Beautiful and brutal, the R8 proved the brand had no limits
Airfix had a smaller model range than Audi at the turn of the millennium, but nevertheless some thought Audi straying into serious sports car territory was a step too for. Their misgivings were misplaced.
The first R8 may ‘only’ have had 414bhp from its 4.2-litre V8 but it was a beautifully judged blend of catwalk looks and searing performance, all spread on a thick base of Audi-ness; solid, smart and practical. Best of all, all-wheel drive meant this was accessible performance – fun without much threat of spinning off the road and straight onto YouTube.
Better was to come with the arrival of the V10. The 4.2 was far from slow but the chassis could easily handle the extra 111bhp the two additional cylinders brought with them. Now the R8 was a supercar, 20omph was within reach, a sub-four-second 0-62mph time on the table and Audi finally on Maranello’s radar.
The Mki R8 peaked with the GT, built and sold in tantalisingly tiny numbers. Unveiled at Worthersee in 2010, the R8 GT got grippy bucket seats (saving 31kg), carbon brakes as standard, retuned suspension, carbon body panels, a fixed wing and thinner glass. Overall weight fell by a massive 100kg. The V10 made 552bhp, with a noisier exhaust to let it sing.
On the move you can feel the net result of all those changes in the Audi’s astonishing chassis. With all reasonable compromise in the ride expunged in favour of response, the car is undoubtedly more fidgety. But the payoff is feeling completely keyed in to the surface. There’s towering grip but the GT counters with more power, to let you work its tyres harder, and the steering through the gorgeous alcantara wheel is alive like no other R8’s. You can feel the innate balance of the mid-engined layout with every fibre of your being, breeding confidence and encouraging you to release more of the V10’s punch at every opportunity.
Do so and you’ll learn that the GT dances on the limit more readily than any other mid-engined contemporary. And we’re sure this is an Audi?