The first generation Audi R8 was Audi’s first attack on the supercar market but it meant that for the second-generation model the brand had some experience to draw upon. That’s why the styling, overall proportions and basic character of the Audi R8 Mk2 haven’t changed by a huge amount, although it is stuffed with the very latest technology.
The R8’s predecessor came with a choice of V10 or V8 engines, but now only a V10 is available with either 533bhp in the standard model, or 602bhp in the V10 Plus. There’s no manual gearbox either, just a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch ‘box and an updated quattro four-wheel drive system. As a result the 0-62mph sprint takes just 3.2 seconds in the V10 Plus – and identical figure to its sister car that uses the same powertrain, the Lamborghini Huracan.
Adaptive dampers are optional, the electromechanical steering system can be ordered with variable ratio software and a huge variety of driving modes let you tailor the car’s behaviour to suit the situation in hand. With maximum torque arriving at 6,500rpm the R8’s driving experience is dominated by the screaming V10 behind your head and rabid acceleration.
Find the limits and it feels playful with a little understeer initially and a few degrees of oversteer if you really bury your right foot – but it’s always perfectly balanced, accessible and pin sharp to drive. Of course, if you dial down the powertrain and dampers and go at a more sedate pace then the R8 is no harder to pilot than aTT around town.
Our choice: Audi R8 V10 Plus
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a facelift of the first-generation Audi R8, rather than an all new model, but up close only the proportions are the same.
The front end echoes Audi’s new design language with an angular front grille, full LED headlights and air intakes split by claw-like dividers. The R8’s side blades remain, although they’re now split in two by the rising shoulder line. The rear appears slightly lower and wider than before, with trapezoid-shaped exhausts instead of the old oval pipes. From the outside you can tell the V10 Plus model apart from the less-powered version by the fixed- carbon-fibre spoiler, carbon side blades and a carbon-wing mirrors. The wheels are 19-inch as standard with 20-inch rims optional.
Inside, you sit low, cocooned by the centre console, but still with good visibility all around – the rear visibility in particular is miles better than the Lamborghini Huracan.
A 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display behind the steering wheel is similar to the TT, and can be controlled entirely by the buttons on the wheel, or via a rotary dial on the console. The flat-bottomed steering wheel really is the focus of the interior, with satellite buttons for stopping and starting the engine, controlling the infotainment, activating the sports exhaust and toggling through all the various driving modes at your disposal.
Quality is extremely high, although we prefer the way the climate controls are integrated into the vents on the TT, rather than in a separate row, here. Bucket seats are standard on the V10 Plus model and hold you firmly in place, but are soft enough for longer trips.
Push the red starter button on the steering wheel and the V10 explodes into life with a flare of revs – if it’s drama you’re after then this engine delivers it in spades. Maximum torque arrives at 6,500rpm, with an 8,500rpm red line, so it only unleashes the real fireworks when you let it rev and enjoy the incredible crescendo from the exhausts.
Purists will mourn the loss of a manual gearbox, but the twin-clutch unit is so capable in every situation they’ll soon forgive and forget. At low speeds you barely feel the shifts, but fire through a full-bore upshift in performance mode and Audi has engineered in a little kick in the back to make the full-throttle driving experience that much more visceral.
The steering is light and super-sharp, but feels a little fake next to the Porsche 911, plus we’d stick with the standard ratio system – the speed-dependant variable ratio software introduces some unwelcome guesswork into the mix.
The four-wheel drive system can send up to 100 per cent of the torque to either axle, which results in devastating amount of grip in high corners – noticeably more than its predecessor in fact. However, find the point at which the tyres begin to slip and the new R8 is as beautifully balanced and predictable as ever. Surprisingly, it feels more agile on the limit than the Huracan and is much happier than the Lambo to oversteer if you unsettle the car and really mash the throttle at the apex.
Running a supercar is never going to be cheap, and with no V8 version available yet, you’ll need deep pockets to own the R8. In its lower, 533bhp state of tune the V10 returns economy and CO2 emissions of 23.9mpg and 275g/km, that drops to 22.8mpg and 289g/km if you go for the 602bhp V10 Plus.
If you plan on using the car on track, then tyres and brake pads will need replacing more regularly and expect the cost of servicing to be well above average, too. If it’s running costs that concern you, though, then perhaps it’s worth waiting for the all-electric R8 e-tron due on sale in 2016. With two electric motors on the rear axle, the battery-powered supercar will produce 456bhp and 920Nm of torque, cover 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and travel around 280 miles on a single charge of the lithium-ion battery pack.
You don’t buy an Audi R8 for its load-carrying ability, but even so practicality is poor compared to a Porsche 911. There are no back seats for starters and only a small ledge behind the rear seats - enough for a pair of rucksacks or for stuffing a pair of coats. Open the front bonnet, and there’s a deep but rather narrow storage area – enough for a pair of soft weekend bags, but that’s it.
The lack of storage is a shame because the supple suspension, smooth gearbox and decent refinement with the sports exhaust switched off means the R8 is a supercar you really could use every day - it feels wider than a TT on public roads, and you sit lower, but other than that it’s easy to manage at low speeds – much like its predecessor. Door pockets, a glove box and a small armrest storage area with cup holders are also useful for holding smaller items.
Audi is famed for the quality and reliability of its components, and the R8 should be no different. The engine is a development of the old 5.2-litre V10, and the same unit used by the Lamborghini Huracan, so is proven technology and had no major issues in the last generation car. It’s a similar story with the twin-clutch S tronic gearbox that feels bullet proof, even after several full-bore launch controls back to back.
In terms of safety the R8 is unlikely to be Euro NCAP tested, however, its new aluminium and carbon-fibre hybrid platform is stronger than ever and means it’s 50kg lighter overall than the old one and 40 per cent stiffer. A new Performance mode is activated by a button on the steering wheel and has three sub modes – dry, wet and snow. By loosening the ESC’s grip and managing all other driving parameters it extracts the maximum performance, while keeping the car pointing in the right direction, for any given situation.
While LED headlights are standard, laser lights are optional with the ability to light the road up to 600m ahead of the car. A camera-based sensor system ensures the lights are dipped when another car is approaching, to avoid dazzling them.
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