Audi Driving Experience with R8 plus

By Lee Pang Seng

AUDI conducts a regular driving experience at its Audi Sport centre near Ingolstadt, Germany for new car owners as well as interested parties such as the motoring media. We had our taste of this Audi Driving Experience at the highest level with the R8 V10 plus Coupé, which represents its ultimate sports car.

This dedicated centre is a huge sprawling place that accommodates a 2.2km circuit, which it uses to fine-tune its race cars such as those that used to participate in endurance events like the Le Mans 24-hour (Audi has withdrawn from this series to focus on other motor sports events, the electric powered ones in particular). There is also a 30,000-square metre dynamic driving area and an off-road course.

For Audi owners, this Audi Sports centre provides the perfect place for them to discover what their cars are capable of in a dynamic way. They are also shown by experts, usually the company’s motor sport team of drivers, how they could use their vehicles to the fullest with the proper driving techniques. And they get to know their vehicles better through the active driving routines, come rain or shine.

Before we delve into the driving experience with the Audi R8 plus, let’s take a closer look at what we had the pleasure of experiencing these routines in. The Audi R8 represents the pinnacle of dedicated sports cars from this German carmaker. Audi’s foray into making fast road cars, however, is not a recent thing.

Those who are familiar with Audi would recall the all-wheel drive Quattro model that it introduced to world rallying in 1981. Since then, the Quattro name is the hallmark of Audi’s motor sport achievements and its range of sports cars. If you want to dig deeper, you can go back to Audi’s Auto Union days of the 1930s when it built race cars with impressive engine output. A signature example was the 3.0-litre V12 Type D race car that was powered by a 458hp engine to make it capable of a 330km/h top speed.

Coming back to the modern day scenario, Audi has two model variants for the R8 with the R8 plus being the beefier one with more muscle. This model is now into its second generation that was introduced in 2015, seven years after the R8 was first launched in 2008. Both are powered by normally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 engines with double overhead camshafts per cylinder bank, four valves per cylinder and direct injection fuel feed.
This is an undersquare V10 engine with a long bore of 92.8mm against a bore of 84.5mm to displace 5204cc. It’s the engine management chip that determines the power output; the R8 boasts of 397kW (540PS) at 8000rpm and 540Nm at 6500rpm, and the R8 plus is even more impressive with 448kW (610PS) at 8250rpm and 560Nm at 6500rpm. Transmission options are a manual or seven-speed S tronic (our drive experience was in the latter).

In performance, the Audi R8 S tronic does the 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds while the manual model manages that in 4.0 seconds but the S tronic model loses marginally on top speed at 314km/h against 315km/h. The R8 plus is naturally quicker covering the sprint in 3.3 seconds and has a higher top end of 330km/h, which is fantastic for a road sports coupé.

All this may sound familiar especially when the Lamborghini Huracán comes to mind. This is because both these brands come under the Volkswagen umbrella and they could share engineering within the group. While the engine might be similar (including the performance between the two distinct brand models), they go separate ways where body engineering is concerned.

Audi uses the engineering it has developed over the years such as the Audi Space Frame, which sees a mixed construction of steel and aluminium. The all-independent suspension, however is common and sees aluminium double wishbones at each wheel. But the Audi R8 has its own Coupé body design to stamp an individual presence.

This also explains why they differ dimensionally with the Audi R8 having a 2650mm wheelbase that is 30mm longer. The Audi is also wider at 1930mm (2029mm including door mirrors) and taller at 1252mm but shorter in overall length at 4435mm, probably because of the shorter overhangs. Using the Audi Space Frame has made the R8 heavier weighing in at 1720kg for the S tronic model (1695kg for the R8 manual), which is about 180kg more.

Having driven both the 610PS Audi R8 plus and Lamborghini Huracán LP 610, we found them pretty equal where the fun factor is concerned. The impressions were done under different conditions and at different venues, and this may colour the experience slightly. It would have been great if it was a side-by-side comparison.

As it were, our Audi experience was to gain an insight into the driving routine that the German carmaker arranges for its customers, albeit in a very exciting car. The morning routines were on making emergency stops using the ABS (anti-lock brake system) and a slalom run using minimal steering movement.

This was done under the guidance of Rahel Frey who is employed to race for Audi in endurance events (she had raced in Malaysian and Asian events in recent years partnering Alex Yoong) and conduct such driving events in between races. As we have been told often enough (in this and drive events by other car brands over the years), the driver’s position is important to reduce fatigue while working the steering wheel and foot pedals to the best effect.

Arms and legs should be bent; the former to allow smooth and fluid movements when turning the steering wheel quickly between extremes when the situation calls for it while the latter allows a better feel of the foot pedals, especially in having the best fulcrum when applying maximum pressure on the brake pedal.

The brake and turn routine was done on a continuously wet section and the idea was to turn the steering wheel gently to avoid hitting an imaginary obstacle while applying the brakes hard. The Audi R8 should come to a stop without much drama and in the shortest distance possible. We probably hit the brakes at about 100km/h on reaching the brake point and did about 10 runs, so much so that we could feel the brake pedal getting progressively spongy as the brake fluid got super-heated with the continuous bouts of hard braking. The R8 comes with 365mm discs in front and 356mm discs at the rear, all ventilated, and the tyres were Pirelli P-Zeros of different sizes in front and at the rear.

Rahel seemed pretty satisfied that most of us were doing the braking routine well without much drama. The next routine was the slalom course and the idea was to use minimal steering movement to avoid too much car body movement as it snaked its way around the cones. To make it a competitive session, we were subsequently timed after the initial ‘practice’ runs.

Most of us did the timed slalom course in the 36-second bracket although one chap did better than that. However, he hit a cone in the process and was penalised with a 3-second deficit. That default made us the second fastest although no prize was given for the effort. What we learnt was how agile the Audi R8 was weaving through the slalom course and taking the loop for the return drive.

We could feel how the car was behaving by the way we were using the accelerator pedal and executing the steering movement. Too much power and the Coupé would take a wider arc as it would understeer more. Too much steering movement and the R8 plus would be a little unsettled trying to regain balance and direction with its active control systems working feverishly.

The afternoon session was to get an overall impression of the Audi R8 plus by driving it through the 2.2km circuit. This course has two sharp, almost hairpin like corners, while the others were in varying degree of camber and tightness. The drive was done convoy style as usual with each car (two media people to a car) taking two laps following Rahel before continuing the remaining laps at the end of the line. She wasn’t going slow as she guided us through the successive corners with her lines and advised on the gearchange options.

There were four drive modes for the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission; Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Race. The choice was clearly Dynamic or Race but for the speeds that we were doing, we found Dynamic more to our liking. The transmission did all the heel-and-toe to raise engine revs each time a downshift was made before we entered a corner and that kept engine torque at a high level to maintain traction through. The hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering gave good directional feel of how the front tyres were pointing and that helped us in working the steering ‘efficiently and minimally’ for the respective corner.

With its Quattro all-wheel drive, the Audi R8 plus was best driven hard into the corner and choosing a good clean line. Going too fast would mean greater initial understeer as the drive system apportioned torque accordingly to even out the drive forces and restore balance. That also meant hearing the Pirellis squealed as they did their best maintaining good road grip.

There were four sessions in all, allowing for changes of drivers in the respective group so that everyone got a chance at discovering the pleasure of driving the Audi R8 plus at quick speeds. By the time the third session began, it started to rain and that gave us another perspective to the Audi drive experience. (By the way, Audi was having a group of car owners doing what we doing in the morning in less exciting vehicles and they too continued under the steady drizzle.)

Rahel suggested using the Auto mode so that the engine wouldn’t rev too high while downshifting and road traction was better maintained through the corners. It, however, entailed greater pedal work and we found ourselves driving slower than we would like. We re-selected Dynamic and let the transmission do all the work while being easier on the accelerator pedal. It seemed to work for us but we could feel the Quattro system doing a lot more keeping the R8 plus under control.

There were times when our exuberance had the R8 plus drifting more than it should through some curves (including going off the track) and where easing off the accelerator helped brought the sports coupé back in line. We might be driving slower through the steady drizzle but the speeds we were carrying through the twisty circuit was still pretty quick.

Our confidence was also due to the positive dynamics of the R8 plus; it was quite forgiving when mistakes were made within reasonably high speeds and the mid-engine Coupé felt nicely balanced dynamically. Body lean was well checked and that sometimes led us to take a corner faster than we should, especially when we were at the tail end of the group and exploring the limits of this Audi.

We found the R8 plus just as much fun to drive as the Huracán LP 610 although each has its own allure and distinction. And we loved the distinctive V10 roar as the car down-shifted through the gears before a corner. As both fetch a very premium price, the choice has to be on body styling and the package that would best appeal to you.

During the lunch break, we also checked out the off-road course in the new Audi Q7 quattro. Being the consummate premium SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle), the Q7 quattro took to the respective section with ease. They include an uneven terrain, a water trough, 60-per cent banks, level ladder, steep 55-per cent hill climbs and descents, among others.

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