Summer, 1983. I am at the wheel of my “bargain Bimmer,” a silver 1979 Mazda 626 coupe with a smooth manual trans and rear wheel drive. My 3-year-old son is contentedly riding shotgun as we climb north through the Sierras via California’s twisty Highway 395. We come up behind a gorgeous white Audi quattro coupe—the standalone quattro that’s now iconic. I see the Audi’s tires kick up some dust as the driver dials up the pace a notch or three. For the next half-hour or so, what had started to become a mundane drive is transformed into a good-natured, spirited round of follow-the-leader. I remain as impressed by that Audi’s blend of athleticism and distinctive style all these years later.
Fast-forward three decades. No longer an outside admirer, 2015 finds yours truly in the sculpted performance-style driver seat of Audi’s most audacious quattro to date, the R8 V10 plus, a 550-horsepower blacktop-hugging cruise missile. The R8 is penthouse suite-cum-racecar compared to the sports machines of the 1980s. The R8’s low center of gravity, quattro all-wheel-drive,19-inch summer tires (and, by the way, did we mention the 398 lb-ft. of peak torque?) means this aluminum-bodied coupe flat-out devours curves and straightaways.
While this top-of-the-line R8 starts at $182,500, we’d argue that it’s a reasonable buy-in for a trophy car you can wring out on track days, clean up and drive to a black-tie affair. With its many jewel-like accents and V10 centerstage under the see-through engine cover, the R8 doubles as a work of art.
At the pinnacle of Audi’s performance pyramid, the R8 V10 Plus is only available as a coupe because a convertible (Spyder, in Audi parlance) would be nearly 300 pounds porkier. The Plus saves 130 pounds over the regular V10 coupe through the use of carbon fiber for those distinctive side “blades,” front splitter and rear spoiler, manual seats and smaller 19.8 gallon-fuel tank—reflecting quattro’s rally heritage, standard R8 coupes sport huge 23.8-gallon tanks.
To goose the power-to-weight even more, Audi squeezes 25 more horses out of the 5.2-liter V10 that sits behind the driver and passenger of this mid-engine sports car. Ceramic brakes are standard. Audi says the 2015 R8 V10 Plus should hit 197 mph on the straight at your friendly neighborhood track.
After a late-night storm moved through, leaving cool, damp air, we couldn’t resist a gratuitous midnight run to whip through some of our favorite twisties, straights and transition ramps. With the blazing LED headlights piercing the blackness and R8’s 10-cylinder symphony throbbing lustily just inches behind the screen behind our heads, the Doors’ hauntingly beautiful “Riders on the Storm” came on classic vinyl.
I’ll bank that memory for a couple of decades. The only thing missing was that smiling, innocent little boy, so happy to be riding shotgun with his daddy.