No sooner had the tyre dust settled on the 2013 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix than Audi hit the grid in the race for supercar supremacy Down Under.

The automobile manufacturer had chosen the day after the GP to let loose the latest R8 supercar, which in its V10 guise, is the fastest production vehicle on the German maker’s books, at the Phillip Island Grand Prix track in Victoria.

VALUE

Prices range from $279,500, plus on-road costs, for the V8 manual Coupe to $408,200 for the V10 plus S tronic. The Fine Nappa full-leather package (up to $19,000, ouch!) includes quilted seat covers and inserts in the door liners. This quilting is also available as an option for the Alcantara headlining.

All R8 variants now come standard with LED headlights, introduced with the R8 four years ago. Now a special control unit transforms the daytime running light strip into turn signals. Headlights also include a static turning light.

The rear lights, including reversing light, are also LEDs with a unique dynamic turn signal light always running outward in the direction of the desired turn. The spoiler of the R8 deploys automatically at 100 km/h.

DESIGN

Appropriately tagged the ‘spearhead’ of the Audi model range, the R8 now comes in two body styles – Coupé and Spyder (convertible). The new top model is available only as a coupe.

On the outside much is familiar. The unique sideblades – air intakes in front of the rear wheels - have been retained. A new single-frame grille with tapered top corners is finished in high-gloss black; in V10 models, its struts decorated with fine chrome strips. The four Audi rings are not on the grille but on the bonnet.

The bumper has also been redesigned, the black air intakes to the radiator and brakes having three crossbars. At the heart of the R8’s ultra lightweight construction is the aluminium Audi Space Frame, weighing in at a mere 210 kg, roughly 40 per cent less than a similar steel structure.

The body of the R8 Spyder, with its automatic cloth cap, weighs 216 kg. At the lower end of the scale, the R8 V8, with the six-speed manual gearbox, registers just 1560 kg, while the weight of the top model has been trimmed by 50 kg.

Aluminium double wishbones provide dynamic handling on the race track, while at the same time producing a comfortable ride on the road. The R8 rolls on 19-inch alloy wheels in a variety of modern symmetrical designs.

But there is more ... or, in this case, less. Many body parts of the R8 Spyder and R8 V10 plus are made of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer, the same material as used in the interior of the top model. Bucket seats have folding backrests giving access to space behind for small objects such as briefcases and umbrellas.

TECHNOLOGY

It has a choice of three engines, plus a new S tronic transmission replacing the R tronic of old. The result is that sprint times for both models equipped with the new seven-speed S tronic have improved by 0.3 seconds, while fuel consumption has been trimmed by up to 0.9 litres per 100 km with carbon dioxide emissions at 22 grams per kilometre.

The fast shifting dual clutch S tronic incorporates launch control that provides optimal traction when setting off. The eight-cylinder engine powering the Audi R8 V8 delivers 316 kW and 430 Nm of torque, the latter between 4500 and 6000 rpm. Running through the S tronic, it pushes the R8 Coupé from zero to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds on its way to a top speed of 300 km/h.

The Audi R8 V10 with the S tronic does the sprint in 3.6 seconds and has a top speed of 314 km/h, the ten-cylinder engine producing 386 kW and delivering 530 Nm of torque at 6500 rpm. At the top of the model range is the new R8 V10 Plus with 404 kW of power and 540 Nm of torque.

Equipped with the S tronic, it accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in 3.5 seconds and reaches a top speed of 317 km/h. Power is put to the ground through a quattro permanent all-wheel drive system with a rear-axle bias.

The positioning of the engines amidships means the axle weight is distributed roughly 43 per cent front to 57 per cent back, perfect balance for a sports car, while dry sump lubrication enables the motors to be mounted low, giving the vehicle a low centre of gravity, a further advantage for a performance vehicle.

SAFETY

Powerful brakes consist of four discs, internally vented and perforated, with a wave design to reduce weight. Even lighter, yet durable, carbon fibre-ceramic discs are optional and standard on V10 plus.

DRIVING

Surprisingly, the high-performance R8 handles heavy street traffic like a trouper, tootling around benignly to a subdued engine accompaniment, evident on a transport stage from airport to island.

However, the real R8 is always on hand to use its motor muscle and slip into those gaps that often appear in a line of slow moving vehicles, to the relief of the frustrated driver.

Once on the Phillip Island track, members of the motoring media did their best to unsettle all three R8s but without much success. The trio were calling the tune through their state-of-the-art ride and handling.

We were told the V10s could clear 300 kilometres per hour. I eased off at a tad over 220 km/h at the end of the main straight before we hit the beach. Next stop Tasmania.

It was left to Audi Sport driver Markus Winkelhock, who had flown in specially for the occasion, to really wind up the rubber band on the R8 V10 plus. He said he liked the track. From my spot in the passenger seat it showed.

Winkelhock has form. He won the Nurburgring 24 Hour endurance race in 2012 in a works R8 and was within a second of the leader at Daytona when he ran out of fuel within cooee of the chequered flag.  

VERDICT

Buyers of the latest R8 have everything to look forward to.

MODEL LINE-UP

R8 Coupe 4.2 FSI V8 manual 316 kW: $279,500
R8 Coupe 4.2 FSI V8 S tronic 316 kW: $287,000
R8 Spyder 4.2 FSI V8 manual 316 kW: $308,400
R8 Spyder 4.2 FSI V8 S tronic 316 kW: $315,900
R8 Coupe 5.2 FSI V10 S tronic 386 kW: $366,900
R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI V10 S tronic 386 kW: $395,800
R8 Coupe 5.2 FSI V10 Plus S tronic 404 kW: $408,200

Audi R8 V10 Plus

Price: $408,200
Engine: 5.2-litre V10
Power: 404kW/540Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch, all-wheel-drive
0 to 100km/h: 3.5 seconds
Economy: 12.9L/100km
Safety: Four airbags, no safety rating (too expensive to crash)
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Capped price servicing: No
Weight: 1570kg
Spare wheel: None