I've never been to Silverstone before, so when a friend suggested a day at the track driving Audi's RS range I jumped at the chance. They offer a bunch of different experience days, but obviously we went for the most expensive one. We got the chance to drive three cars: the RS3 Sportback, RS6 Avant, and the R8 V10 plus.
Apologies in advance if you're not into cars, click here to hide all the technical jargon.
When I was looking through the programme, I assumed that the RS3 and RS6 were just there to keep us quiet until we got a chance to play in the R8, but I couldn't have been more wrong.
Of the three cars, I think I fell in love with this one the most. It's huge fun to drive and the 2.5 litre 367 PS engine pushes you firmly back into the fancy leather bucket seats from 0-60 in 4.3 seconds.
Like all the cars we drove it's a 7-speed auto gearbox with manual paddles if you want them, but we were far too busy grinning to change gear. They all also have Audi's pretty impressive quattro four wheel drive system. The RS3 is a snip at just £40,000.
We took it out in the morning for a slalom course, and then out on the full track later on in the day.
For sheer joy factor this car wins hands down, it would be a practical daily driver but was incredibly enjoyable to throw around on the track.
It's hard to put across how much of a monster this car is. From the outside looks like a normal estate, but when you get inside it feels like a leather tank.
It has stupid amounts of power from the 560 PS V8 giving a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds. It's difficult to visualise this until one of the instructors showed us two sets of cones 50 metres apart and said that we'd go from standstill to 60 mph between them.
That's impressive in anything, but in a family car that weighs just under two tonnes it's quite a sight.
While we were driving it like this the fuel consumption was a whopping 5.3mpg!
It made me realise that you need to be careful buying low-mileage 'demo' cars from the manufacturer. This car had done just over 1,200 miles which was entirely foot-to-the-floor acceleration followed by high-g turns and full stomp braking. After half an hour the cars were all shimmering slightly from the heat haze and the brakes were pinging audibly as they cooled.
This car is incredible fun as you fight to keep it on the road because of the weight, but it's also just shy of £90,000 for the base model.
I won't be buying one, but I will be giving them knowing nods when I see them on the road from now on.
R8 V10 plus
Finally then we come to the £140,000 5.2 litre 610 PS R8 V10 plusthat does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. Yes, this is 0.4 seconds faster than the RS6, but to be honest I didn't notice the difference.
Inside it's a strange combination of basic and confusing. It has a manual adjuster for the seat position and a CD player mounted behind and between the seats.
It has a total of 20 buttons, switches and dials on the steering wheel using at least five different types of interaction. In the bottom right are a button that starts/stops the engine and one that changes the exhaust noise from loud to very loud. How often are you really going to push those on a normal drive? I didn't try the asterisk button on the right, but I can only guess that it makes it snow.
I know that it's trying to emulate the massive complexity of an F1's wheel, but I'd rather they put these buttons on the centre console and let me concentrate on the road.
To drive it's a pure joy - it sounds incredible and changes gear so quickly and perfectly that there's no point trying to do it manually. It sticks to the track no matter how fast you're going and whatever direction you point the wheels.
I was unbelievably sad when it was the end of my turn to drive it, and I had a physical longing for another lap. Audi have created a drug on wheels with this car, if someone had offered me another hour behind the wheel for an extra £500 I would have handed them my credit card. But to be honest it's not as fun as the RS3.
To me one of the great joys of driving is the feeling that the car is just losing traction, and the skill involved in keeping that in balance. In my Mazda MX-5 I can get this feeling at 40 mph driving winding country lanes when the rear wheels slide out round a corner. In the RS3 I felt it on the slalom track at 50 mph, tyres screeching around the cones. To get this same joy in the R8 we had to be doing at least 70mph, and that means you're rarely going to feel it on the road unless you're endangering other drivers.
There were at least five people there who had been given the experience day as a freebie when they bought an Audi R8. This seems a bit weird because they already own the car, but after speaking to them they all said that they'd really enjoyed a chance to see what the car is capable of doing.
One guy said that it's just not a fun car to drive on the road because you don't get an opportunity to drive it fast, and that he takes it to a local airfield to drive up and down as fast as he wants.
And this is why I think expensive sports cars are a con: they're not designed to drive on normal roads, but they're too far expensive for most owners to consider taking them on track days. Anything above say £40,000 just isn't worth it.
When I've seen expensive cars on tracks they're always driven carefully and slowly, so even then the owners aren't getting all the fun out of them. I genuinely believe that they're only good for posing on city streets, and my theory is backed up by the placement of the exhaust noise button on the steering wheel.
All of these cars feature some serious on-board computers. The driver's input - steering and pedals - are moderated by the car, which looks at the speed, direction of travel and traction data from the wheels, and then the car may decide to steer a bit less than you commanded, or ease off slightly on the throttle. It's done very well and you don't really notice it most of the time. But it made me wonder what's going to happen to these cars in five or ten years when they're on their third owner and no longer maintained by an Audi garage.
We own a 2008 Audi A4, and in the last few months some of the sensors have been starting to go wrong - we went through three oil level sensors in a year, and a warning pops up regularly telling me that the rear brake light has failed, even though I can see it's still working. Our car doesn't have half as much technology as these cars, but it's already annoying when the fancy tech starts failing.
So what are these cars going to be like in 2026? It's fine while Audi are maintaining them at large expense, but our local garage really struggles with any faults relating to electronics. In ten years' time I suspect that they're not going to be able to fix the majority of car problems, and so either the dealers will have to really expand their service centres, which is going to really increase the cost of owning one, or cars will need to become much more reliable.
In ten days we're leaving the UK for new adventures in Spain...Read more
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