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Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro: The everyday supercar

The Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro (better known as the R8 V-10) waits for us trackside at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

The Audi R8 V-10 trackside.
Audi's halo car finally reaches supercar status with an exotic V-10 engine. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

When we last left our hero, I was putting the kibosh on the track session in the Audi S4 and had just been handed the keys to the Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro, affectionately known as the R8 V-10.

Taking a walk around the R8, I took note of the supercar's low-slung good looks and sporty proportions. Externally, the R8 V-10 can be visibly discerned from the V-8 model in a few ways. The R8's trademark sideblades receive flared intakes to help the larger engine to breathe. The front and rear bumper vents have been enlarged and finished in a glossy piano black. The HID Xenon headlamps have been replaced with the world's first production full-LED arrays. Most obviously, chrome "V10" badges on the front fenders let everyone know how many cylinders you're working with.

R8 wheel and tire
The R8 V-10 retains its trademark Y-spoke wheels and sideblades. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Under the rear glass, on display for all to see, is the 5.2-liter direct injected 10-cylinder gasoline engine. Not only does this power plant have two more cylinders and a full extra liter over the V-8, but it also gains a whopping 105 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque. The result is a complete transformation of the nature of the vehicle, whether cruising a back road or barreling, flat-out down the back straight of your favorite racetrack.

Starting with a casual blast through the back roads of Sonoma County, I was impressed with the R8's manners when its drivetrain and suspension were left in their respective comfort modes. Now, the V-8 model is by no means miserly in the torque department, but this new model feels noticeably more beefy.

Even the six-speed R-Tronic sequential automated manual transmission felt less clunky than I remembered it--possibly due to revised programming to match the larger power plant. However, Audi wasn't able to completely tune the clunk out of the transmission, and giving the Audi less than 9/10th in sport mode will result in lurching, jerky shifts.

Audi R8 and the helmet stand
Trained racing instructors supervised my track time with the Audi; do not try this at home. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

With that in mind, I strapped on my helmet and took to the track at Infineon Raceway to see just how well this ultra-R8 would perform when pushed. Setting the magnetic ride suspension and R-Tronic transmission to Sport, I grabbed first gear and floored it.

Now, some might think that this is the point where the 525 horsepower R8 lights up its tires in a smoky burnout. Those readers have obviously never driven an all-wheel drive vehicle. Audi's Quattro system eliminates all drama from the start, sending the right amount of power to the right wheels. I mash the pedal and, after only the slightest hesitation, the R8 just goes. The only sound being a slight chirp of the tires and the wail of the V-10 engine from just behind my head.

Entering the first corner of Infineon's short configuration, a blind right-hander cresting a hill, I'm amazed by the R8's almost endless grip. Admittedly, the prospect of piloting a car worth more than $150,000 around a track that I'd just learned a few hours earlier was a bit intimidating, but by my third lap I was barreling down the back straight, standing on the fadeproof brakes while slapping off two lightning quick downshifts with the R-Tronic's paddles, and diving into the hard right-hander that immediately transitioned into a chicane, bullying more timid drivers into yielding before blowing past them in the designated passing zones (safety first!).

Simply put, the R8 is the kind of car that's just easy to drive stupidly fast. The Quattro system makes cornering almost idiot-proof and the torquey V-10 could cover up improper gear selection. You could run the entirety of Infineon's short course in fourth gear and the R8 wouldn't so much as break a sweat. Much like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or the Nissan GT-R, it's the kind of car that any muppet could jump behind the wheel of and pretend to be Lewis Hamilton for the afternoon.

Audi R8 (rear quarter view)
Viewed from the rear, the V-10 gets larger dual exhaust points and larger bumper vents finished in gloss black. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

That being said, there's only so much that fancy electronics and all-wheel drive systems can do; if you push too hard beyond your talent level, the laws of physics will snap back and slap you in the face. One of my fellow drivers learned that lesson when he waited too late to brake before that aforementioned hard right-hander at the end of the back straight and, in a flurry of antilock brake pulses and good old-fashioned Quattro-induced understeer, slid right off of the track. Fortunately, he was able to cut the corner through the grass and safely get the vehicle back on track, but let's just say that was probably the end of his day.

The addition of two extra cylinders to the R8 formula puts the Audi dangerously close to its platform-sharing Italian cousin, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. The Gallardo has about 20 more ponies on tap and a few more pound-feet of torque, but it also costs about $50,000 more than the Audi. Given the choice between the German and the German Italian, I'd probably take the Lambo, but that's a purely subjective and speculative decision based on the fact that I just like the Lamborghini's look better. Bang for the buck, the R8 V-10 wins hands-down.

Did the R8 need two more cylinders and 105 more ponies? Not really, but I was more than willing to put them to the test. Even with the extra power, the R8 still manages to be a good everyday car that I could see myself taking to the grocery to do some shopping. However, with the R8's tiny front storage compartment and $155,100 price tag, it will probably be a very short trip.