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McLaren 540C vs Audi R8 V10: Sub-£130,000 showdown

Audi has ditched the option of a V8 R8 and in favour of two V10s of varying insanity. In doing so, it’s put the slightly less powerful model squarely in McLaren 540C territory.

We decided to see how the mighty R8 fares when pitted against McLaren’s ‘budget’ supercar and to see which of the two is most worthy of your £130,000? We doubt either car will struggle to punch their way out of a wet paper bag, but there’s no harm in a supercar showdown. Let’s have it!

Design

To the untrained eye, it would be hard to tell the 540C apart from the rest of the McLaren range, bar the top-of-the-range P1 hybrid. It is, therefore, a very striking machine with doors that open upwards, huge air intakes, stunning alloy wheels, huge brakes and awesome aero. 

The new Audi R8, meanwhile, is also instantly recognisable. You would be hard-pressed to tell it apart from even the old V8 model unless an Audi aficionado, but we’re not complaining. 

The McLaren 540C is part of the new Sports Series, which sits below Super Series and Ultimate Series in the range. It shares the same carbon fibre MonoCell II chassis, allowing the 540C to have a dry weight of just 1,311kg. 

Put the new R8 on the scales and it will register a dry weight of 1,454kg, making it heavier than the 540C. Still, it’s 50kg lighter than its predecessor, thanks to the use of a Multimaterial Audi Space Frame that also happens to improve body rigidity by 40 per cent.

Both manufacturers could easily be accused of playing it too safe and for using a one look fits all approach, similar to that of Porsche. Based on looks, it’s your call. Based on weight, the McLaren wins. Based on aesthetics, both massage our eyes nicely.

Winner: McLaren 540C

Performance & handling

McLaren has bestowed the 540C with the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 found in the 570S, though this has been detuned to 532bhp (540PS). To say it’s a handful would be an understatement. 0 to 62mph takes just 3.5 seconds, while 0 to 124mph is dispatched in 10.5 seconds. Keep your foot glued to the floor and you will top out at 199mph. 

Peak power comes in at 7,500rpm, while peak torque of 398ft/lb (540Nm) nails you to the back of your seat from 3,500 to 6,500rpm. In supercar terms, the Brit is easily ‘super’ enough for mere mortals driving on rubbish UK roads. 

The more powerful R8 V10 Plus is too expensive to compare with the 540C, so we will focus on the standard V10, which also packs a 532bhp punch from its mid-mounted, ten-cylinder FSI engine. 0 to 62mph takes 3.5 seconds, while the top speed is 201mph. 

Both cars are exceptionally similar on paper, although the heavier Audi R8 has the latest-generation quattro all-wheel drive system, so it should be able to put its power down in a wider variety of weather conditions. 

Both cars offer exceptional performance that would terrify virtually anyone with a pulse. We’ll have to wait until we put both cars to the test on track and on UK roads before we can find a definitive winner. 

Winner: Draw

Economy & environment

Now for the less interesting bit because, let’s be honest, the annual Vehicle Excise Duty is a drop in the ocean for someone who can afford a supercar. But if you do care, the 540C can achieve a claimed 25.5mpg while creating 258g/km of CO2 emissions, in part thanks to stop/start turning the engine off when waiting at the lights. 

Audi has somehow made the base R8 more frugal than the old one. A spot of cylinder-on-demand and stop/start engine technolgy keeps CO2 emissions to 275g/km. Take it steady and you could be rewarded by fuel economy in the early twenties.

Both cars deserve a round of applause for allegedly being rather frugal given they will leave 99 per cent of cars for dust. But, as we know, claimed MPG figures can be wildly inaccurate so only after a road test would a true winner be revealed. As things stand, the McLaren just pips it.

Winner: McLaren 540C

Practicality

Both cars are relatively small and their engines takes up a great deal of space, so expect very small shopping trips to be the norm. Meanwhile, there are only two seats so you can forget about taking the family anywhere — which might be a good thing in some cases.

Where the Audi scores a few extra points is the four-wheel drive system, which will probably help make it more livable in wet or cold conditions. Not that either car would be advisable if England gets a bout of snow, unless, of course, you like to look death in the face or crave expensive garage bills. 

Winner: Audi R8 V10

Pricing

Excuse the crude money talk but this is a close fight and we need to bring value into the mix. Why? Because some of you will probably be stretching pretty hard to afford a budget supercar, otherwise you would probably already be after a 650S (reviewed here) or a R8 V10 Plus.

Before you slap on any extras, the McLaren 540C costs £126,000. For that you get 19-inch alloys, the aforementioned Pirelli P Zero tyres, Formula One-inspired Brake Steer system that uses braking force on the inside wheel to aid with cornering and adaptive dampers that can switch between Normal, Sport and Track modes for varying levels of sportiness. 

There is also air-conditioning, a seven-inch Iris touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity, DAB digital radio, leather upholstery throughout the cabin and furry dice. Okay, so we lied about the last item. 

Inside the R8 V10 it’s more of a gadget paradise. There’s Audi’s Connect infotainment system, which includes a Wi-Fi hotspot for giving your gadgets access to the internet on the move, in addition to navigation, an electronically extending spoiler, 19-inch alloys and a complimentary Audi Driving Experience at Silverstone. 

The R8 V10 starts from £119,500 so opting for it will give save you £6,500 you could spend on fuel or optional extras like a 500w Bang & Olufsen sound system. It also has Wi-Fi, which may be a turn on for those who travel a lot. 

Winner: Audi R8 V10

Verdict

We had a feeling both cars would be oddly similar, but this is ridiculous. Picking a winner is like asking who your favourite child is. 

In score terms, both cars scored two victories. Both cars look the part. Both cars command a serious price tag and will be a rare sight on UK roads. With that said, the R8 will undoubtedly be more common and it’s hard to tell the old one from the new. 

The McLaren, meanwhile, looks like other McLarens but that’s only a good thing when your siblings include the drastically more expensive 650S and the utterly ridiculous P1. A baby McLaren is still a bloody McLaren. Plus it’s, you know, British and so us Brits should support it. 

The thing is, the Germans make some exceptionally capable cars and the R8 is an incredible machine (seriously, we’ve perused the second-hand adverts for so long lusting over even the old V8 it’s ridiculous). No doubt its latest generation is exceptional too. 

If you’re seriously torn between both cars you can wait for our official verdict, but before that go and sit in them and go for a test drive. Because when all is said and done, five seconds in one or the other will go a long way to help you decide which deserves your cash. 

Just handle your test drive better than this guy.

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