The second generation Audi R8 is here. Jonathan Crouch runs the rule over a car with a lot to live up to.
Ten Second Review
The Audi R8 has become fiercer and more focused, with V10 petrol engines for the time being and the promise of an electric version in due course. Buyers choose between a 540PS V10 and a 610PS V10 Plus version, both capable of topping 200mph. Lighter, smarter, better finished, better looking and you can get laser headlights. Beat that.
Models like the Audi R8 don't come about very often. By that we mean sports cars that redefine what you think a vehicle manufacturer is capable of. In living memory, Audi has probably had two: the original all-wheel drive Quattro and the R8. I guess a case could be made for the excellent V8-engined RS4, but it didn't break the mould in any particular regard. It's hard to believe that the R8 was launched in 2006, a year Porsche got a double-whammy from both Audi and Nissan, with its magnificent GT-R.
The R8 had a light refresh back in Spring 2012, when it got a better automatic gearbox, an more powerful V10 Plus version and a very subtle restyle, but that was just a means to see the first-generation car through the last couple of years of its life. In its place comes a genuine second-generation R8 model. Yes, the silhouette looks wholly familiar, but the details have changed immeasurably.
The big news with this latest R8 is that Audi has done away with the eight-cylinder model. Yes, you probably heard countless road testers opine that the V8 was a sweeter engine than the feral V10, but buyers wanted horsepower and they wanted that ten-cylinder engine - the one also used by Audi's sister company Lamborghini. As before, the chassis is made of aluminium, but whereas in the old R8, the range-topping V10 Plus made 550PS, this time round, even the entry-level V10 is knocking on the door of that figure, with a healthy 540PS at its disposal. Go for the Plus version and in this second generation range, you get 610PS, making this variant the most powerful Audi road car ever built. That's serious stuff and so is a sprint to 62mph in 3.2 seconds and a 205mph top speed.
The manual gearbox gets the heave-ho for the MK2 model, with only an S tronic twin-clutch sequential 'box offered. Audi claims to have shaved weight from a superstructure that now weighs a mere 200kg and, together with some carbon fibre parts, helps cut the kerb weight of the V10 Plus by 66kg to 1454kg. Hand in hand with the reduction in weight is a 40% improvement in chassis rigidity. The suspension is the same basic layout of double wishbones front and rear, mated to steel springs and dampers or there's an optional Magnetic Ride system that delivers continuously variable damping control. Again, weight has been excised from the suspension parts, Audi claiming that it has used lighter components developed through its LMP and LMS racing programme.
Design and Build
Well it doesn't look that different does it? The MK1 model R8's shape generated quite some controversy when it first appeared but the design ended up wearing really well. The big talking point of the original car was undoubtedly the sideblades, those unusual inserts that broke up the visual bulk of the rear three-quarter. The latest car retains the sideblades, albeit in a truncated form, sitting at the back of the side intakes. The front lights and grille treatment are sharkier and although this R8 has exactly the same 4442mm length as its predecessor, it's also 39mm wider and 9mm lower. Lower and wider is good in the supercar world. 19-inch alloy wheels are fitted as standard to both models, but there's also an option of a 20-inch rim for the first time. If you like the idea of open-top motoring, there's also a Spyder version.
Inside the car, there's the usual Nappa leather sports seats while the V10 Plus gets deeper bucket seats. A flat-bottomed steering wheel houses two 'satellites' incorporating the control buttons for the Audi drive select system and engine start-stop function, both features which are also new to the R8. Go for the V10 Plus and there are two more satellites. One houses a button controlling the exhaust system's sound-altering adjustable flaps. The other deals with the activation switch for the 'performance mode' which is standard for this version (and optional for the V10), along with a rotary wheel enabling selection of this mode's individual 'dry', 'wet' and 'snow' programs.
The 'Audi virtual cockpit' we first saw on the brand's MK3 model TT sportscar also makes an appearance here. It sits in the conventional speedo and tach binnacle, this 12.3-inch display allowing the driver to toggle between different display modes as well as a custom 'individual' mode. In 'performance mode', the driver is presented with information on the driving programs, acceleration, deceleration and lateral forces, as well as power and torque. There's even a shift light which illuminates when the rev limit has been reached.
Market and Model
Lasers. You got them here first. As standard, the R8 comes with an all-LED headlight pack, but laser spots can be optioned onto the R8. Go for the V10 Plus and they're fitted as standard. The rear LED tail lamps are slick too, with a scrolling function in the intended turn direction. Clearly all this comes at a price and in case you're curious as to what that is, you might want to take a seat. The entry-level car costs around £120,000, while the V10 Plus needs a budget close to £140,000. After options, many R8s are going to be rolling out of dealers at well over £150k. That's a bit sobering for those who remember the original 2006 car starting in the mid-£70s, people who back then may have been harbouring an ambition that they could maybe one day afford to buy a new R8. These folk are probably going to need a pay rise to keep that ambition on track.
Audi is currently working on a Spyder convertible, an R8 e-tron electric version and word is that a smaller-engine R8 will also be launched, designed to take advantage of tax breaks in the Chinese market for sub-4.0-litre cars. If you're still a bit sore about the R8 V10 Plus's asking price, you might find some consolation in the fact that the mechanically similar Lamborghini Huracan is the other side of £180k. Suddenly the car with the four rings on its bonnet seems a bargain.
Cost of Ownership
The R8 may well be the sensible mid-engined supercar but don't let that lull you into the false belief that it'll be cheap to run. Still, Audi has done its best. The V10 FSI powerplant now comes with direct and indirect injection and Cylinder on Demand technology linked to a hi-tech start-stop system that'll cut the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. Then there's the Multimaterial Audi Space Frame construction that helps to reduce weight by up to 50kg.
As a result, even the V10 Plus variant manages 23.9mpg on the combined cycle. Keeping the basic look much the same will protect residual values of previous R8 models, and they were still holding up strong before this second generation model was announced.
Modernising the Audi R8 must have presented a few headaches. Back when it was originally launched, it was a rival for a Porsche 911 Carrera S. That's changed. Now it's way above the price of even the most expensive 911 Turbo. This, one feels, isn't exactly by chance. Volkswagen owns Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini, so it needed to slot the products into some sort of non-competing order. With V10 engines and rapid-fire sequential gearshifts, the latest R8 is laser-focused, and hasn't lost any of its wow factor.
Sit inside and it's impossible not to be impressed by the Virtual Cockpit, with its myriad of purposeful-sounding buttons that hang off the steering wheel and just beg to be prodded. Then there's the general build quality, which is all soft buttery leathers and cool turned aluminium finishes. More power, less weight and more exaggerated supercar dimensions complete a compelling argument. The R8 has evolved. Now it's up to you to try to keep up.