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Audi R8 GT review (2011 onwards)
What - Audi R8 GT
Where - Blyton Park Raceway, Gainsborough Date - July 2011
Price - £145,645 (including 20% VAT) Available - Now, except all 33 UK examples are sold
Key rivals -Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Ferrari 458 Italia
Summary - Yet another R8 variant, but this one claims to be more extreme and influenced by its GT racer sibling.
We like - More aggressive looks, sensational performance, sharper handling, exclusivity
We don't like - Price, all being sold out, R-tronic auto only
The R8 is a rival for Porsche's 911, not just in the showroom and on the track but also in terms of how many variants there are; Spyder and Coupe, V8 and V10 plus special editions to boot.
However, the R8 GT is a bit more than that. Paying homage to the success of the R8 GT racing car - as driven by Scottish legend Marino Franchitti - the road-going GT has been thoroughly worked over to create a serious GT3 rival.
Spotting an R8 GT is easy as Audi have added substantial amounts of carbonfibre to the exterior, including the rear bumper, the smart sideblades and the small winglets under the headlights. It's not just for show either, as these elements plus thinner glass, polycarbonate rear window, carbon bucket seats and numerous other elements have helped to shave 100kg from the already lithe 1625kg standard R8 kerbweight.
Add to that the increase of 35hp to give 560hp in total and the result is inevitably even more rapid performance, thanks to a power to weight ratio of 368hp per ton. There's no choice when it comes to the transmission with the R tronic sequential manual, and as always the power is delivered via the Quattro four-wheel drive system.
There are standard carbon ceramic brakes, a retuned ESP system with a looser Sport mode as well as fully off, increased downforce, unique wheels and subtle badges.
This example also had £5,820's worth of matt grey paint and whether you love it or hate it, it certainly stands out.
Audi arranged a passenger ride for us with Marino Franchitti in his podium-reaching R8 GT race car before we got behind the wheel ourselves, which was an eye-widening demonstration of grip, balance and performance.
Almost any road car feels slow in comparison to a full-on race machine, but the R8 GT felt surprisingly close in a straight line.
The GT rips through the gears in spectacular fashion - the claimed 0-62mph time of 3.6 seconds sounds entirely possible - all accompanied by the delicious sounds from the V10 engine. If anything the exhaust noise could be louder still, but there will be few complaints about how it accelerates.
And on the track at least the R tronic gearbox makes an ideal companion, allowing you to concentrate on the serious performance.
The upchanges are quick and smooth allowing you to get the most out of the acceleration and join the gaps between bends as quickly as possible. Fire through the first three gears at maximum revs and the effect is truly dizzying, better still as four-wheel drive means you can use the performance more of the time.
Even in fully automatic mode the GT responds more readily to demands for acceleration without being too jerky or switching ratios, so it should be just as easy to drive in slow-moving traffic.
Ride and handling
Even more attention has be paid to the GT's handling, and there are some encouraging modifications such as a quicker-ratio steering rack, adjustable coilover dampers and increased camber front and rear.
It's easy to notice the changes straight away: the GT feels significantly stiffer than a standard R8 and the steering is much sharper in its response. Where a standard R8 can occasionally feel a little soft, the GT follows the road imperfections much more faithfully and turns in with all the keenness you would hope for from a track-ready car.
Push the ESP button once to get Sport mode and you have a bit more slip, and even in this mode it is surprising how much it is allowed to move around before intervening. The overall feel is very confidence-inspiring, allowing you to turn in on the brakes to tighten the line and power out early, although you'll still need a quarter turn of opposite lock to keep it pointing in the right direction.
Turn it off completely and you can exploit the superb balance. With the power delivery to rear metered out depending on the conditions, you can slide the R8 GT with confidence but not carefree abandon - we had a high-speed spin on one tricky bend before getting the measure of it - but once mastered it is light years away from the predictable and understeer-led nature of many four-wheel drive cars.
Ultimately you could argue that a GT3 RS will give you another degree or two of sharpness and satisfaction, but only the truly gifted will be able to notice the gap and fully exploit it: us mortals will instead revel in exploiting what the GT has to give for more of the time.
The R8's cabin is no longer in its first flush of youth and some bits have been superceeded more than once by other models in the range. However there's enough new content in here for it not to feel too familiar.
There's standard bucket seats which are relatively high set but could be adjusted to suit your own preferences, but they grip well and are very supportive. Lots of Alcantara and dark stitching add a little variety and there are body-coloured panels too. You can add even more carbonfibre including door sills with illuminated R8 GT logos, but expect to tick a few more options in the process.
Economy and safety
It's more likely the frequency of fuelling that will be an issue rather than outright fuel economy, but the combined figure just over 20mpg is reasonable for the performance. Driven with a delicate right foot in automatic mode and it will cover decent distances with ease, but a standard R8 is a better choice as an everyday machine.
With its aluminium space frame, carbon brakes and four-wheel drive the R8 GT is quite possibly one of the safest supercars you can buy, which is a reassuring thought when you are making the most of the performance and handling.
The MSN Cars verdict
A more hardcore version of the R8 was always on the cards but Audi have delivered in fine style. Porsche lovers will always choose the 911 but for anyone with a more open mind the R8 GT is immensely satisfying and will no doubt be a pleasure to own.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||5.2-litre V10|
|Torque, lb ft||398|
|0-62 mph, secs||3.6|
|Top speed, mph||199|
|CO2, tax||323g/km, 35%|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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