by Frank A. Aukofer

Place the 2017 Audi R8 in the pantheon of championship athletes like Usain Bolt, who perform with the best in the world but in person exude civility and courtesy.

It is a super car that plays on the same field with exotics like the new Ford GT, Acura NSX, BMW i8 and Porsche Cayman. All of these are equipped with stunningly powerful engines nestled ahead of the rear wheels but behind the driver in the classic mid-engine configuration.

They are so different that they don’t exactly compete with each other. What they offer is unique performance personalities that appeal to wealthy enthusiasts, collectors and investors who are convinced that their value will increase over time.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-drive-45The R8 has a close relationship with the Huracán from Lamborghini, which like Audi is now part of Germany’s Volkswagen Group. The two marques share engines and drive trains, tuned differently, but the kinship ends there. The Huracán radiates Italian styling and flair; the R8 Germanic strength and contentment.

Sure, you can punch the throttle and get crackling exhaust sounds. But they are heard mainly from the outside. Inside, despite the fact that the 5.2-liter V-10 engine sits right behind the driver’s shoulders, little noise makes its way into the cockpit, even when you select the “sport sound” exhaust setting. It’s the opposite of the mid-engine Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, which creates such a din inside that it’s impossible to converse or listen to music.

Yet the R8’s V-10 engine delivers a whopping 610 horsepower with 413 lb-ft of torque, which should be enough to pull a flatcar full of Alfas. Nobody will try that, but a bunch of them likely will try to match Car and Driver Magazine’s zero-to-60 mph run of 2.9 seconds.

There are four performance settings: comfort, automatic, dynamic and individual, along with “sport” and “drive” choices for the seven-speed twin-clutch automatic. But the differences are subtle. The R8 can comfortably conquer any road you can find.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-virtual-cockpit-17Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive doles out the power individually to all four wheels. The transmission can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel but there’s no need to bother. The onboard computer controls shifts so precisely it’s doubtful any human could do them faster or more accurately.

Shifts snap off with silky aggression. On downshifts, the throttle blips automatically to match the engine’s revolutions. Once in awhile, however, at low speeds, the rev matching and subsequent upshifting cause the R8 to lurch.

Curiously, Audi uses a counterintuitive shift lever. It looks like a standard automatic shifter that has slots for park, reverse, neutral, drive and sport. Most drivers are used to simply pushing the lever forward to engage park.

On the R8 and other Audi models, pushing the lever all the way forward stops at reverse. To engage park you must reach around and press a button on the back of the shift lever.

Until you get used to it, the system can be unnerving. You think you’ve engaged park but you’re in reverse and sometimes catch the R8 rolling back when you take your foot off the brake.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-virtual-cockpit-8Aside from that, there’s little to belittle in the R8. Styling appreciation always is in the eye of the beholder but there’s little argument that the R8 is an attention-grabber that elicits head turning by millennial boys and girls, and thumbs-up gestures from teenagers distracted from their smart phones.

Inside, the design, materials and trim reflect Audi’s longstanding reputation for simplicity and class. The R8 uses the company’s trendy combination of the instruments with the multifunction screen in the center stack. All functions are displayed digitally behind the steering wheel. It takes a bit of familiarization but it’s less distracting than glancing over at the center screen.

For all its glamorous personality, the R8 actually has some built-in practicality. A shelf behind the seats can hold a suitcase and the trunk up front contains a well that can accommodate a roll-aboard travel case. Part of the space, however, is taken up by a tire inflator. There’s no spare.

Outward visibility is surprisingly good except for the very wide pillars at the sides of the back window, so it’s important to get the side view mirrors adjusted correctly to eliminate blind spots.

Despite its nosebleed base price of $191,150 and an as-tested price with options of $202,750, the R8 delivers a full load of satisfaction for anyone who can afford it.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-drive-10Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus quattro S tronic Coupe.
  • Engine:2-liter V-10, 610 hp, 413 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 50/8 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,685 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/22/17 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $191,150.
  • Price as tested: $202,750.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Audi.