloy, not something out of the regular Audi inventory.
Four driving modes are standard: Comfort, Normal, Dynamic and Individual. The V10 Plus adds a Performance button with dry, wet and snow settings for track days or runs on unrestricted roads.
The R8 shares its chassis, engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with VW Group stablemate the Lamborghini Huracan but from there the pair diverge on driving dynamics.
R8 engine development boss Jurgen Konigstedt says the core hardware is common but the differences in kinematics and software produce totally different driving experiences. "R8 is super sport with a touch of comfort and the Huracan is more radical," he says.
The only other mid-engined car to match the Audi for around-town grace and on-track pace is the Porsche 911 Turbo and owners will need to opt for the $444,900 S version to ensure a level playing field.
On the track
Algarve, a technical track full of elevation and camber changes and blind crests, is also bloody fast so newcomers like me can find it very easy to get it very wrong. The R8 ensures that, unless the red mist has descended into insanity, it doesn't go pear-shaped.
The performance mode sends more torque to the rear and loosens the stability control shackles to allow tail-out oversteer. Depending on the driver's mood, that can be used to tighten up the line approaching a corner or impress the spectators with semi-sideways action on exits.
The new car doesn't shimmy under brakes or squirm when the throttle is applied
Chassis rigidity is 40 per cent stiffer and the rear suspension is now bolted directly to the subframe rather than using brackets, so the new car doesn't shimmy under brakes or squirm when the throttle is applied.
The steering is millimetre-precise but lacks the 911's depth of feedback from the tiller.
Grip is phenomenal. It's worth noting the launch vehicles were fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres rather than the Pirellis on the cars in showrooms.
Konigstedt says the Pirellis are better on the road but tend to overheat too quickly for serious track work.
A second set of wheels and rubber will cost about $15,000 — equating to an overseas flight for supercar owners.