The R8 uses the same 4.2-litre FSI V8 engine as the RS4 - it produces 420bhp and 430Nm of torque which powers the R8 from 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds and on to a maximum of 187mph.This makes it quicker than most other supercars but what sets it apart is the intoxicating experience from behind the wheel, helped no end by the magnificent engine noise that emanates from behind the driver.
Acceleration is as impressive and exhilarating as the figures suggest but it's the ease of driving that makes the R8 so enjoyable - it's a car that's accessible to all and not intimidating. The standard transmission is a six-speed manual, but customers can pay £5000 extra for the R tronic automated manual transmission - about half of buyers in the UK choose this.
Keener drivers will prefer the manual which mimics an Italian supercar with its exposed metal H-gate gearshift design (see pictures). The R tronic sequential box is fine for slower speeds, but if you're driving quickly (which is what you'd expect in the R8) it doesn't respond fast enough. There is a sport setting, but this makes the changes violent and jerky, unsettling the car if you're approaching a corner and changing down.
It's actually easier to drive smoothly with the manual gearbox. In April 2009 a 5.2-litre V10 engine was added which boasts an amazing 518bhp and 530Nm of torque. This drops the 0-62mph time to just 3.9 seconds - with both the manual and R tronic gearbox. As you'd expect, it feels blisteringly quick, but has quite a different engine note to the V8 and doesn't feel as frantic.
The extra pulling power is noticeable too, especially when accelerating in higher gears. It's considerably more expensive though and we think the V8 should be rapid enough for most. In 2012 the R8 V10-Plus model got a power hike from 518bhp to 542bhp enabling it to get from 0-62mph in just 3.5 seconds with Audi's new S tronic dual clutch automatic transmission.
The 'standard' V10's benchmark sprint time dropped to 3.6 seconds and the V8's 0-62mph figures read 4.3 seconds with the S-tronic transmission.
The R8 has the optimum layout for balance and responsive handling with its mid-mounted engine (behind the seats), and with 46% of the car's weight over the front axle and 54% over the rear axle it feels razor sharp on the road. Hydraulic power steering offers excellent feel - light enough when parking and complementing the R8's relatively modest turning circle, but with enough weight and feedback to allow full confidence in the car's ability at higher speeds.
Although the R8's wide stance and low centre of gravity mean the car is quite resistant to body roll, control is further improved on challenging roads with the optional 'magnetic ride' system set in its sport mode. An electric current changes the behaviour of microscopic particles suspended in fluid in the dampers, sharpening the handling characteristics further on the R8.
The brakes feel a little keen at first, but you soon become used to them and discover they are very effective at stopping the car smoothly and quickly.