AUDI’S EPIC R8 BRINGS THE POWER

The legend goes that in 1966 when 27-year-old Marcello Gandini first drew the swooping roofline of what would become the Lamborghini Miura, he knew he’d nailed it. Everything that would follow would work around this line. Even when the car went on show for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show in 1966, Lamborghini had to lock the engine cover shut. Nobody had checked whether the engine would fit — so it went on show without one.

These are the stories that lie at the heart of the supercar. The Miura was Genesis, the first of the breed. Nothing quite like it had ever existed before — a car in which beauty, speed, and glamour were prioritised over the mundane.
One early Sunday morning several years ago, I observed that what is mundane is also quite practical. Certainly, for a man of my height, the Miura is a devilishly tight fit.

Additionally, much about the car seemed mad. The clutch was so light it felt as if it were broken. The throttle was so stiff it made elegant progress almost impossible.

The transverse-mounted engine, mere inches behind one’s head, was extremely hot, and the seats were clearly designed for svelte-hipped, tennis-playing Italian folks. Just as I was preparing to write the whole experience off to that adage about never meeting your heroes, I piloted the purple Miura S, one of 338 ever made, onto a deserted freeway, and opened the taps.

What followed was extraordinary. This 45-year-old car surged forward with breathtaking vigour, the 4l V12 screaming an absolutely magnificent cacophony. All these years later, and despite the terrible interior space, the woeful driving position, and the shabby interior build quality, the engineering and the vision remain immensely compelling. It’s still a truly great car — and how many other cars from the 1960s make that measure today?

That Audi has owned Lamborghini since 1998 is well known. It’s been long enough for the automotive world to see that the German luxury car company hasn’t managed the madness out of Lamborghini — as many feared it might. Modern Lambos are still insane and wonderful.

But what of Audi? Its accomplishments in rallying are legendary, but when it launched the R8 in 2006, it ventured into the territory of its feisty Italian subsidiary.

Based on the Lamborghini Gallardo platform, the R8 was good; the idea seemed to be that there was a market for supercars that retained the pace and the dynamism, but eschewed the finely honed lunacy of cars that can trace their lineage to that famous hand-drawn line.

In other words, it was sensible too. Later on, Audi shoehorned a Lamborghini V10 into its engine bay. In this second edition of the R8, launched recently in South Africa, that remains the case. This time Audi didn’t bother with the V8, and came straight with the V10. Numbers are anathema to understanding, but this one is so vast that it requires a mention: 449kW is huge — it’s the power of nearly seven VW Polos.

In performance terms, the result is ballistic. Immense, crushing acceleration that really only gets into its stride long after the national legal limit has been surpassed — in second gear, nogal.

To match such power, the car I tested was shod with equally physics-stretching carbon ceramic brakes, which scythe off momentum with such savagery that you need to remind yourself that this car is attached to the road only with four small contact-patches of rubber.

Indeed, the R8’s performance has relentlessness about it, as if it will match and exceed whatever appetite a driver might have on any given day. It’s central to the car’s character that this competence extends to the mundane. It’s comfortable and easily accommodates taller drivers. And in comfort mode it is honestly as difficult to drive as an entry-level Polo.

It’s a rare supercar you can drive to work every day and not raise a sweat. Instead of managing out Lamborghini’s madness, the company just built an Audi supercar, a truly fabulous machine. Simply put, the R8 is epic.


FACT FILE

ENGINE: 5.2L, V10
POWER: 449KW
TORQUE: 560NM
TRANS: 7-SPD DUAL-CLUTCH
0-100 KM/H: 3.2SECS
TOP SPEED: 330KM/H
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 123L/100KM
CO²: 287G/KM

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