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2010 Audi R8 5.2 L V10

When Audi R8 owners filled in whatever feedback forms buyers of $140,000 sports cars fill in, I bet very few of them wrote, Gutless. Needs more power.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

MARBELLA, Spain–When Audi R8 owners filled in whatever feedback forms buyers of $140,000 sports cars fill in, I bet very few of them wrote, “Gutless. Needs more power.”

I mean, in addition to being gorgeous and handling like a dream, last year’s Canadian Car of the Year had 414 horsepower, and went 0-to-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds. Okay, not overwhelming, but not exactly a diesel Chevette either. But hey, some people are never satisfied.

So, here’s the R8 pumped up with a 5.2-litre V10 engine, 518 horsepower, and able to do 0-to-100 in 3.9 seconds.

That’s more like it.

You’ll have to wait until June for it to arrive in Canada. And we don’t have a price yet, but it should be about $180,000, compared to $141,000 for the standard R8.

Is it worth the extra bucks? Read on.

The extras aren’t all engine. Lots of stuff that’s optional in the base R8 is standard on the R8 5.2, including the Delco Magnetic Ride suspension, all-LED exterior lighting, Nappa leather interior, satellite navigation and high-zoot Bang and Olufsen sound system.

Visually, the differences between the two models are subtle. Black surrounds on the front grilles and rear fascia, wider air intakes on the flanks, new 19-inch wheels, small V10 badges behind the front wheel cutouts, a single oval exhaust outlet on each side versus a pair of round ones – they’ll be about the only clues your neighbours will get.

Inside, another V10 logo on the tachometer, red rings surrounding the instruments and on top of the gear lever – that’s about it.

There has been some misconception about the powertrain in the R8 5.2. One German car magazine said Audi borrowed the V10 engine from the Lamborghini Gallardo.

Well, Lamborghini is owned by Audi, but according to Ralph Worret, head of the thermodynamics section of Audi’s engine development department, the “new” Lamborghini V10 engine introduced last year in the Gallardo was in fact designed by Audi.

The two companies use different tuning. Worret notes that the intake side is set for higher peak power in the Lambo, while Audi aims for a broader torque band – more than 80 per cent of the 391 lb.-ft. peak is available from 1000 r.p.m. on up.

Given the bigger engine is only about 30 kilograms heavier, this translates into a meaningful improvement in the power-to-weight ratio.

What I find interesting is that this V10 engine is something like 15 per cent more fuel-efficient than the 5.2-litre V10 used in the old Gallardo. It’s amazing that engineers are still generating such substantial improvements in such a mature technology as the internal combustion gasoline engine.

In both of those cases, a big part of this improvement comes from direct injection – the fuel is sprayed straight into the combustion chamber, instead of upstream of the valves. Among other things, the cooling effect of the evaporating fuel enables a higher compression ratio, which is always good for efficiency – for power, for economy, or for some combination of the two.

The Gallardo and R8 actually share more than engine DNA. The aluminum space frame structure of both cars is similar under the skin, and both are assembled in Audi’s aluminum fabricating centre in Neckarsulm, Germany.

The R8 comes either with a six-speed manual gearbox, or the R-Tronic, a Formula One-style paddle-governed computer-shifted manual used in the Gallardo.

This is a single-clutch transmission, not a Dual Clutch (DSG) as used in lower-powered Audis.

Audi admits that for the volume of sales expected of a car like this, there simply wasn’t the budget to develop a new transmission for it.

Both transmissions have their drawbacks.

The manual’s shift gate, looking just like those of Ferraris in the past, is an exposed metal maze that must be negotiated with precision and no small amount of force.

You must be particularly careful when hustling from second to third to make sure you shove the lever sufficiently to the right to catch the middle row of the gate. Otherwise, you’ll catch first, which will send the engine to about a billion r.p.m. for about a billionth of a second, after which you’ll hear very expensive noises from right behind your head.

Driven this way, however, the R8 5.2 is immensely satisfying.

The R-Tronic is, as these things always are, a bit brutal when set to Sport mode, which speeds up the shifts at the expense of comfort.

Audi suggests the R-Tronic is better on the race track – it is faster, after all – while the manual is more suited to road use.

Normally, I buy into that.

But having experienced both transmissions on the fabulous roads north of Marbella and on the private Ascari circuit just to the east of this mountain town, I have to say I prefer the manual in both circumstances.

Maybe I have been spoiled by DSGs, but I no longer think the harshness of the F1-style boxes is worth it.

Both gearboxes offer a launch control function, designed to minimize acceleration times.

I tried it in the manual, coming out of the pits at Ascari.

All systems set to Sport: check.

Shut off the traction control: check.

Foot on the clutch: check.

Stand on the gas pedal: check, with a big lump in my throat, because normally this will send an engine spinning into oblivion, or at least bahh-bahh-bahh against the rev limiter.

But the engine winds up to about 6300 r.p.m., then settles back to about 5500, indicating is it ready when you are.

Then – and this takes a huge leap of faith too, because it runs contrary to everything we’ve ever learned about making a car last – side-step the clutch. Don’t release it quickly and try to modulate it, just slip your foot to the left off the pedal, and let ‘er rip.

Audi engineers told us this actually is easier on the clutch, because it engages instantly, no slippage, hence no glazing of the clutch mating surfaces.

The engine management computer and the torque distribution system of the four-wheel drive system figure out how much power to generate, and to which wheels to send it, to achieve optimal acceleration. What it feels like is that all hell breaks loose.

Unlike some cars, whose launch control is, well, so controlled it feels boring, the R8 allows some wheel slippage, loads of raucous noise, and I may have noted a slight twitch sideways as I rocketed out of the pits.

Everywhere – road and track – the R8 handles brilliantly. The levels of grip are very high – love those big fat tires – and the car understeers gently (the front end drifts slightly wide) if you lean on it a bit too hard.

If you upshift in a corner, the nose of the car tucks in a trifle. Might catch you unaware the first couple of times, but it proves the chassis is more responsive to throttle inputs than four-wheel-drive chassis normally are.

Then again, nominally only about 35 per cent of the power goes to the front wheels, so it is a more rear-biased car than most four-by-fours.

For some reason for which we never got a real explanation, this effect is more noticeable with the R-Tronic gearbox. Maybe because it shuts the engine off almost completely, more quickly than you can by releasing the throttle pedal in the manual, and the reduction in forward thrust shifts weight forward away from the rear wheels, releasing their grip slightly from the pavement.

Once you know it’s happening, it makes the car even more enjoyable to hustle.

Ride quality is remarkable given this car’s performance potential. This is largely due to the Magnetic Ride shock dampers, whose fluid’s viscosity can be changed instantly based on inputs from the chassis.

Audi emphasizes the R8’s everyday nature. But 190 L of luggage space distributed between the front trunk and the area behind the seats is hardly the stuff of Wally World Family Vacations, especially since the space behind the seats is hard to get at. Nor is there a lot of oddment space in the cabin.

But the docile nature of the car when driven gently, the fine ride, the outstanding fit and finish, the comfortable yet supportive seats, the luxury fitments, all make the R8 a genuine all-rounder – providing you travel light.

Is the 5.2 V10 worth the extra bucks over the V8?

The standard R8 is so sensational, you’d have to wonder if the 5.2 gains enough to be worth it.

Then again, cars like this are not bought for practicality, or even (mostly) for their capabilities – they’re bought as a statement.

Travel was provided to freelance writer Jim Kenzie by the automaker. jim@jimkenzie.com
  • 2010 Audi R8 5.2 L V10

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