The R8 GT and Competition Couldn’t Be More Different

In the hyper-competitive industry of performance cars, superlatives are short-lived. When brands unleash a new supercar claiming to be the fastest in its rich history, it’s hardly a feat – it’s just striving to keep up before it’s soon replaced at the top again.

The groundbreaking Audi R8 was undoubtedly fast, but mainly served as a newly-accessible option in a growing supercar market. Its naturally-aspirated V8 was rated for more than 400 horsepower – capable, but nothing in itself worth marketing. Its quattro all-wheel drive system was the real draw, complementing real comforts and making it an almost reasonable choice to drive everyday.

Now the R8 has grown out of that mold, fighting above its weight and posting figures that would impress in price ranges several times higher. As a result, Audi has started letting it loose.

The R8 GT was Audi’s first dive into the deep end in 2010, and it proved to be a dream come true. It qualified as the fastest and most extreme R8 in its adolescence, finally aiming to live up to its big brother, the Lamborghini Gallardo. In coupe and Spyder form, only 666 units came off the line.

Using the same ideals, Audi followed it up in 2014 with a more limited and even more powerful variant, the R8 Competition – the new Fastest Audi Ever Produced. On paper, a car with a 10-horsepower bump would appear to yield no significant difference, but on the road, it was clear that these cars make no attempt to achieve the same goal – even if their marketing bravado rings the same.

The charm of the R8 GT was in its slight annoyance. The single-clutch automated manual gearbox made normal driving roads insufferable, with anything short of wide-open road a limitation. Like every worthy supercar, the full experience can never be realized on public roads. And while the R8 didn’t debut with the reputation of a supercar, it certainly earned it over the years, and the R8 GT was the fullest embodiment of that.

Upon debut of the R8 Competition, it was expected that the edition would follow the same blueprint: more power, and more of an edge. At 562 horsepower from its naturally-aspirated V10, it started on the right track. And with the carbon fiber front dive planes and rear wing, it certainly looked the role once starred by the GT.

But in its absolute pursuit of speed, and the selfish need to fill out a press release with buzzwords, the Competition is a substantially different car than its predecessor. For better, or worse?

It is undoubtedly faster, and much easier to drive fast, basking in Audi’s claim of being their fastest production car yet. Its 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox shifted via the steering wheel-mounted paddles is sharp and instantaneous, and assuredly less tricky than the GT’s ‘box.

But that was its engagement. The GT required modulation and finesse, but the Competition’s crescendo is done with remarkable ease, and it idiot-proofs the act of driving a high-performance car to its capabilities. It no longer has that edge.

Wringing out the V10 shouldn’t be a mindless task, because part of the experience of a powerful supercar is working to come to terms with it. Learning its execution rewards you; the Porsche Carrera GT, for example, is brutally unforgiving to those without the proper credentials, making it that much more exciting once you master it. But from the turn of the key, the R8 Competition is plug-and-play.

That isn’t what a supercar experience should be like. Jeremy Clarkson, formerly of BBC’s Top Gear, once rolled out a line in a review that said a car “would be better if it were a bit worse.” A supercar needn’t attempt to master everything; its compromises inevitably allow it to push itself in other aspects – the important aspects – of performance.

But instead, the R8 Competition improves upon the premise of the original car unveiled in 2007. You wouldn’t get tired of it every day, it can morph to your needs down open roads or sucked into gridlocked traffic. It doesn’t need anything from you.

The GT needs attention, it needs to be treated the right way. And if it is, it’s the ultimate supercar Audi has ever made.