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Audi R8 engines, drive and performance

2015 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 4.7 out of 54.7

Written by Murray Scullion Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 18 July 2023

  • Monumental pace
  • Epic noise
  • Two power outputs

Petrol engine

Audi’s spellbinding normally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 engine nestled in the middle of the R8 is the show stopping element that gets car enthusiasts salivating.

Full-fat 4WD models get 620hp and a 3.1second 0-62mph time, while RWD models ‘make do’ with 50hp less and a 0.6second slower 0-62mph time.

No matter which model you choose you’ll gain access to one of the finest engines on sale. Throttle response is pin sharp and it’ll pull well in any gear. Full bore acceleration from a standstill is violent and thrilling. The engine note is unadulterated and turns from industrial to bird chirp with a flex of your right foot.

Audi R8 engine
Audi R8 engine

Even when you’re not hammering it, it’s such a linear thing to use it makes mincemeat of cross country blats without needing to change gear too often. At town speeds it’s remarkably unscary, just let the seven-speed auto gearbox do its thing and it won’t be that different to driving any other Audi.

Both engines are coupled with Audi’s seven-speed twin-clutch S Tronic automatic gearbox, with the less powerful ones featuring a longer seventh gear for better cruising and fuel economy, with much closer gear ratios for sportier driving for punchier R8s.

Audi R8 Coupe automatic gearbox 2020
Audi R8 Coupe automatic gearbox 2020

If there’s one criticism it’ll be that the gearbox can occasionally kick down too many gears. Quite often you’ll want to gain speed (for instance, on a motorway slip road) and it’ll dump you into second gear at 7,000rpm, with the engine screaming, when you just wanted to slip down a couple of cogs.

What’s it like to drive?

  • Balanced handling
  • Not too much difference between RWD and 4WD
  • Easy, tractable pace

The R8 has the ability to turn any mundane trip into a memorable occasion, because of the performance on offer and how easy it is to achieve. The R8 can make you feel like Lewis Hamilton, even if you’ve never dipped a wheel onto an apex in your life.

This mid-engined sports car handles with a balance not many rivals can manage. We’ve driven it on both road and track, and the result was a car that surprised us with just how involving the chassis is.

Feedback is direct through the hard seats and flat bottomed steering wheel, really giving you confidence to push on. Steering is weighty and wonderfully judged. After driving an R8 for 10 minutes you’ll feel confident blatting it up your favourite B-road or threading it through London traffic.

Audi R8 panning rear
Audi R8 panning rear

RWD models are lighter and theoretically a bit more agile. In truth, while they feel a tad more nimble, the tyres provide so much adhesion that you really have to be driving in a manner that’s inappropriate for public roads to make the R8’s rear half step excitedly out of line.

Base models receive no clever air suspension, unlike with other supercars such as the Porsche 911. Yet the ride is superb. Yes, it crashes into potholes a bit at low speed because everything is so firm, but at faster speeds it levels out.

You can option adaptive suspension, which allows the driver to opt for a stiffer or softer setup. Save your money, the regular suspension does just fine.