A spin in Audi's supercar is a mind-blasting experience
Audi's R8 flagship machine is a tech masterwork that well deserves the supercar moniker, and after undergoing a facelift last year it has added a new version to the line-up that ups the ante even further.
The R8 V10 Plus takes another step towards the sharp end of roadgoing weaponry with more power, less weight - and more money. After all, this is Iron Man's car, seen rolling out from the garage of the movie's fictional multi-squillionaire, Tony Stark.
While Stark is from a figment of a comic book creator's imagination, the superhero performance of this Plussed-up supercar is far from fantasy. The car pictured here arrived in New Zealand to put in a cameo appearance at the film's premiere - and while we at Driven are fans of the movies, especially the underground garage that packs in a bunch of real-world exotica alongside that flashy suit, the car was the blockbuster we were most interested in.
The V10 Plus is more than the average R8. For starters, the rear-mounted, Lamborghini-derived 5.2 litre engine goes up against the V8-powered version here - and offers an incendiary 404kW/540Nm performance punch over the "mere" 316kW and 430Nm offering from the eight-cylinder, or the 386kW "normal" V10.
On paper this looks impressive - on the road it is mindblowing.
There is a cavernous price gap as well - the V8 version lists for $245,000; the V10 Plus can be parked in your driveway for $325,000 - and makes the new model a very exclusive take on an already very exclusive car.
Aside from the extra power, the all-aluminium spaceframed machine has been given excessive carbon-fibre treatment with yawning side vents, engine cover and cowels - even the doorskins, including handles, are heavily accented with that most light and lovable of automotive materials. And it looks good, especially when you peer through the titanium-finished 19-inch wheels and see the almost-comically monstrous carbon-ceramic brakes with huge six-pot monobloc calipers at the front and four-piston versions at the rear, stamped with the Audi logo and promising unparalleled stopping power. They're a $25,000 option if you're shopping in the V8 aisle.
Suspension is another point of difference, with the ever-adapting Magnetic Ride system being replaced by a more hard riding Plus-only set-up that gives a higher spring rate and stiffer damping and better road stickability. However, on some roads it did have the kidney-jangling effect that would be far less noticeable on marble-smooth Euro highways and byways.
A huge improvement over the last R8 is the new S-tronic transmission - it's a dual robotic clutch unit that's at the cutting-edge of auto tech, and similar in concept and execution to those found in other high-desirable machinery.
The last R8 featured a fairly jerky clutchless six-speed that was probably that iteration's biggest bugbear - smooth acceleration was interrupted by changes that often left the driver looking like one of those head-bobbing dogs you see on parcel trays of taxis in Mexico and, occasionally, Kelston.
The S-tronic's seven-speed is perfectly behaved whether idling around town or doing what the R8 V10 Plus was really built for.
Finding a piece of road that can be truly enjoyed in a supercar can be a bit of a trial - especially in rear-drive machinery that can be a real wander along the razor's edge, and become patently terrifying on some of our more rural roads with chunky coarse chip surfaces and the camber randomness that some roadmakers seem to use as a form of artistic expression.
But the Audi Quattro four-wheel-drive system that's been an enthusiastic driver's friend for decades makes the Plus, even with its harder suspension set-up, very usable on almost any piece of bitumen that you throw at it.
The bulk of the drive still comes from the back, but there's the added bonus of front-end grip when you're in the twisty stuff, and the near-1600kg form of the low-slung machine is stuck so firmly to the road that occasionally you'll find yourself giving it a supercar pop-quiz, and trying to unsettle it. There is so much grip and so much traction that this is usually easier said than done. Even on a soaked Auckland motorway, complete with its usual standing water and aquaplaning opportunities, it was totally composed. The day before on drier roads, it was still composed, just not battling the heavy traffic of the urban jungle.
Let that V10 off its leash and the quiet and smooth rumble from behind becomes a howl, gearshifts become a barrage of taps on larger steering-wheel mounted paddles and the scenery becomes blurry.
Off the line it's a firework - hitting 100km/h nearly a second quicker than the V8, in just 3.5 seconds - and if the louder, brasher and more aggressive sports mode is engaged, with the telltale launch wiggle of something that doesn't want to go slow. It's top speed, obviously not verified here, is a claimed 317km/h.
Through some tight and twisty country tracks the R8 is staggeringly capable, the big brakes almost too effective between corners.
Early exit acceleration allowed by the rear-engine push is utterly exhilarating, with cogs exhausted one after the other until a quick jump on the brake pedal brings it all back down to scrub speed before the Einstein-accurate steering tackles the next set of bends, with nothing more than light micro adjustments required to position the car exactly where it's needed before punching out of the corner and starting it all over again.
Is the $329,000 price-tag warranted for this car? In a word, yes. There are a few grumbles - although it does seem they're a bit pointless and come off a bit bitchy.
Road noise from the 305-wide feet isn't too raucous, but when the window is down the wind buffeting is extreme - this is really a given, with the rear screen that seals the cockpit from the engine compartment making it near-impossible to stop.
The 12-speaker Bang and Olufsen stereo does help to allay the wind noise but means giving up the V10's aural symphony and missing the angry sport-mode downchange blips does seem wrong.
Some of the switchgear inside looks a bit cheap, it would have been nice to see some more space-age materials than plastic stalks, but light is the key, and I'm just being picky. And while the big-screen superhero might have a nice suit, I think the R8 V10 Plus is probably more closely aligned with that other Iron Man - Black Sabbath's powerful and relentless monster grind that Ozzy et al used to blow the heads off Vector Arena audiences earlier this week.