The Clark Kent of Supercars: 2020 Audi R8 V10 performance quattro

words/photos: George Achorn

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the Q4_2020 issue of quattro Magazine. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, please join Audi Club here.

The notion of Clark Kent was always a little perplexing. Here was Superman in a well-cut suit, a set of glasses, multifaceted enough to both fight crime and pen news stories for the Daily Planet… and no one really questioned it. Clark had the same chiseled jaw looks and could still leap tall buildings in a single bound… yet was decidedly more acceptable in public than a grown man wearing red briefs over blue long johns. As unbelievable as Clark Kent’s plight was, the Audi R8 seems to make the case for just such a scenario in an analogous way.

Stay with me. Instead of superheroes (I know, not Marvel… the shame), we’re talking supercars. Instead of a stylish set of spectacles and chalk stripe, we’re talking four rings, which is all greater than look-at-me red underwear represented in car form by a badge with a prancing hoofed animal of some sort. That’s the analogy that keeps coming back to mind while blasting around town in the 2020 Audi R8 V10 performance. That and it’s faster than a speeding bullet… or at least seemingly so with 602 hp and 413 lb-ft. on tap from its high-revving normally aspirated V10.

For those who don’t know, the V10 performance is the top of the food chain, both in price and aforementioned performance. That includes equipment like new 20-inch 6-spoke dynamic design wheels and accompanying Michelin Pilot Sport high-performance tires, carbon ceramic brakes, and plenty of carbon fiber including engine compartment, mirror housings, fixed rear wing, illuminated door sills, side blades, and interior inlays. That all comes at a base price before options of $195,900.00.

It’s not every day that we get to test an R8 though the R8 is decidedly good at being an everyday car. No, your kids won’t fit in the back like they will in an RS 6 Avant (or even a TT RS in a pinch). Even still, it is comfortable by supercar standards and with some extra room behind the seats for a few golf clubs and more room for weekend bags in the frunk.

In our case, this particular R8 was a 2020 V10 performance Coupe quattro painted in handsome Kemora Grey metallic ($595) that is as much blue as grey. It is a subtle and different choice of hue, not eye-searing, but different from most cars and even most R8s you might encounter. The color also pairs well with our test car’s black optics including anthracite finish on the wheels, Black Audi rings and badges ($300), not to mention carbon fiber front lip spoiler, rocker inlay, and rear diffuser ($7200). Paired with choice red brake calipers for the standard carbon ceramic brakes ($700) and it seemed the perfect balance of visual appeal. It was obviously handsome and yet, not screaming look-at-me as might an Italian supercar.

Inside was more of the same regarding subtlety with a performance subtext. The cockpit was black with red stitching, including the optional sport seat package with diamond stitching ($5000) that includes 18-way power seats, diamond stitching, full leather, and even diamond stitched headliner. Contrast stitching added a bit more ($500), as did the upgraded Bang & Olufsen audio ($1900).

The R8 line received an update in 2019, bringing Audi Sport’s mid-engine performance leader in line with the most recent brand design language. For the R8, this meant freshened bumpers, side skirts, and new wheel options. New triple vents above the signature Audi singleframe grille harken the Sport quattro, while complex grille texturing, wheel design, and Y-style lower vents in the fascia both make a more aggressive appearance, and also more difficult to detail multiplex surfaces.

There is just one transmission option for R8; Audi’s incredibly good 7-speed S-tronic dual clutch DSG transmission configuration. It blips throttle and seems to know what you want it to do with a precognitive level of accuracy. Plus, there are always the paddles when you want manual control over gear selection.

On the road with the transmission in standard auto mode, it’s almost easy to forget you are driving something so exotic. The Clark Kent side of the personality takes over, barely noticing the more docile notes of the V10, the low center of gravity, or the scalpel accurate steering as you cruise through more mundane daily living. It’s here you learn to love more day-to-day improvements of the most recent updates, things like the phone box in the center console where your phone can charge inductively while you focus more on the drive. The R8 offers plenty of amenities, most of them controlled on the steering wheel and single-screen-only virtual cockpit that makes more sense in the R8’s still quite monoposto inspired cabin. The R8 doesn’t beat you up but it also never lets you quite forget that you have superpowers on tap.

Changing into the sport mode is the equivalent of Clark dashing into a telephone booth (what’s that? – ed.). The active steering lowers the steering ratio, the improved magnetorheological dampers tighten, the shift point changes, and the exhaust note adjusts. Cue up the music, in this case the song of that wailing V10 as it nears its 8800 rpm redline, because it’s about to go down.

Zero to 60 runs come on in just 3.2 seconds. Handling is always planted with the R8’s mid-engine and rear-biased computer-controlled quattro system that provides you a willingness to drift on throttle that will almost make you believe you are a skilled drifter. Well, you might be, but in the case of the R8, the ESP and quattro systems are so dialed in that it’s fair to say that controlled throttle-on oversteer is one of its obvious superpowers.

Any superhero will tell you that it’s living with those superpowers amongst mere mortals that can be one of the biggest challenges. This isn’t just about retaining your license, Captain Drift-Expert. The R8 can out accelerate and outhandle virtually anything it may contend with. Yes, there are faster cars but you’re highly unlikely to encounter them short of a hyper car rally or Malibu Cars & Coffee. Instead, you should be thinking of more mundane things such as how your incredible torque braking in Sport Mode may not be noticed by the kid tailing you with his iPhone out, and even if said kid does notice, he definitely won’t have any hope in matching the quick-grabbing stopping power of those carbon ceramics should you use them in earnest.

Even in a slim fit suit, Clark Kent can still fly, still stop a locomotive, or a bullet. That’s the magic of the R8. It’s more relatable than a more exotic hypercar but it can still hang with the best of them, be that on a canyon road or at cars and coffee. It will still garner appreciative nods, photographs from admirers, and choice valet parking spaces in all but the most jaded hot spots. Its supercar bonafides are without question as its racing pedigree, and yet it can blend into daily life with incredible poise and ease. Very few cars in the market can boast such qualities and we’re not aware of any that do so with the level of appeal of the R8.