Last month we had the privilege of conducting some extensive high-speed and technical driving in Audi’s iconic R8 supercar at the regional launch event at Yas Marina Circuit. This is what we thought…

The very first thing I remember noticing as the image of the new R8 popped up in the pre-event presentation was the absence of the instantly recognisable top-to bottom side blades that were a hallmark of the original model. They’ve been broken up into two separate panels, one behind the b pillar and one behind the side air vent. At first I thought this was a shame, but then I let it sink in and moved past it, and was able to look at the new R8 objectively. Despite being a decade old, the outgoing R8 still looked like a car of the future, which is testament to the pioneering design of the car. And yet the design of the new 2017 R8 is sharper and more angular, and the front fascia more aggressive, which all combines to make it look leaner, meaner and even more futuristic than the outgoing model, which is no small feat!

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With regards to the performance, the first thing you should know about the new R8 is that it was developed side by side with the R8 LMS customer racing car, instead of the road car coming first and the racing model being developed from that. It therefore shares a lot of technology and components with the racing version – around 50% in fact. This includes the super lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre Audi Space Frame (ASF) chassis (weighing in at only 200kg), and the 5.2 litre V10 engine. This is a smart move on Audi’s part, because it results in a road car with the power and performance of a racing car, and a racing car with the usability required for their gentleman racing drivers.

What does all this mean for the road car? Well, it means a mind-blowing combination of comfort and performance in a car that feels equally at home on a track and on the road. In normal driving conditions, the ride is smooth and comfortable, with plenty of interior space and headroom, and comfortable leather sports seats. Most of the vehicle’s functions can be operated from the steering wheel, including stereo controls, customising the digital instrument display, and selecting drive mode.

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However, it’s under extreme driving conditions that the R8 truly impresses. The naturally-aspirated 5.2 litre V8 puts out 610hp on the V10 Plus we drove (25hp more than the R8 LMS version’s 585hp!) and 560Nm of torque. This equates to a 0-100km/h time of 3.2 seconds, a 0-200km/ h time of just 9.9 seconds, and a top speed of 330km/h, making it the fastest and most powerful production Audi ever built. In addition, because of the ASF chassis and lightweight materials, the V10 Plus boasts a dry weight of only 1,454kg, which because of the mid-engine layout, is balanced almost equally between the front and rear chassis.

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The new all-wheel drive system can distribute torque freely between the axles,
rather than the 60/40 power split of the outgoing R8, meaning that the full range
of power can be sent to either the front or the rear of the car as required. This is done through the superb and lightning-quick S tronic seven-speed transmission and the intelligent Quattro drive system.

The result is mesmerising. This is a car in which a driver of medium skill can attack a racetrack with all of the 610hp available. You can throw it into corners – turn in is sharp and precise with practically no understeer, and you can control any oversteer with light corrections, so balanced is the chassis. In dynamic mode, the traction control isn’t too invasive – it interferes just enough to stop you heading backwards into a wall, but not enough to feel like it’s killing the power and, as a result, all your fun.

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The grip and handling is spectacular, and you can confidently explore the limits of not only the car’s capabilities, but also your own, without those moments of terror that shift things from fun to not so much. There is not nearly enough space on these pages to explain all the pioneering technological wizardry that has gone into creating such a result, but we can tell you it’s a masterpiece. It’s two-in-one – a track monster, and a luxury coupe – a car that will make you feel like a hero on a circuit, and then let you wind down and relax on the drive home.