"It's very strange, what you're doing..."
…barks the voice of a concerned, elderly woman behind us. Here we are, in pitch black at 6.30am, with a videographer bathing a £135,000 V10 supercar with light using what looks like a million watt bulb, a photographer letting out frequent explosions of illumination from his flash gun, and a guy wearing a massive head torch making ungodly noise while unloading another supercar from the back of a lorry. All in torrential rain.
“Very strange”? I suppose she has a point, especially given that we’ve inadvertently dumped all this noise and commotion in front of a row of very much occupied houses. It must have looked like an alien invasion was kicking off just outside her front door.
To compound the issue some more, the second car is now unloaded and has been fired up, with its 10-cylinder cacophony further shattering the calm we’d so rudely interrupted.
We can’t hang around, and not just because of the potential for a violent uprising from residents we accidentally woke at such an outrageous hour. No, we have to go because we’ve been told we’ve managed to stray onto someone else’s land and can’t film until we get a permit.
As far as shoots go, this one’s off to a fairly poor start. I clamber - nay, fall - into the bucket driver’s seat of car number two, a limited-edition, first-generation Audi R8, to lead our exodus into the darkness. It’s a bizarre little convoy, featuring this first generation R8, the brand new R8 V10 Plus I’ve driven down in, CT videographer Ethan’s purple wrapped Suzuki Wagon R, photographer Jayson’s Ford Fiesta, and a bloody great Mercedes truck. The word ‘conspicuous’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
With the wipers frantically dancing from one side of the windscreen to the other in a futile attempt to keep it clear of the deluge, it’s bloody difficult to see anything. But up ahead, I see the perfect place to pull in and get started. With the weather easing off ever so slightly and the sun coming up - albeit behind thick, murky clouds - we’re able to study the two supercars we’ve brought down.
The one I’ve just stumbled out of in a particularly undignified manner (that damn bucket seat again) is an R8 GT. Just 333 were built, and this particular example - number 234 - is one of only 33 that made it to the UK. With 552bhp from the 5.2-litre V10 mounted behind the driver it’s not the most powerful first-generation R8 - that crown is shared between the 562bhp LMX and its ‘R8 Competition’ US counterpart - but it’s the most hardcore, and arguably the most interesting.
It’s lower and stiffer than the regular V10 R8 of the era, more powerful and festooned in carbonfibre aero bits. The steering wheel is clad in Alcantara - nothing says because racecar better - and as mentioned we have those fabulous but impractical bucket seats. It’s a special bit of kit, this.
It’s amazing how much more simple it feels inside. Here we have analogue dials for everything, with the rev counter and speedometer each having a basic dot matrix display located at the bottom. It’s a world away from the new car’s space age cabin with its Virtual Cockpit, which houses everything in a 12.3-inch display behind the steering wheel.
We don’t have any complicated driver settings either: the new R8 gives you a choice of Eco, Normal, Sport and Race modes and further levels of adjustability within each setting. But the GT? Well, there’s a button labelled ‘Sport’, and that’s kinda it.
Since we only have a day with the car, I decide I’m happy with that kind of simplicity. So, with the car nicely warmed, I prod said Sport button, engage drive and briskly pull away. As I’m building up the speed, the single-clutch R-Tronic gearbox is proving frustrating. Each change results in a clumsy lurch - the later S Tronic ‘box fitted to the later version and the second-generation R8 is in a different league.
As the pace is dialled up a notch, however, those changes are getting more satisfying. Sure, there’s an irksome delay between pulling the paddle and that gear slotting into place, but the changes themselves are brisk - if not exactly subtle. 10 cylinders exploding all the way up to the GT’s 8500rpm redline are all the distraction I need, however, and things get even more interesting when the going gets twisty.
I’ve driven the new R8 enough to know that the steering is too light and isn’t blessed with an abundance of feedback, but that isn’t the case with this first-gen GT. It feels much more weighty and communicative, and you get the sense that it’s more on you with the older car - it requires more effort and more concentration, meaning you feel all the more satisfied when you hook up a series of bends.
I’m already growing attached to the focused GT, but inevitably, a key swap has to take place. I’m back in the new R8 V10 Plus with its space age interior, only this time I’m in just the right place to drive it like a hooligan on some gloriously bendy roads.
First impressions? Good Lord, it feels quick. Much quicker than the GT, in fact, and a lot quicker than makes sense considering the mere 51bhp difference. The GT feel fast, but the second gen Plus feels as though it’s putting immense strain on all the squishy organs and other bits under your skin as you’re forced back into the leather driver’s seat.
On paper the V10 Plus should be able to hit 62mph in 3.2 seconds (and keep going to a 205mph top speed), but I’m pretty sure this is one of those Audis that’s been given a conservative set of performance figures.
There’s no pausing while you wait for a ponderous single-clutch, robotised manual to do its thing either. The S Tronic dual-clutch ‘box - carried over from the later first-gen R8 but with a software fiddle to make the shifts even faster - is immense. It almost feels as though it’s rammed home the next gear before you’ve even pressed the paddle.
"Does the R8 make everything too easy? Arguably, but there’s no denying that it’s fantastic fun to drive"
It doesn’t take me long to give in to temptation and prod the little button with the chequered flag on it. This engages race mode, dropping the traction control intervention to a minimum, and weighting up the steering a little further. This is as shouty as the R8 gets, with the giant rev counter that dominates the Virtual Cockpit excitedly flashing red when it’s time for another of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gear changes.
Even in race mode though, this is not a car that requires a whole lot of effort to cover ground quickly. The dynamic steering varies the ratio depending on how you’re driving, which feels thoroughly unnatural, but it’s fast. Crazy fast. And with a sophisticated four-wheel drive system to lean on, you can be very, very silly and the car will just sort everything out and make sure your idiocy doesn’t result in a crash and a big fireball.
Does that make everything too easy? Arguably, but there’s no denying that it’s fantastic fun to plough through corner after corner at a devastating pace. It’s still a rear-led thing, but feels more neutral than the old car, where you experience more movement from the back end.
And of course, we can’t ignore the noise, and I’d argue that it sounds even better than the old one. Yes, it’s pretty much the same engine, but the wonders of exhaust technology make it spectacularly shouty when everything’s in the right mode.
There is just a nagging feeling though, that for all its brutal effectiveness, the new car has just slightly lost the delicacy and wonderful level of feedback we so enjoy in the old car, particularly in its hardcore GT trim. There’s the numb, unnatural steering we’ve already talked about, but you also don’t feel quite so much from the chassis, nor what the four-wheel drive system is up to as torque is shifted from wheel to wheel.
The extra usability of the new car - which is supremely comfortable when you don’t have everything set to ‘crazy’ and could genuinely be a daily driver - does make up for the new R8 feeling a little less feedback intensive than the old one, but it’s a shame nonetheless.
Since it’s a stunningly good car in other areas, I’m not sure a solution to this is strictly necessary, but in any case, I’ve thought of one. What we need is something akin to the GT, but based on the new R8. Something with lower, stiffer suspension - maybe even using conventional dampers as opposed to electronically adjustable - heavier steering with no ‘Dynamic’ option, a little less weight, and some tasty aero additions. Now that would be some car.