2023 Audi R8 GT V10 first drive

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A sweet farewell to the one of the greatest V10 engines ever built

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Seville, Spain — At the tender age of 11 years old, I left home. Leaving behind my little brother, sister — my mom — I said goodbye to everything I knew. Every safe and familiar corner of my childhood was suddenly gone. A new life, far out west, was about to begin, but the loss of that goodbye would last forever. Needless to say, I know what farewell feels like.

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On a somewhat different level, the 2023 Audi R8 V10 is saying farewell too. The two-door coupe that gave Audi a blade with which it would carve out a special place in the world of coveted sports coupes and Le Mans racing feels like it is leaving Heilbronn, Germany for good. While no one is saying anything official, the hallmarks of departure are all present in the livery of a special-edition, V10-powered, rear-wheel-drive R8 GT. Only 333 will be built, 150 of which will go to the U.S. and only nine to Canada. This is probably the last new V10 R8 ever. 

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This is not just any version of the 5.2-litre V10, however, and this is more than a high output R8. With 610 horsepower and 417 lb-ft of torque diverted exclusively to the rear wheels, the GT will reach 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds — every centimetre of that distance obtained without turbo chargers. The result is an intoxication of sound and propulsion that is as ferocious as it is serene — almost like the smoothness in the initial bite of fine scotch. While Quattro R8s got high power V10s in the past, this V10 in this GT makes it the most powerful RWD Audi production car ever. 

Hammer the throttle and the eruption from the mid-mounted engine equates to an instantaneous rotation of the rear tires, the disengagement of traction control enough to immediately eliminate layers of Michelin Pilot Cup 2 rubber. Stay in the throttle for one second more and the car will immediately pivot — sometimes without much warning. But now the amount of drift via the rear axle can be easily modulated through a new “Torque Rear Mode.” Controlled by a knob on the steering wheel, TRM allows the driver to set the traction- and stability-control system to one of seven different programmed curves, from just “a little” in setting one to full-blown Ken Block on setting seven. It’s ideal for different track conditions, different drivers, or different levels of confidence. We chose seven.

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With such freedom, the R8 drifted easily and with surprisingly little throttle; it almost felt too simple. Be careful, though, because throttle response is so immediate that just a little gas goes a long way, and suddenly, like the head of a snake, the R8 will be facing the wrong direction despite ample correction. On the track, however, when dialed back to allow for some stability control, the adjustability equates to an arousing dance partner, able to slide the tail wide at the apex without losing control or confidence. Dial it up more as the day warms.

Wearing a glossy carbon-fiber gooseneck rear wing, carbon fiber front splitter, carbon side blades and carbon fins and scoops and mirror caps, plus a big rear diffuser flanked with massive pipes, the GT is further distinguished by black badging and lightweight, 20-inch black wheels that help to shed 20 kgs from a basic RWD R8. The GT carries an angry, intimidating but classic presence developed in the wind tunnel, and in Canada it comes in two colours, Daytona grey pearl or Mythos black metallic. Pricing has not been announced, but the first units will be available in early 2023.

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In Canada, the list of standard equipment is long: Darkened LED laser headlights, a glossy carbon engine cover, sport exhaust, multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel with four control satellites, illuminated carbon door sills, racing shell seats in alcantara and leather, extended leather interior, alcantara headliner, a 550-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system with speakers integrated into the head restraint, and, most importantly, carbon ceramic brakes. Stand on these brakes at 200 km/h and velocity vanishes faster than the speed of sound. Nor do these spectacular brakes ever complain about the task of reigning in, corner after corner, 1,570 kilograms.

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The seven-speed, dual clutch S tronic transmission is tweaked for quicker gear changes and an increased top speed of 320 km/h, the first 200 attainable in 10.1 seconds. Override the DSG’s Sport mode via the paddle shifters, and gear changes are instantaneous. Electromechanical power steering, freed from the burden of AWD, is light and precise, though less communicative than a 911 GT3. The flat bottom steering wheel with a red marker at 12 o’clock feels wonderful in the hands.

Derek McNaughton at the wheel of the 2023 Audi R8 GT V10
Derek McNaughton at the wheel of the 2023 Audi R8 GT V10 Photo by Audi

Inside, a black interior with red stitching complements red seat belts, giving nod to the first R8 GT in 2012. From the 333 cars built for the world, owners of these hand-assembled cars will know where they landed in the order line with a special edition build number etched in the carbon-fiber centre console. Sport seats are as supportive wearing a helmet as they are comfortable in jeans, the R8 GT one of the rare coupes that will accommodate long distance drives as well as serious track days, though we did not test the suspension on hard roads other than the track. A unique carbon fiber ceramic roll bar helps with cornering and road holding.

Out here at Spain’s Circuito Monteblanco, however, the V-10 sang its heart out with a cascade of the sweetest notes, a pure and enthralling melody of mechanical menace, as if the R8 knew its gasoline-powered, naturally-aspirated days were coming to a close — a signature loss that will undoubtedly be felt forever.

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