Audi R8 2019 UK review: is the V10-roaring supercar ready to go electric?

Letting go of the past has never been so difficult

Audi R8 2019
(Image credit: The Week UK)

The motoring world is in a state of panic over fears that Audi will scrap the glorious V10 engine that powers its R8 supercar in favour of an all-electric powertrain.

Audi has made no secret of its intentions to move the R8 over to an electric platform. In 2009, the German carmaker created an all-electric prototype called the e-tron, which was released as a customer-order production model five years later.

More recently, in April, Audi insiders told Car magazine that the company is planning to launch an all-electric successor to the R8 in 2022 called the e-tron GTR.

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Ditching the R8’s Lamborghini-sourced V10 engine for batteries and electric motors is unlikely to go down well with fans, as the signature roar is arguably the supercar’s defining characteristic.

We put the new-for-2019 R8 through its paces around the Ascari circuit in Ronda, Spain, last November to see whether the so-called “everyday supercar” is as easy to use on a circuit as it is on country lanes.

But a lot has changed in the motoring world since then and it’s looking more likely that the current-generation R8 may be the last model to feature the iconic V10. So we’re getting back behind the wheel of the supercar to answer a key question: is the R8 ready to go electric?

We took delivery of the supercar early on a Friday morning, giving us around four days to rack up as many miles on the R8’s odometer as possible.

Although we hadn’t driven an R8 for many months, it takes no time at all for us to familiarise ourselves with the cabin layout. Audis are among the most intuitive cars to operate, with the R8 sporting a near identical button-laden steering wheel to other models in the sports range.

Unlike other Audi models, though, the R8’s driver modes are all controlled through the digital instrument panel. It takes some time to get acquainted with the system, but it’s a breeze to use once you get the hang of it.

After taking a moment to set up Apple CarPlay and get the right seating position, it was time to wake up the ten-cylinder engine sat behind the cockpit.

The V10 starts with a satisfying roar as if it were clearing its throat. The engine idles quite high at about 1,500rpm before dipping below 1,000rpm moments later, which indicates that it’s time to drive.

We switch the R8 into Comfort mode while cruising through the rural towns on our test route. The engine is remarkably quiet in this setting, sounding no louder than your average hot hatchback both inside and out.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the R8 is a subdued supercar. Below the drive mode selector on the steering wheel is a button with a chequered flag on it. Press it and the R8 enters Performance mode, upping the volume of the exhaust and stiffening the suspension.

It’s in this mode that the V10 really shines. Push the throttle to the floor on a clear stretch of road and the R8 sets off like a jet fighter launching from an aircraft carrier. The acceleration is truly astonishing and it does so to the tune of a ten-cylinder orchestra behind your head.

The acceleration is so immense that it fools you into changing up a gear too early. At first, we found ourselves calling for another gear at about 6,000rpm, but the car is capable of revving all the way to 8,500rpm. Once you surpass the 6,000 threshold, the car seemingly has another wave of power that rockets you towards the redline.

The motor isn’t just impressive for an entry-level supercar. Audi says the R8 Performance can send you from 0-62mph in 3.1 seconds, which is only 0.3 seconds slower than the £750,000 McLaren Senna.

While the engine is a masterpiece of engineering, particularly as it complies with the strict new WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure) emission checks and noise limits, the car’s sub-par steering prevents it from being a true driver’s car.

The car reacts with immense precision to your steering inputs, but it’s difficult to gauge how much grip you have in corners. For instance, the steering feels heavier when driving along a twisty B-road, yet it doesn’t provide any feedback on the road surface.

The R8’s biggest rival, the McLaren 570S, completely trounces the V10 supercar in terms of steering feel. The McLaren is able to give drivers a sense of how much grip the tyres have on a given surface in a way that the R8 simply cannot.

But, in all fairness, we doubt many R8 buyers will care about the nuances of a car’s steering. It’s all about that engine.

With battery technology progressing by the day, however, it’s only a matter of time before the naturally-aspirated V10 is resigned to the history books. After all, electric cars like the Tesla Model S are among the fastest accelerating cars you can buy.

Yes, the sharp styling and Vegas Yellow paint of our R8 turned heads everywhere we went, but people will hear the sound of the supercar’s V10 long before they see it. And when onlookers got their phones out and started filming the car, they only wanted one thing - to hear that engine roar.

The R8 may be ready to embrace its electric future, but we certainly aren’t.

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