It was at the Detroit Auto Show early in 2009 that the 10-cylinder Audi R8 made its public debut. The only R8 you could buy until then was the 4.2-litre V8 model, a car so clearly designed and engineered to pull the Porsche 911’s pants down in front of the entire class that Audi might as well have written as much in its official press material.
The R8 V10 5.2 FSI was a different thing altogether, tasked not only with dethroning the thumping Porsche 911 Turbo, but with blowing raspberries at Lamborghinis and Ferraris as well. What’s significant about that Detroit Auto Show debut in 2009, of course, is that it means the 10-cylinder R8 is now exactly 10 years old.
The suits at Ingolstadt are far too shrewd to let an opportunity like that go begging, so if you’re as keen as Audi itself to mark the R8 V10’s first decade in production and you have £171,795 going spare, you can buy one of 10 R8 Decenniums earmarked for the UK (pictured below). Only 222 will be built in total, each one identifiable by exclusive Daytona Grey paint in a matt finish, as well as bronze 20-inch wheels, a crackle-finished engine cover in the same colour and a smattering of Decennium badges (decennium being Latin for decade).
Concurrent with that is the arrival of the facelifted second-generation R8, four years after it replaced the original version. With a newly remodelled front bumper and contrasting elements around the exhaust tips the latest R8 looks a little fussy now, much more so than the early R8 that was as pretty as it was through minimalism and simplicity. Power outputs for both the R8 V10 and R8 V10 Performance are up fractionally (to 562bhp and 611bhp respectively) and tweaks have been made to the suspension and steering on both versions.
The revisions are actually fairly minor, intended only to freshen up the R8 range rather than revamp it entirely. It was when the first-generation R8 made way for the second-generation model that Audi’s midships performance car took the biggest ideological leap any supercar can take in a single generational step. That is, from analogue to digital.
FROM ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL
Before we drove the original R8 V10 a decade ago we had some idea it would be a special car. The V8 model that arrived three years before it was a bolt out of the blue. None of us saw it coming, because until then fast Audis had been grippy, quick in a straight line, supremely well-built and almost without exception uninspiring to drive. They were heavy, leaden-footed and short on engagement. The R8 put that right, and when news emerged that Quattro GmbH was scheming to drop a version of the Lamborghini Gallardo’s wailing V10 into it, we all reckoned it sounded like a near-perfect recipe.
The R8 V8 proved Audi could indeed build a world-class sports car while the R8 V10 demonstrated it could do supercars as well, but between them those early iterations of the Ingolstadt rocketship totally transformed Audi’s reputation in the performance car space. They were seminal cars. To drive a first-generation R8 V10 today is to be reminded in no more than a heartbeat why it was such a significant machine. Apart from it still looking so pretty and its cabin still feeling as special as it does, an early 10-cylinder R8 is just a joy to drive.
AT THE CENTRE OF THE EXPERIENCE
Crucially, it allows you to enjoy the experience even at a canter. Its hydraulically-assisted steering is natural and intuitive and its open-gated manual transmission a delight to operate, while the 5.2-litre normally-aspirated motor is awesome in the original sense of the word. It’s sonorous and musical, too. Driven with a little more energy the car is properly captivating, being generous enough to let you feel as though you’re playing some part in making it clip so quickly along the road.
In that respect it’s so unlike the latest version. There is no doubt the new model is faster along any sort of road and in every objective measure it is better as well. It has more grip, a more intelligent four-wheel drive system, more outright performance and a much faster gearshift, thanks to its ultra-sophisticated dual-clutch transmission. But it seems to do all the hard work for you, allowing you only to look on from the side of the stage, a groupie rather than a band mate. And so you have to drive it harder just to try and peel away some of that steely, almost impregnable facade. Only then is it truly exciting to drive. You just have to dig so deep. It’s like trying to make a Queen’s Guard chuckle and having to throw a stick through the spokes of a passing bicycle just to make him smirk.
The newer version has also lost some of the musicality of the old one. Its engine remains a showstopper, revving so high and hard that you worry it’s about to explode into a thousand pieces. But the soundtrack is gruff now, even a touch coarse.
Still, the new model is a more usable car in everyday driving and for a great many buyers that’ll be more important. And there is no ignominy in being shown up by one of the all-time greats. Throughout the past decade Audi has proven it has within its corridors the knowhow and expertise to fashion a genuinely brilliant supercar. Because of the R8 V10, Audi now has licence in the performance car sector to do anything it likes.
Search for a used Audi R8 V10 on CarGurus
More Car Reviews
In the market for a used car?
CarGurus makes it easy to find great deals from top-rated dealers. CarGurus compares price, detailed vehicle data and dealer reviews to give each used car a deal rating from great to overpriced, and sorts the best deals first. Find out more and begin your used car search at CarGurus.