It’s initially deceiving; the manner in which the Audi R8 V10 Plus picks up momentum is insidious but eye-widening in equal measure. The tyre scrabble and steering-wheel twitchiness that normally accompanies pedal-flat antics in most performance cars is all but absent and the engine noise doesn’t suggest the acceleration at play here. Instead, the Samoa Orange R8 emits an unremarkable V10 timbre that hardens into a barrage of ear-devouring vehicular white noise when its driver’s right foot urges it to press on. This change in tone aside, it’s that sensation of pure, linear power delivery that lingers. It’s as if an invisible hand presses your back into the snug sports seat while the relatively muted, serene cabin environment is contrasted by the furious, mind-bending rapidity with which the scenery whooshes into view. Those are the only palpable indications of the speed you’re carrying.
In addition, bravely glancing at the dials during this exercise is greeted with the sight of speedo and rev needles gamely keeping up with one another. The perennial beauty of the R8 has been its ability to balance towering performance with beguiling ease of use. By stripping 50 kg off the V10’s kerb weight and upping the wick on the engine to 404 kW and 550 N.m, the Plus represents the pinnacle of the R8 range; but has the balance been disturbed?
Not at lower speeds. The Plus still pretends to be an A4 when pottering round town, an impression further aided by the smooth shifts afforded by the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The R8 still manages to turn heads, more so now that the side blades are hewn from carbon-fibre and the headlamps sport eye-catching LEDs. But those are an amuse bouche compared with the outwardly pulsing light show of the rear indicators.
The Plus’s … er … pluses become apparent when the pace picks up.
What that extra oomph brings to the package is supercar performance; look at the performance figures on the right and then glance at those of the McLaren MP4-12C we tested last year, we’re talking a tenth of a second here, a hundredth there. The transmission occasionally proved indecisive to sudden throttle inputs, but otherwise punched eagerly through the gears, blipped beautifully on downshifts and served up lightning-fast upshifts.
The traditional R8 traits are still there; immense all-wheel grip and weighty steering translates into delightful pointiness and confidence-inspiring mid-engined poise … but to a point. In fast corners that oomph draws a fine line between settled and sideways; provoke it mid-curve at speed and it will kick out its tail, requiring a skilled, calm hand to catch it. Fortunately there is a preceding lightness aft that warns of that approaching threshold.
Its R2,4-million price tag would make most wince, but it’s almost R1 million shy of the hair’s-breadth-faster McLaren MP4-12C. Supercar staples beware: this R8 has some serious pluses.