Audi R8

Audi R8 | Alternative Classics

Audi R8 | Alternative Classics

In the early 2000s, Audi had a well-won reputation for building fast family cars (the RS2 and RS6, to name but two), but the company had yet to offer a genuine sports car alternative to the Porsche 911.

That would change in 2003 with the reveal of the Le Mans concept, which would ultimately spawn the Type 42 R8 three years later.

The R8’s mainstream badge (and matching price tag) meant it competed with cars like the E92 BMW M3 and 997 Porsche 911 but also genuine supercar royalty like the Lamborghini Gallardo and Ferrari F430. Any worries it would feel out of its depth in such an esteemed company quickly dissolved when people saw (and drove) it.

Short and squat – and with contrasting side blade body panels – the R8 looked the part, and it had the specs to back up its appearance. Not only was it mid-engined, but said engine was an eight-cylinder tractable masterpiece with rumbling low-down torque, precluding the earthy howl it produced at high engine speeds.

That the R8 would have Quattro four-wheel drive was another worry for motoring journos raised on a diet of understeering performance Audis, but the R8 offered an altogether different flavour of four-wheel traction. It felt rear-wheel drive right up until the point when you needed the front wheels to pull you out of impending catastrophe, which they duly did with unerring controllability.

Factor in Audi’s gated manual gearbox, and here – finally – was a car that could face and beat the Porsche 911 at its own game of being a sorted sportscar that is also easy to live with.

Unsurprisingly, the supercar-buying public loved the R8, and a V10 version soon followed in 2009 – giving the R8 the firepower it needed to compete with high-ranking competitors. By 2010, the Spyder model came on stream with a roof that dropped electrically at speeds of up to 31mph, while 2011 brought the more powerful R8 V10 GT and limited-run GTR.

The following year’s facelift included numerous revisions – most notably the DSG automatic that replaced the terrible automated manual – and by 2013, the Plus brought more power and a stiffer setup.

Signalling the end of the Type 42’s production was the laser-light-equipped LMX, which was revealed at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2014. Production finished in August the following year after just under 29,000 R8s had been built.

Audi R8: why buy one?

There are many good reasons to buy an Audi R8 – it’s a generation-defining supercar, for one – but perhaps its strongest selling point is its incredible value. Prices start from £30,000 compared to the nearly £60,000 you’ll need for a (mechanically very similar) Lamborghini Gallardo.

But don’t let its value make you question whether the R8 is real. Under its sleek lines, you’ll find an aluminium space frame chassis with aluminium double wishbone suspension front and rear. As a result, a manual V8 tipped the scales at 1,560kg.

It launched with a 4.2-litre V8 engine – the same unit fitted to the B7 RS4 Avant – which produced 420PS (309kW) at 7,800rpm, getting the R8 from 0-62mph in four seconds and onto a top speed of 187mph.

By comparison, a base level 997 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 had 325PS (239kW), got from 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds and was all out of puff at 177mph. Perhaps as important, the R8’s rumbling V8 produced a hard-edged roar that was every bit as intoxicating as the flat-six howl of a Porsche.

The V8’s charisma makes it the purist’s choice next to the later 1,620kg V10, but the ten-cylinder model isn’t going to leave you disappointed – it has 525PS (386kW), gets from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and has a 196mph top speed. You’ll be lucky to get 20mpg fuel economy from the V8 or the V10.

We understand that every vehicle is unique, which is why our Agreed Valuation policies take the true value of your classic car into account.

Handling is an R8 speciality, though. Its Quattro four-wheel drive split power 30:70 between the front and back wheels, meaning it almost always felt rear-wheel drive. But, if your slide angle got too wide for comfort, stamping on the throttle brought the front wheels into play to drag you out of danger.

The R8 was incredibly benign on the limit, and its hydraulic power steering had much to do with that. It offered broadband communication next to the dial-up you get from the current R8’s electric setup, giving you the confidence to explore – and exceed – the R8’s limits.

Braking was arguably the R8’s weakest point. Both the V8 and the V10 came as standard with ventilated disc brakes – 365mm at the front, 356mm at the rear – but it’s worth considering the optional carbon ceramics (standard on the V10 Plus) that shaved 3kg per corner.

The R8 reveals another side to its character when you are not in the mood to have fun. Despite its low ride and rubber band tyres, the R8 rides surprisingly well, so much so that the Magnetic Ride Control (optional on the V8, standard fit with the V10) with its Normal and firmer Sport settings isn’t needed. Factor in a quiet cabin and excellent visibility, and this exotic is as happy trundling to the shops as it is setting laps times.

Much of this is down to the R8’s cabin; it gets a solid construction and expensive plastics that expose the chocolate-box fragility you’ll find in a Ferrari’s cabin. Huge adjustments for the steering wheel and front seats make it easy to get comfortable in the driver’s seat, and while you don’t get a 911’s back seats, you get a ledge that can handle overspill from the 100-litre boot under the bonnet. 

Audi R8: problems to look out for?

You can expect the Audi R8 to be tough for a car of its ilk, but there are a few problems to look out for.

V8 models can suffer from bottom-end-bearing failures – dodgy noises from deep within the internals are a sign of trouble – but even a healthy person can swallow oil at the rate of one litre every 1,000 miles. That’s worth watching, given that the R8 can stretch up to 20,000 miles between services.

Another known problem is the Magnetic Control Ride. It works by passing an electric charge through a metalised fluid; clever, but it’s expensive to fix, which means you may be better off going for the standard setup.

Finally, look for clutch wear on R Tronic models – they can chew through a clutch in less than 25,000 miles. The clutch on manual models should last nearly double that, and the dual-clutch DSG is incredibly robust.

A major service will likely cost you around £1,000, with a minor service coming in at £500. Good quality tyres, meanwhile, start from around £200 up front or £400 at the rear.

Audi R8: How much to pay?

Entry to R8 life starts from as little as £25,000; your money buys you an early 100,000-mile V8 with the R Tronic gearbox that’s clunky shifts suck a lot of fun out of the R8 driving experience.

Spend another £5,000, and you could have a far more desirable V8 manual, although it will likely have had many owners and over 70,000 miles on the clock. It’s worth having any R8 professionally inspected, but particularly important in a well-used car.

Sensible R8s start from about £35,000. That’ll buy you an early car with around 30,000 miles showing on its odometer. A V10 in similar condition will cost closer to £50,000.

The best cars command £80,000 price tags. A healthy budget like this means you can pick from models like a 2013 550PS (405kW) V10 Plus or a 2011 V10 GT R – both with less than 20,000 miles under their wheels. As one of just 35 cars brought to the UK, the GT R could prove a particularly wise buy.  

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