BETTER BY DESIGN
The second generation Audi R8 has a lot to live up to. Andy Enright reports
Ten Second ReviewThe Audi R8 is well on the way to becoming a modern classic and this first major revision of the car sees the introduction of a lightning quick S tronic twin clutch transmission, a more powerful V10 plus model and a massive amount of detail changes. Just don't expect the overall shape to look too different.
BackgroundNobody was ready for the first Audi R8. Nobody. Remember, this was the first car to beat the Porsche 911 fair and square in what seemed like an eternity. For a car buying public that had become accustomed to a stream of inert-feeling, nose-heavy Audi sports models, the R8 was little short of a revelation. But that was in 2006 and a lot has altered since then. Nissan's GT-R has changed what we thought we knew about handling and acceleration for such a heavy cars. It changed what we thought we knew about value for money in this sector too. Plus Porsche's 991-generation 911 has introduced a slicker, more polished sports car to the battleground.
The R8 couldn't afford to start looking a bit baggy. Fortunately Audi took remedial action before that happened. Okay, so you might not recognise this improved R8 from the original but some shapes just work. And anyway, under that skin there's been a heck of a lot of changes.
Driving ExperienceThere are two big stories with the second generation R8. The first concerns the transmissions. Yes, you can still buy a manual car with the clackety-clack open gate should you so wish, but Audi has replaced the old R tronic automatic box with a rather brilliant S tronic twin-clutch sequential 'box instead. This is the transmission the R8 should always have had, the seven-speed gearbox shifting cogs in mere hundredths of a second and with virtually no interruption to motive power. Shifts can be made via the selector lever or the steering wheel paddles. It also offers a sports mode that adjusts the shift pattern to extract the very best from the V8 and V10 engines. And a launch control function that manages engine speed and permits exactly the right degree of tyre slip for the quickest possible take-off when accelerating. Seriously, why would you want a manual over this?
The other interesting addition to the range is the R8 V10 plus. Developing 550PS and maximum torque of 540 Nm at 6,500 rpm, this coupe-only version rockets from rest to 62mph in 3.5 seconds and achieves a top speed of 197mph when linked to S tronic transmission. With manual transmission, the acceleration time lengthens slightly to 3.8 seconds, top speed also increases to 198mph. The springs, shock absorbers and front suspension geometry have been specially tuned and adapted. Audi magnetic ride adaptive damping is standard for the R8 V10 and optional for the V8 variants; it offers a normal mode and a sports mode. Otherwise there's still the usual 430PS V8 and 525PS V10 engines.
Design and BuildThe R8's shape has proven a huge hit with the buying public, attracted by its complex, unorthodox design. Viewed in profile, it's not conventionally beautiful, looking a little stretched and with some strange design features such as the awkward ridge at the rooftop and the rather weak looking haunches. Move around the car and the shape improves, with front and rear three-quarter views looking especially muscular. This revised model punches up the design flair in the detailing. All-LED headlights are now standard on all variants and are complemented by smarter strip-shaped daytime running lights that form a 'clasp' around the lens.
The latest R8 is also distinguishable from its predecessor by way of its re-designed badge with signature Audi Sport red diamond, and by its repositioned diffuser, which in the V10 plus Coupe is made from Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer. In all engine versions, the exhaust system terminates in two round, glossy tailpipe trim sections, painted black on the R8 V10 plus.
This R8 badge appears on the gearshift or selector lever, in the door sill trims, in the instrument cluster and in the start screen of the on-board monitor. In the R8 V10 plus, it also appears on the flattened rim of the leather-covered multifunction sports steering wheel. The instrument cluster itself has been reworked, the gear shift paddles have been further improved and chrome inserts have been added in several areas. The centre console, the surround for the radio/navigation system and the handbrake lever are also now trimmed in stitched leather.
Market and ModelThe addition of the R8 V10 plus at the top of the coupe range adds a very desirable sports flagship to the line up. This gets numerous weight-saving Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer elements externally, in areas such as the door mirrors, side blades, front splitter and diffuser, plus lighter and more effective carbon fibre ceramic brakes. Their glass fibre-reinforced buckets seats weigh less than their counterparts in the standard V10 versions. Five-spoke 19-inch Y design double spoke alloy wheels are also fitted.
Elsewhere, standard equipment levels have been boosted for both coupe and Spyder. As well as all-LED headlights and new design 19-inch alloy wheels, V8 models also get Audi Music Interface (iPod connection), satellite navigation, Bluetooth mobile phone preparation and heating for their Fine Nappa Leather-upholstered sports seats. To bring them into line with the V10 Spyder, V10 Coupe models upgrade to an extended Fine Nappa Leather package which takes in elements such as the dashboard and side panels. Prices have crept up inexorably, and now the V8 coupe models are the only cars priced (just) below £100,000.
Cost of OwnershipThe R8 may well be a sensible mid-engined supercar but don't let that lull you into the false belief that it'll be cheap to run. It comes with some properly exotic running costs. Audi has worked at taking the edge off fuel consumption and quotes a figure of 22.8mpg for the S tronic equipped V8 coupe and 22.8mpg for the equivalent V10. An R8 V10 plus with an S tronic transmission will return 21.9mpg, but that figure plummets to 19mpg if you opt for a manual gearbox.
Keeping the basic look much the same will protect residual values of previous R8 models, and they were still holding up strong before this improved model was announced.
SummaryThe R8 has become such an iconic car for Audi that it would have taken a hugely controversial corporate decision to radically change this improved version. So they haven't. Only hindsight will demonstrate whether this was the right thing to do. Most six-year old designs look very tired indeed, but the R8's shape still challenges the eye, still looks fresh and interesting and still provides a suitable halo model for the rest of the Audi range.
The updates to this revised version haven't changed the intrinsic nature of the R8. The same customers who were attracted to it before will still love this latest model. The V10 plus adds muscle and the S tronic transmission injects subtlety. It's may not be the bravest update we've ever seen but when the 'before' picture looked that good, who's complaining? The R8 is still just mighty.