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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Alpha 10 Audi R8 drive review: speeding bullet

AMS-tuned Audi V10 goes off with a bang (more of a woosh)

Ten years ago, 400 hp was a lot. The number of cars with 500 hp could be counted on one hand. Just a decade on, a car can’t even be considered “super” without at least 600 hp. Enter AMS Performance and its 920-or-so-hp Alpha 10 Audi R8 V10, a supercar in every sense of the word.

It’ll take West Chicago-based AMS Performance about six weeks and $ 39,000 to turn your pedestrian first-gen, manual-equipped Audi R8 V10 into one of the fastest cars on the road, bar none. It’ll cost you an extra $ 5K to have it installed. The company is working on second-gen packages now. Currently, the power boost is only for manual- or e-gear-equipped cars from the VW group — the system doesn’t play well with DCTs, yet.

The kit consists of two liquid-to-air intercoolers, the turbo intake plumbing, the turbochargers themselves, a high-performance exhaust, heat exchangers, an oil scavenging pump, an electric heat exchanger fan system and carbon-fiber ducting. The whole package looks decidedly OEM through the rear hatch, except for the Alpha logo on the carbon fiber.

You’ve seen stuff from AMS — you know these guys. Seven-second Nissan GT-Rs at drag strips, the Texas Mile, high-speed rings; these places are where the horsepower wizards can be found. A quick look at the company’s YouTube page shows videos of drag races, shop tours and dyno pulls with ridiculous numbers like 233 mph and 2,000 hp.

But back to the task at hand: We’re here to test-drive the Audi R8 Alpha 10, a car that could conceivably blow through a brick wall like an arrow tears through a paper target … as long as it had a big enough runway.

Alpha 10 Audi R8 drive review: speeding bullet

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It’s hard to explain what 920 hp feels like. It’s what I’d imagine being shot out of a cannon, which was previously shot out of a trebuchet, would feel like. First gear? Forget about it. You have to shift so fast it’s almost pointless — and that’s with AMS extracting just 8 pounds of boost from the twin-turbos, which it says makes for no check-engine light or drivability issues. We found that to be true. It also said no turbo lag, which we found to be patently untrue.

In first gear, you get about one second of pull before the turbos kick in … and about one second after. You might be better off starting in second gear, give up a car length and then reel in everything but the kitchen sink as you head toward the finish line. Top speed, limited by the stock engine, is 210 mph.

The best part about this car, though, is the sound. First it sucks in air like a maniacal Dyson vacuum, then it spools up, which sort of sounds like when Mario gets a mushroom in the NES classic; finally it blows off between shifts, which sounds like a Tomahawk missile going airborne. The sound alone is almost worth the price of admission. The only thing I can think of that sounds as good (and feels as brutally quick) is the KTM X-Bow, which is basically an engine with wheels attached.

It’s neck snapping, the turbo kick, but it still makes me smile like the first time I flattened the pedal in a V8. It’s a mix of adrenaline, fear, g-forces and tunnel vision, all while you try to keep it pointed down the road. That’s not to say the Alpha 10 is hard to control, but with the forces involved a lot can go wrong in a short period of time. Thankfully, nothing did during our one-day test drive.

As for handling, it’s mostly an Audi R8. The quattro system still keeps you in line, and the steering is direct, but without a lot of kickback. We’d love to give it a shot on a road course, but this car is clearly engineered for high-speed jaunts through the unrestricted countryside in Germany. Like we said, the traction control, sport modes and suspension adjustments work like they would on the stock car.

Alpha 10 Audi R8 drive review: speeding bullet

The only real signal that this is something special is the Alpha logo on the engine cover. Photo by AMS

It took AMS about two years to develop the Alpha 10 kit, which is one of the easier in its catalog to install. No plumbing has to run to the front, and there’s plenty of room for the turbos in back. The airflow is even sufficient. In fact, AMS claims it could easily tune more horsepower out of the car. At this point, it’s barely stressing the engine.

And that’s always the big worry with these supercar supertuners: reliability. But AMS claims it has plenty of customers with tens of thousands of miles without any problems, and AMS offers a one-year, 12,000-mile warranty to smooth out any issues. We beat this one up pretty good for a full day with no problems, but it has to be said: Your mileage may vary.

AMS does about 700 packages similar to this across the country per year. About 100 are done through its Chicago HQ. The Nissan GT-R is the most popular model for its treatment, but the company is actively expanding into Audis and Porsches, so that may change in the near future. Right now you can call them up with most of your Mercedes AMG and BMW M power issues, and by “power issues” we mean not having enough of it. The company can certainly solve that problem.

Check out amsperformance.com for more information.

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