It’s not just the powertrain that’s different. The e-tron makes extensive use of carbonfibre, in order to bring its weight down to reasonable levels, and there are myriad cosmetic and technical changes. The braking system has undergone major revisions, while the motors allow for regenerative braking and an advanced form of torque vectoring.
One thing’s for sure: this is not a dull car. Press the start button and a bassy synthetic thrum fills the cabin. Select ‘D’ with the stubby gear lever, release the electronic handbrake and the R8 glides away.
Inside it's much like a conventional R8, barring instrumentation that shows power usage, levels and distribution. Snug bucket seats, which adjust only fore and aft, replace the standard items. The e-tron's steering wheel adjusts for rise and reach, however, so finding a comfortable driving position isn't too difficult.
What's most notable is the absence of a rear-view mirror. The tall battery pack obscures your view, so Audi has blanked off the rear glass and installed a 6.8-inch AMOLED display and rear-view camera. It feels slightly unnatural at first but you quickly acclimatise to it.
Squeeze the e-tron's throttle and, instantaneously, the electric motors spool and propel it forwards at a seemingly relentless rate. The throttle has a natural-feeling and linear response, impressive for an electric vehicle, while the braking system delivers barely perceptible transitions between regenerative and physical braking; there’s a phenomenal amount of stopping power on offer and engine braking can be simulated using the adjustable regeneration controls via the wheel-mounted paddles.
There’s a satisfying amount of feedback from the steering, assisted by being able to more easily hear what the tyres are doing, and the R8 corners in a flat fashion. Remarkably, it conceals its bulk well – 577kg of which is the battery – and never feels unwieldy or liable to break away unexpectedly. The ride quality is firm, predictably, but comfortable.
Audi’s torque vectoring system makes itself apparent in tighter, faster corners. As you perceive the car’s front end to be reaching the limit of adhesion, you’ll find that the nose tucks in hard and continues to travel in the desired direction. It’s a peculiar sensation but one that’s particularly gratifying, as you can feel the rear wheels being individually braked and accelerated to help maintain the desired line.
Because the artificially generated sound rises in pitch and volume with the road speed, and because the throttle operates in an intuitive fashion, it's easy to judge your control inputs. Making swift progress in the R8 e-tron feels delightfully natural as a result, and you very quickly forget that it's lacking an internal combustion engine.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of grip and traction on offer but, with adjustable drive modes and stability control, the e-tron is more than happy to step its tail sideways. It’s thoroughly good fun yet it feels safe, controllable and quick – all while making its own unique noise. As with many high-performance Audis, it’s also effortlessly capable of flattering your own driving.
Equally satisfying is the depth of engineering in the R8 e-tron. Take, for example, the flaps in the apertures of the wheels. At speeds over 31mph they are forced closed, reducing the e-tron’s coefficient of drag by 0.02Cd. Drop below that speed and they open again, allowing more air to flow over the carbon-ceramic disc brakes.