It's the final hurrah for the Audi R8. Does it go out with a whimper or a bang?
Plenty of car manufacturers like to talk about the emotion in their products, especially sports cars. Some go so far as to highlight the 'faszination', a much-loved phrase from our friends in Germany. It's fair to say that any of this is generally greeted by a healthy dose of cynicism from the assembled hacks when it comes to reviewing said sports car. But in the case of the Audi R8 GT RWD, it's difficult not to get a bit sucked in by it all. After all, this is quite literally the end of the line for the halo Audi model, the last time we'll see an ICE top-of-the-line sports car (it's likely the next R8 will run an electric-only powertrain), so it feels like the sort of moment where a bit of emotion is called for.It's difficult to overstate the importance of the R8 to Audi. When the concept was unveiled in 2003, there were just two RS models: now, there are 10. The R8 gave the brand that halo gloss, allowing it to trade off the Le Mans wins, and it has built the sort of cult that BMW M has spent 50 years fostering.And so to this version, the most powerful rear-wheel-drive Audi yet - and full credit to the firm for the amount of engineering that's gone into making this an appropriate swansong, including a new Torque Rear driving mode. It gets the same naturally aspirated V10 as the regular R8, in this case upped to 612bhp and 417lb ft (all done by software tweaks) - figures that take it to the same level as the four-wheel-drive R8, thus allowing Audi to proclaim the headline fact at the start of this paragraph.Obviously, the performance isn't to be sniffed at. The 0-62mph time drops to 3.4sec, over half a second behind the viciously quick Porsche 911 Turbo S but perfectly face-puckeringly fast for all bar the drag strip. Plus, being naturally aspirated and a V10, it sounds unique and less muted than the Porsche. The gearbox's software has also been fettled, for reduced shift times and a more aggressive downshift. The latter is thanks to a new system that lets you drop into a lower gear at higher revs, giving that extra edge as you wind into a corner and allowing the V10 to sing even more. Shorter ratios between gears three and seven also help.As you'll see from the photos, the aero package is new, with the sort of flics, swan-neck wings and diffusers that wouldn't seem out of place on a GT3 race car. The car has been in the wind tunnel to ensure it all works as it should do, so it now produces 300kg of downforce at the top speed of 199mph, which is an impressive 155kg more than the normal Performance R8.Carbonfibre has been used liberally on the exterior as well as the interior, which gains grippy lightweight seats, red stitching and a plaque telling you which individually numbered car you've got. In total, 20kg has been stripped from the Performance R8, mainly thanks to the seats and new forged alloys.Coilover suspension is available on the GT R8 for the first time, with a healthy amount of adjustability that also lowers the centre of gravity. Bump and rebound get up to 18 clicks of tweakery that are adjustable without having to visit a dealer, along with increased spring and damper rates.It's interesting to see how much effort Audi has gone to with the suspension. Roland Waschkau, who works Audi chassis development, tells me that it was important to offer the coilover set-up as an option (price tbc) because "we wanted this last version to be the best driver's R8. This is worth it for the final goodbye."Have they succeeded? With the caveat that we drove it on track only, it definitely feels edgier than the normal R8 and you're slightly more keyed into it. The car seems more alive underneath you, a bit sharper, all the while keeping the same impressive turn-in of the regular car, which is neutral and balanced. Our test cars were in their most dynamic setting on the suspension and you could tell as they didn't have any of the wallow and tardiness that you get from road cars on a track. They felt agile and reactive.The most noticeable change is the gearshift. In full-bore acceleration, there's a dramatic cut as it swaps cogs, which feels really dramatic compared with the normal car's. As you build up speed, the seven-setting Torque Rear driving mode comes into its own. This is hardly a new technology, but it's still largely effective. The track was damp when we went out so I only wound it off two clicks and it felt natural here, giving enough slip that you still felt in control, but with a safety net.It's a bit weirder when you're actively trying to drift. Here, two clicks off is too much of a safety net. I found myself trying to control the slide with my inputs but the computer was also trying so it felt like we were getting into an argument as to who was in charge. In this instance, it's better to wind it almost off and let your own talent (or lack of) show off. It felt unnatural in a lesser mode.The R8's steering still lacks the finer points of a McLaren or Porsche 911 set-up, especially the GT3 911, but it's precise. You rely more on the feedback through the chassis and those excellent lightweight seats. All of this is an interesting move. Part of the R8's USP all these years has been that while it might not have the ultimate delicacy of a Porsche 911, it has been the go-to supercar for daily use. Because we drove this one on the track only, we can't report on what effect the changes have had on the road characteristics of the car, but if Audi has kept the friendliness but dialled up the delicacy a bit, then the final R8 could be the best one yet. A fitting finale.