What follows is part 6 of a 6 part series describing my experience driving 5 exotic cars on real roads in real life. This opportunity came through local luxury automotive storage club Auto Vault’s Fantasy Drives service. This particular Fantasy Drive package was a 6 hour event, involving nearly an hour of drive time in each of the 5 cars, garnished with complimentary bakery treats and a gourmet dinner. The 5 cars for the event were an Audi RS7, Bentley Continental GT Concours Edition, Lamborghini Huracán Spyder, McLaren 650S Spyder, and Audi R8 V10. This part will go into detail on my experience in my fifth and final car of the day – the Audi R8 V10.
Having just stuffed myself full with a delicious steak dinner, the sun was setting on what was possibly a perfect October day. I had just driven four different dream cars back-to-back, and now all that was left was our jaunt back to Auto Vault. Unfortunately, this meant that the car I would be driving – the Audi R8 V10 – would be my fifth and last car of the day.
This particular Audi R8, plastered in Audi’s brilliant Ibis White, is special because it was brand new, so it was the fully redesigned second-generation Audi R8. To be clear, this is the Audi R8 V10, not the V10 Plus. Just your standard, military-issued Audi R8.
That said, the Audi R8’s 5.2L naturally aspirated V10 engine is a de-tuned version of the same unit found in the Lamborghini Huracán (540 hp versus 610 hp in the Huracán. The Audi R8 V10 Plus has the same 610 hp output as the Huracán). Furthermore, the S Tronic 7-speed dual clutch transmission in the Audi R8 is the same as the Doppa Frizione transmission used in the Huracán – the Italians just tried to stand out by giving it a fancier name. They also share the same all wheel drive system. They’re basically the same car on paper. So what is there to really say between the two?
Well, immediately upon comparing the exterior of the two, the difference is clear. Nothing looks like a Lamborghini, and the Huracán’s presence catches the attention of even the most oblivious pedestrians. However, the R8 has a more buttoned-up styling, to the point where one could be forgiven for not immediately noticing when it passes by. The second generation R8 has been nipped and tucked, but still maintains the same visual formula as always. Really, the only distinctive feature that makes you realize you’re looking at a supercar are the massive off-colored air intake vents behind the driver and passenger side doors.
If you were going to take out a second mortgage to buy a rear mid-engine supercar, why wouldn’t you want the visual drama of the Lamborghini? Well, with the R8 starting around $164k and the Huracán starting around $203k, there is about $40,000 worth of reasons.
Yes, you read that right. You can buy an Audi R8, which has almost the exact same powertrain as the Huracán, and save around $40,000 in the process. And the best part is that the price difference between the two doesn’t necessarily translate to a difference in quality of amenities. The R8 that I drove came with diamond-stitched leather seats, a premium infotainment system, and Audi’s virtual cockpit – a fully customizable digital gauge cluster. Everything is very comfortable, and actually far more luxurious than the Huracán.
That’s actually always been one of the selling points of the Audi R8 – it’s the supercar you can drive every day. It’s the supercar for the discerning enthusiast that prefers the finer version of the finer things in life. But when I drove the Huracán, I found that it was a childhood dream car that was surprisingly livable.
So, how did we get to this point? Well, Audi owns Lamborghini, and in 2009 they decided to build a supercar that was much easier to live with than a Lamborghini. That way, Audi’s supercar wouldn’t step on Lamborghini’s toes. But then Lamborghini built a new supercar that was easy to live with, thus stepping on the toes of Audi. And now Audi and Lamborghini have two supercars, both built by effectively the same company that run on the same drivetrain and are both easy to drive and live with, and a massive price difference between the two. Confused yet? Me too.
So, what’s Audi’s angle here? If you want the passionate, Italian supercar with lots of exciting sounds and visuals you would buy the Lamborghini. Maybe you don’t want to spend all that money though, so you instead buy the less visually dramatic R8, but wind up with a far more luxurious and comfortable car.
Traditionally, luxury and comfort are directly proportional to price, but these are supercars we’re talking about, which are bought to make a statement. It’s probably just a matter of personal choice, but in my opinion if you had the opportunity to have the same supercar performance credentials with all of the luxury and comfort amenities too, why wouldn’t you?
Anyways, I think I’ve made my point clear. Back to the important stuff, like how the car drives. On my drive back, I didn’t get to do much back road carving, but instead did a fair amount of straight freeway driving. Pulling onto the freeway was when I got to feel how gutsy the car really is. I found that despite the slightly extra weight and less power, the R8 felt every bit as quick as the Huracán.
That’s not to say that they don’t drive differently. With the R8, there is little about it that makes it feel barbaric. If anything, it feels like you’re driving any old Audi. Granted, that’s any old Audi that corners totally flat, brakes brutally, and accelerates like mad.
I did notice that some bumpier parts really unsettled the R8’s suspension and took a lot of confidence out of the handling. That’s probably just one of the drawbacks of having a supercar tuned more towards comfort and compliance than its competitors.
The transmission shifted every bit as quick as the identical unit in the Huracán, but revving out the same engine wasn’t nearly as satisfying in the R8 without the talkative exhaust of the Huracán. I even found myself shifting earlier than necessary when really punching it – not to take it easy, but rather because it just didn’t feel like the car was really calling me to the 8500 rpm redline. Unfortunately when you have a more luxury-tuned supercar, hooning around feels more uncouth than usual. Of course, when I did fully rev it out I was always pleased with the scream of the V10.
When the drive was finished and we were back at Auto Vault’s facility, I found myself torn over my impression of the R8. On one hand, there are definite advantages to the concept of a comfortable, spacious (relatively), and luxurious supercar. But I couldn’t help but want more out of it.
In my mind, a rear mid-engine supercar with a V10 should never feel civilized. It should always excite you, terrify you, and make you want to stare at it for days. The R8 is a brilliant car that performs wonderfully, but it just isn’t enough for me. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous when referring to a $164,000 car, but if you’re going to spend an irrational amount of money on an irrational object, it might as well be the least rational of them all.
Overall, I just don’t understand the appeal of the Audi R8. It’s an understated, comfortable and nicely equipped supercar for a slightly lower price. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a mid-engine supercar. When it’s juxtaposed against the other four cars I had driven that day, it just doesn’t have enough personality or character to keep up. These types of cars are very emotional for us, and if they don’t trigger those emotions then it’s easy to dismiss them despite their prestige. For me, the Audi R8 was the car of the day that I had to dismiss.
And that was it. 6 hours, 5 exotic cars, and a major milestone for this enthusiast. And the best part was that it was an affordable experience from a reputable organization with a group of fellow enthusiasts. The folks at Auto Vault are top notch, and the event wouldn’t have been half as good without their genuine passion and appreciation for these cars. There are other organizations out there that may offer similar experiences, but more often than not you’ll be dealing with sketchy people and shady business tactics. If you can find an organization similar to Auto Vault in your area that offers this type of experience, I would highly encourage you to go for it.