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The 2017 Audi R8 is half race car and half pure joy machine

Avid Digital Trends readers may recall that I got my eager hands the second generation Audi R8 at the end of last summer. With a spirited jaunt through Portugal to the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão, it was like a finely curated gourmet meal, giving me a taste of what the latest R8 was capable of.

This time around, I gluttonously dived into the R8, which promised to deliver full-on comfort on the roads and uncompromising track performance. I took a road trip from North Carolina to Virginia to test the R8’s Grand Touring capabilities, and journeyed to the Daytona International Speedway to see what it could do when fully unleashed.

Two-faced (in a good way)

In case you forgot, the 2017 Audi R8 is the latest iteration of the automaker’s halo vehicle, packing a mid-mounted 5.2-liter V10. In its standard configuration, the R8 cooks up 540 horsepower, but in its more aggressive V10+ format, the R8 will produce 610 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. This output of energy is sent to all four wheels by way of a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and managed by Audi’s patented Quattro all-wheel drive system.

The Audi R8 is fast, agile, and stunning, but tame when you need it to be.

Audi’s R8 put Porsche on notice when it first hit the scene, vying for the title of the sports car that could double as a daily driver. The R8 is supposed to be a capable track car that doesn’t also sacrifice on its comfort aspects. To put that to the test I headed off from the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and took the long way to Virginia to put a couple hundred miles on the multifaceted motorcar.

Embarking on such a trip in a supercar is automotive masochism at its best, but the R8 is more GT-like than it lets on. Even after covering a few hundred miles of highway and country roads, I never felt fatigued sitting in it. The seats have multiple directions of adjustment, including lumbar support and side bolstering. I could raise and lower it, and there was plenty of headroom.

Lounge area

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is the sole source of info in the R8. The 12.3-inch screen replaces the traditional gauge cluster with a modular interface that displays performance information, media, or a large Google-maps-powered navigation screen at any one time. It’s very driver-focused in its layout, but it’s visible enough that a passenger can take over certain duties like radio or map functions.

The cabin is decently baffled, which allowed conversations to happen with my passenger at normal levels of volume, regardless if we were cruising along in Comfort mode or putting the R8 to work in Sport. Speaking of, though the R8’s driving modes specify a distinction between “sport” and “comfort,” these things are well balanced throughout the settings — Sport is fairly comfortable and Comfort is nice and doesn’t make car control become squishy. Maybe “calm” and “feisty” would be more appropriate names for the settings.

Much of this can be attributed to the R8’s suspension. Both the front and rear sit on a double-wishbone setup. The standard V10 model adds additional comfort with a magnetic ride suspension, but the V10+ sticks to fixed dampers. This is the clear choice for performance, but it’s also surprisingly comfortable even when taking a break from sportiness.

Run to the hills

With break time over, the windy mountain passes of Appalachia beckoned, and I kicked the R8 out of a gallop and into a run.

“Calm” and “feisty” would be more appropriate names for the drive mode settings. 

Diving into long sweeping corners was smooth and controlled, and with the quickly-refreshing map in front of me available at a glance, blind corners weren’t so blind anymore. The seven-speed transmission of the R8 did a swell job of keeping me in a suitable rev range, but the constant barrage of switchbacks didn’t seem to jive with what the R8 wanted to do. As such, I stayed higher in gears longer than I wanted to when trying to brake rapidly. Manual paddle shifting in these instances was the best way to go.

Maybe these roads weren’t big enough to punch at the Audi R8’s weight class. Indeed, with its Carbon fiber side-blades, fixed rear spoiler, diffuser, along with 19-inch forged aluminum wheels, the car screams to the world that it’s at home on a track. It needed a better contender, so I gave it one by taking it to the Daytona International Speedway. I knew this would suit the R8 just fine because it’s a fight that it had already won.

Proving grounds

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is just about the most grueling endurance race on American soil. Just this past February, the R8 GT3 LMS took the Magnus Racing team to win in its class. “So? What does a race car have to do with the road car?” you might ask. Plenty, as it turns out.

Bolt-for-bolt, the 5.2-liter engine in the road car is the same in the race car. In fact, due to restrictions to the car’s class and the formula that the cars need to adhere to, the R8 is more powerful than the GT3. All told, the R8 V10+ shares 50 percent of its components with its motorsport brethren. Having half a race car at your disposal is better than you might think.

On the track, my issues with the seven-speed transmission went out the window. The R8 was in top form whenever I needed it. It worked so well, I wasn’t even thinking about it, and that’s a good thing because I had plenty to concentrate on.

With 610 hp on tap and Daytona’s infamous banked turns, I had plenty of road to push the R8 toward its 205 mph top speed. Between the G-forces sapping blood from my brain and the bus-stop chicane, I was able to manage 170 mph. I knew it was capable of more because race car driver Dion von Moltke — who has won at Daytona from the seat of an Audi R8 — could get to 180 mph+ without breaking a sweat.

After hundreds of miles and countless laps, its safe to say that the latest version of Audi’s halo car feels just as at home on the track as it is rolling up to a club in Miami, and it makes the transition with ease.

The Audi R8 is fast, agile, and stunning, but tame when you need it to be (even at 170 miles per hour). What more can you ask for?

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Alexander Kalogianni
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Alex K is an automotive writer based in New York. When not at his keyboard or behind the wheel of a car, Alex spends a lot of…
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