Driving the APR Supercharged Audi R8

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They say you should never meet your heroes, and I think the same goes for the solving of the world’s seemingly great automotive problems. We curse and swear at the time, but unbeknownst to us it is often these problems that define the cars we love. Lamborghini’s, as a rule, have terrible rear vision and the owners of Lotus Exige’s are often far more acquainted with their chiropractors than they’d care to admit.

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The obvious solution is just to build a supercar that somehow negates these dramas, right? We live in an age where we can 3D print exotic metals into any shape that our brains can concoct, so surely we can just build something that can be backed out of the shed without raising a sweat?

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Audi (or more specifically, Quattro GmbH) should be commended for building the R8, for by any rational measure it is the best baby supercar you can buy. They have approached the R8 in a typical Germanic manner – calmly and efficiently solving the myriad of supercar problems to arrive at the mathematically best solution. It has the rock solid quality of an Audi, found from the carryover switchgear to the way the 4.2 V8 fires instantly, every time. It has good vision, usable ground clearance and a somewhat respectable boot. The navigation system is intuitive and the gated six-speed manual provides just enough of a challenge to reward but not so much as to put off a newcomer.

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The story goes that Le Mans winner Jacky Icxk called the R8 the best handling car currently in production, yet despite this competence the ride is smooth and with the windows up and AM talkback gardening on the radio it could even substitute as an effective daily driver.

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But it is these so-called attributes that make the original R8, launched in 2006, a touch unfulfilling and it all begins with the key. It has zero mechanical impact on the driving experience, but it plays an important psychological role. It is the first contact you have with a car, the first impression. And when you finally get to drive an R8 and discover the key to be identical to that of a base model A3, it leaves you a little cold. There’s nothing wrong with the key, it is mathematically the best solution and it works very well. But the key should be representative of how special the car is. And in the R8’s case it is merely symptomatic of what I think is wrong.

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Through a lucky twist of fate I preceded my drive of the supercharged R8 with some time behind the wheel of a stock R8. One of the same year, with the same 4.2 V8 engine mated to the same six-speed manual gearbox – a perfect comparison in other words. There’s no doubt it was an exciting car, but it falls short of filling even the baby supercar shoes. It’s more of a ‘super sports car’, very quick but certainly not truly fast. Audi is aware of this, which is why you can now get an R8 fitted with a V10 engine and wearing the word ‘Ultra’ on its flank.

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Any Given Reason reader Peter found himself in this situation, the proud owner of an Ibis White 2008 R8 fitted with the subtle carbon pack. He loved the car, but after a few years’ ownership he craved more. The option of upgrading to a V10 R8 was there but he determined that to be at least a $100k exercise, not to mention paying luxury car tax for a second time, so began looking at his options. A few weeks later his R8 was in pieces at German Auto in Adelaide, having the extensive APR Stage III+ supercharger kit fitted.

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The goal of any supercharger kit is surely power, so lets get that out of the way. The R8 makes 428hp standard, and the APR kit increases that by a whopping 85% to just under 700hp. 550ft/lb of torque is on offer, which coupled with the zero lag characteristics of supercharging transforms the R8 into a completely different weapon. The stock car runs 0-100 in 4.2sec; the APR version does it in 3.3. The huge gains are found at equally huge speeds – from 100-210km/h the stock car takes 14.3sec, whereas the APR version takes just 7.8. The factory car isn’t slow to begin with, and yet the APR version still does that sprint 6.5sec quicker. That’s mind blowing pace, and it leaves the V10 R8 for dead. Given the kit cost $40,000 landed and fitted in Australia, with a full 2-year warranty, it seems like outstanding value.

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People have bad connotations when you mention the word ‘supercharger kit’, but products from APR are about as far removed from backyarders bolting blowers onto their Commodores as you can get. The Alabama company has been in the game for over 17 years, and makes a range of OEM spec upgrades for the Audi/Porsche/Seat/Skoda/Volkswagen brands from simple chip tuning to engine & gearbox components, exhausts and brakes.

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The Stage III+ kit for the R8 is of such quality and attention to detail that the untrained eye would struggle to pick it as non-standard. The twin scroll Eaton blower sits under a subtle black crackle finish plenum and its twin air-to-water heat exchangers go unnoticed. There are twin aluminum radiators to cool the heat exchanger coolant; a large one up the front and a smaller one in the left side gill, and even these are cannily hidden. The only giveaway is the supercharger pulley and 6pk belt at the front of the engine, but this is wedged down between the firewall and a strong argument would probably convince an inquiring mind that it’s just a large serpentine accessory drive belt.

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Such is the strength of the stock R8 that engine and gearbox internals remain unmodified, and after four years of research, development and testing APR are willing to stand behind their warranty, even on Peter’s 30,000km car. The ECU is still the factory Bosch MED 9, which is powerful and smart enough to handle the extra power albeit with significant retuning. Adding forced induction to an ECU not designed for it presents a multitude of issues, and APR have spent hundreds of hours on their chassis dyno perfecting not only all-out performance, but part throttle cruising and driveability too.

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So what weather conditions would you choose when you’re about to drive someone else’s 700hp supercharged Audi R8? An epic thunderstorm, complete with hail? Yes! Awesome.

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The sound on idle gives the game away to some extent. Whereas the stock car sounds cultured and refined, the supercharged car sounds gruff and mean. It idles smoothly and behaves as you’d expect, but you know there’s something funny going on.

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Navigating the suburban streets and Peter’s R8 already feels like a completely different car, even at 30km/h. The tractability of the engine is unreal, and it will cruise happily at these speeds in sixth gear, even in heavy traffic up the famously steep Cement Hill. It feels different, but it still feels like something that rolled out of Ingolstadt and as far removed from any heavily modified car I’ve driven before. It feels polished, like a completely integrated package.

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All sense of reason and normality is smashed away as soon as you squeeze that right pedal, and in these torrid conditions there’s four-wheel, Quattro wheelspin deep into third gear, the tacho spinning toward the redline on a different tangent to the speedo, the traction control light working overtime. Whereas the stock V8 R8 is quite a peaky beast, needing to be worked into its upper reaches to unlock its performance potential, the supercharger brings that monumental thump down to what feels like only a few hundred engine rotations. It doesn’t matter what gear you’re in, it doesn’t matter what speed you’re traveling. That immense thrust is always there.

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There’s likely many out there who would argue that you shouldn’t mess with these cars, that they come from the factory the way they are for a reason. But APR’s kit is such a beautiful piece of engineering and so thoughtfully executed that it slips right into the R8 like you’d expect an OEM component to. It’s like they’ve proposed the question of what a factory supercharged R8 would be, and set about to create it.

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It takes the V8 R8 to that next level, it somehow adds passion and the sheer joy of getting punched in the spine is enough to counter the otherwise normality of the V8 R8*. It moves the V8 R8 into proper supercar territory, transforming it into a genuine contender. Maybe the world’s seemingly great automotive problems do need to be tackled from time to time.

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*normality is discussed very nonchalantly here, but the point needs to be made. I think the R8 lacks that mystical trait when compared to the likes of the smaller Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s and even cars like the Maserati Gran Sport and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Despite this, even in standard V8 form, the R8 is a simply incredible car by any other comparison and if you are lucky enough to own or even just to drive one, you’re still in for a privileged treat.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

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8 Comments

  1. Riza May 6, 2015 Reply

    Hi Andrew, did you upgrade the clutch or do any transmission mods?
    I'm almost finished with my R8 APR kit upgrade.
    Great story, btw.

    • Andrew Coles May 13, 2015 Reply

      Hi, thanks for the comments. To my knowledge the transmission was standard, I believe there may have been an upgraded kit. At the time APR only offered the kit for the manual gearbox. The APR website lists what's included in the kit part-by-part, and they provide a full warranty for those parts. Cheers, Andrew

    • Peter John May 19, 2015 Reply

      Hello Riza, it's Peter the owner. Clutch is stock. No need to change it.

      • Riza May 22, 2015 Reply

        Definitely Peter, we will chat via email.
        I did the upgrade with the entire kit and also changed to the double clutch (V10 type) as mine was the older single clutch type.

  2. Ali April 24, 2017 Reply

    Hello i have a v8 r tronic. In this application what happens to the 0-100 and 100-200 data. What is the warranty period

    • Andrew Coles May 23, 2017 Reply

      Hello, I would suggest you contact APR. Regards, Andrew

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