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THE Audi R8 debuts with a slew of new features but three of them are especially significant in making it one of the most versatile mid-engined models on the market.
The second-generation R8 is the same length but lower and wider, and among the improvements, three stand out for making it a thoroughly enjoyable supercar - its new naturally aspirated V10 engine, the brand-new Audi Space Frame, and dynamic steering.
The dry-sumped, naturally aspirated V10 now gets dual fuel injection with cylinder-on-demand technology. Under low to intermediate load conditions, the left or right cylinder bank will shut down, turning it into an inline five-cylinder.
The unit is mated to a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission to drive all four wheels, and the quattro system has active water cooling for maximum performance.
The gearbox is especially brilliant, with a coasting function to disengage itself from the engine when cruising to save fuel, and the ability to skip multiple gears when changing up or down, just by pulling on either shift paddle and holding it.
The new V10 delivers 540 hp and 540 Nm, up 60 hp and 20 Nm respectively, and zero to 100 kmh takes 3.5 seconds, or 0.3 second quicker.
A new electro-hydraulically activated multi-plate clutch instantly varies torque between the axles - up to 100 per cent either way. The rear axle has a mechanical differential lock that has been tuned to work with the actively controlled quattro drive for maximum traction and minimum understeer going into a fast corner.
And it is faster because of the new body. The R8's aluminium space frame construction now incorporates carbon fibre to add strength and enable better suspension tuning. This hybrid body is 15 per cent lighter and 40 per cent stiffer. You may not feel it on local roads but the rear subframe's increased stiffness actually reduces lateral movements under extreme track conditions for higher speed.
What you can feel is the dynamic steering, where the rack ratio and power assistance vary with speed. The steering is accurate and so well-balanced that the R8 can be as docile or as aggressive as the driver wants it to be, depending on which Audi Drive Select (ADS) setting is chosen.
ADS allows different set-ups to be built into a single car and is a new feature for the R8. Its comfort, auto, dynamic and individual driving modes are selectable from one of four buttons on the flat-bottomed steering wheel called satellites.
The satellite under the red engine start button opens the exhaust valves for a deeper, richer sound, which is what you automatically get when dynamic mode is chosen. In addition to the exhaust growls and pops, dynamic mode also automatically blips the throttle during downshifts.
The last satellite button is the performance mode - dry, wet or snow. It alters the quattro and ESC programs and makes the R8 even sharper by adapting to the friction coefficient of the specific road surface.
With all the new technology, this powerful Audi racer becomes so nimble and useable that it can be a daily drive, even with its capabilities as an extreme sports car.
The comfortable interior supports this duality. Behind the driver is a convenient parcel shelf. But in front, the centre display has disappeared to emphasise the R8 as a driver's car. To further communicate its light weight and technology, the centre console only has air vents and beautifully designed climate controls which appear to hover.
All the navigation, audio and driver information has migrated to the Audi virtual cockpit, a digitised instrument binnacle which can be configured for myriad display combinations.
This enhances the overall ease of driving, one of the key objectives of the new R8. Even ingress and egress of this low two-seater isn't as cumbersome as with other cars in its class.
From the impressive combination of performance and useability, it is clear Audi has achieved its objective.
Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro
Engine: 5,204cc V10
Transmission: 7-speed S tronic dual clutch
Max power: 540 hp @ 7,800 rpm
Max torque: 540 Nm @ 6,500 rpm
0-100 kmh: 3.5 secs
Top speed: 320 kmh
CO2 emissions: 272 g/km
Average OMV: S$148,000
Price: S$799,888 (with COE)
Distributor: Premium Automobiles