The irony that to build the best R8 ever, Audi shed its defining characteristic.
This is the end, my friends. For a lucky few, waiting for the last in line will be patience well spent.
Limited to 333 units globally, the new Audi R8 GT is simultaneously a triple tribute to Audi’s role in sports car racing, a throwback to the same-named car from 2011, and a low-volume swan song to the naturally-aspirated V10 engine, which will be going away for good at the end of 2023. While no individual component breaks new ground, the sum of its carefully selected parts result in the purest, most agile R8 ever. It’s a fitting end to an often overlooked, but rarely underestimated supercar.
Making 611 horsepower and 416 lb-ft in this final iteration, the R8 GT is the most powerful RWD Audi of all time, which, yeah, is an asterisk because there have only been a few rear-drive Audis ever, and only lesser variants of the R8, which, duh.
By shedding the front powertrain and its associated components, offering lightweight forged wheels and ceramic brake hardware as standard, it comes in at a relatively svelte 3,454 lbs, 117 lbs lighter than the AWD Performance variant. For comparison, the lightest Huracan variant, the STO, weighs only 65 lbs less, and is significantly less luxurious, spacious, or comfortable.
European models get an adjustable coilover suspension, while U.S.-spec models exclusively get a fixed-height suspension. This is probably for the best, since, as Colin Chapman said, “make the suspension adjustable and they will adjust it wrong.”
The trade off is that U.S. models get the lightweight exhaust standard and Europeans don’t get it at all. Most notably, there is a full body aero kit including a deep chin splitter, side skirts, a rear diffuser, and a swan-neck rear wing, which contribute to 660 lbs of downforce at top speed and improved stability everywhere.
Though the rear-drive R8 variants typically have longer gearing than the Quattro Performance models, Audi Sport fit the shorter gears from the AWD version to the rear-drive GT for the best possible acceleration and response. It does result in the GT getting slightly worse highway fuel economy, but honestly, is that what you’re buying an R8 for? Audi Sport have also reprogrammed the transmission to shift faster and harder in Dynamic modes, resulting in flat-footed kicks reminiscent of its cousin Huracan.
In an effort to emphasize that rear-drive cars are better for sliding around, Audi has brought over its “Torque Rear” drive mode nomenclature first seen in the RS3. It’s strange that they’ve chosen this particular nomenclature given that… 100 percent of the power goes to the rear wheels anyway. In any of the modes, all torque is rear torque.
In the case of the R8, Torque Rear Mode acts exactly like McLaren’s Variable Drift Control, with a 1-to-7 scale of increasing amounts of slip angle for drifting.
Audi was kind enough to provide us with a set of Michelin PS4S tires (unavailable on the production car, but for this exercise, for the best) and a five-minute timer to play as we wished on a large skidpad. I can confirm indeed the R8 GT will drift in an easy, controlled (for a mid-engined car) way. The Torque Rear mode is great for beginners who want to practice, incrementally, to larger degrees of slip. However, since I have some experience drifting, I ultimately found the car to be the most connected to my inputs with the systems disabled entirely. Audi’s “Dynamic Steering,” optional on lower models but standard on the GT, changes the steering ratio once you pass a certain angle of slip, which takes getting used to. Likewise, the engine being behind the seats means you have to unload and reload very gently to transition the slide from one side to another to avoid a spin. Frankly, I would not recommend a beginner hone their drifting craft from behind the wheel of a $250,000, limited-edition, mid-engined supercar, but the fact that two R8s spent whole days blowing off tires at the hands of ham-fisted journalists and influencers speaks volumes about the car’s durability under duress.
As ever, the best thing about the R8 is that it provides 95% of Lamborghini’s sound, feel, and dynamics on this platform, but with significantly more interior space and usability. If you’re over six feet tall or want to wear a helmet on a race track, a Huracan is a miserable place to find yourself; the R8 is not. Even at 6’3” and 265 lbs, I am more than comfortable with a helmet in the R8 GT’s sporty, supportive buckets, with plenty of head and legroom, and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes to the right position.
We only got eight laps around the well-kept Circuit Monteblanco outside Sevilla, three of which were lead/follow, and it had been raining all morning, so we were in a “track drying” conditions. Audi’s representatives initially felt uncomfortable about allowing us to mess with the traction control settings at all (one of the cars had slight body damage from a previous group), but the only way to put the R8 GT into a “true” manual mode, meaning it won’t upshift on its own at redline, is to set the car to “Performance Traction” mode. Without using this mode, the car also pulls significant torque in lower gears to manage wheel spin exiting the slower hairpins. In the lower modes, the car feels drastically held back, but safe. Beginners could take the R8 GT to a track day without being overwhelmed the way they might be in a Lamborghini Tecnica, which is a loose, hairy experience.
For our last session, the track had finally dried. I killed all the assists, and found the joy in what Audi has done. The R8 GT is balanced, very fast, and incredibly responsive. It has exactly as much power as I feel like I, a relatively experienced driver, could ever want from a supercar. I got little bits of oversteer at the mid corner and exit from the slowest parts of the track, and then used the improved aerodynamic stability to keep my foot to the floor in fourth gear at Monteblanco’s two fast sweepers. Without turbochargers creating a big torque shove right at the engine’s midpoint, even 611 HP is powerful without being overwhelming.
It’s also fast, but not too fast. The R8 GT won’t be breaking any records on the Nurburgring, and that’s fine. It does 0-60 in 3.4 seconds, which is excellent, but not particularly impressive at the quarter-million dollar mark. Not every car needs to push the boundaries of speed. Many cars that do attempt this become overwhelmed by their own technology, or worse, unusable on the street. The R8 GT will make a lovely street car. It gives up very little in exchange for its performance and feedback gains, aside from fixed ride quality and summer-only tires. I drove it at speed in the rain, and frankly, it doesn’t need the all-wheel drive for that. If you are one of the hardcore few who put Blizzaks on your R8 Quattro to drive it in the snow, I salute you, but I could probably count the folks that do that on my fingers. The 10-cylinder engine still sounds fantastic, is tough as nails under all conditions (even boosted), and shoves the R8 GT along at an impressive clip by anyone’s standards.
As we all come to terms with the fact that naturally-aspirated engines with this many cylinders are going away and likely will never return, it’s nice to see Audi celebrating purity with this variant. As the last of its kind with such low production numbers, odds are the R8 GT will be a collector’s item. That would be a shame; on the road and at track days, or even on the skidpad shredding rubber, is where it belongs.