It’s been seven years since the Audi R8 propelled Germany’s third luxury car brand into supercar territory for the first time.
In terms of both sales and brand image, the car that’s based on a Lamborghini Gallardo has been an unqualified success.
In Australian alone, 312 buyers have heard the call and spent their hard-earned on Audi’s most prestigious car. And now there’s an updated and revitalised 2013 Audi R8 range that is faster, better equipped and more stylish.
Most Australian buyers have picked the V8 over the V10, 91 per cent prefer the coupe to the convertible, and 63 per cent have selected the R tronic automatic transmission over a manual. Nonetheless, with the introduction of the $408,200 Audi R8 V10 plus and the new S tronic gearbox, the R8 has become a different beast.
To find out just how different, we came to Philip Island, two hours southeast of Melbourne and home to the world-renowned Philip Island Grand Prix Circuit where Audi had brought an R8 V8, two all-new R8 V10 plus test cars, and plenty of Pirelli tyres…
Though any variant of the Audi R8 is perfectly suited to a racetrack, thanks in part to its mid-engine layout, impressive driving dynamics and 57:43 rear-front weight distribution, the majority spend their time being driven on regular roads under the hammer of Australia’s draconian speed limits. Which is why we started the first part of our Audi R8 review on the road, to see how the new seven-speed S tronic transmission coped with regular driving.
Previously, the single-clutch robotised manual R tronic transmission in R8s was a tad jerky and somewhat uncomfortable at low speeds around town. It did the job (particularly at speed), but it was the most obvious area in need of improvement. Thankfully then, the new S tronic system is a monumental step forward.
Around town, the Audi R8 V10 plus with S tronic behaves like a regular car would: composed, comfortable, without much fuss and suited to any driving style. Gear changes are entirely seamless, almost so unnoticeable that it’s unnerving. The dual-clutch gearbox implementation is one of the best we’ve experienced in a supercar and vastly superior to the Lamborghini Gallardo’s E-Gear system, which uses the same V10 engine.
In Normal driving mode the V10 can be mistaken for a V6; it’s somewhat tame and generally lazy. The magnetic ride suspension absorbs most of the bumps and though you can certainly feel poorly surfaced roads, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. It’s the ideal mode for a Sunday drive down to the shops or when commuting in the inner city. But press that rather large and well-presented Sports button and instantly the gearbox goes into attack mode, the suspension firms up and everything about the Audi R8 becomes far more serious.
In Sport mode, acceleration is instantaneous – no matter the speed or gear. This is largely thanks to the naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 engine and the new S tronic transmission, which seems to always be in the right gear and rev range for maximum power extraction.
Of course there are paddle shifters on the steering wheel (and if you go into manual mode the gearbox won’t shift up automatically when in Sport mode – riding the rev limiter instead), but the computer is so well tuned that it’s almost unnecessary to use the paddles unless you’re on a racetrack and have worked out a gear for each corner. No matter how we look at it, it’s hard to fault the gearbox.
From the outside Audi has changed the R8’s headlights for a full LED design now standard across the range. There’s a new single frame front grille while the front and rear bumpers have also been revised. The exhaust pipes are a little bigger, too, but the most noticeable change comes from the dynamic indicators, which instead of blinking get bigger from inside out – a rather clever and very eye-catching system.
The high-quality fine nappa leather bucket seats (standard in V10 plus) are easy to slide in and out of and are generally supportive, but can be a tad tight if you happen to frequent KFC.
The overall cabin ambience remains largely unchanged but Audi has made minor improvements all around in an attempt to further lift the luxury and prestige feel. Like all cars from Audi, the R8 has that instantly recognisable Audi interior and though we found it very practical and easy to use (if you forgive the older version of Audi’s multimedia system) it tends to lack that X-factor that a supercar’s interior needs.
Now, to come back to where the Audi R8 really shines: on track. Our first outing around Philip Island was in a Sepang Blue Audi R8 V10 plus raring to go. Down the main straight we managed a consistent top speed easily reaching 260km/h (and likely higher for those with greater racing skill).
With 404kW of power and 540Nm of torque (18kW and 10Nm more than regular V10 – achieved mainly through software enhancements), the V10 plus is just one kilowatt short of the Lamborghini Gallardo and can reach 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds (using launch control).
The quattro all-wheel-drive system in the R8 generally has 15 per cent of power going to the front and 85 per cent going to the rear. This can vary up to 30 front and 70 rear depending on the situation and this makes a massive difference around corners.
Around Philip Island’s many bends the R8 V10 plus is not for the faint-hearted. The extra power and torque over the 4.2-litre V8 makes a massive difference out of corners and you’ll need to be permanently on your game to tame its might for perfect corner entry and exit. The V10 plus is well suited to the racetrack, given it comes standard with carbonfibre-ceramic disc brakes ($23,560 option on other R8 models) which despite many, many flat-out laps, and even hot laps with Audi’s racing driver, remained faultless.
The Audi R8 V10 plus is likely to take nearly all sales from the regular $366,900 V10 model given its uniqueness, extra equipment level and Lamborghini-matching power output. But what of the $279,500 V8 model? The original Audi R8 that has continued to excite us for so many years?
Audi brought one along and, we have to say, it remains our favourite R8. Firstly because it’s offered with a manual transmission (not available in V10) and although the S tronic (which is also available with the V8) is fantastic, the gated six-speed manual in the R8 is arguably the best in any sports car today. Secondly, it feels more composed, balanced and generally easier to drive.
There’s no doubt the V10 plus is faster and superior in the hands of a racing driver but for the regular buyer, one who spends more time on roads than racetracks, the V8 is more than good enough both on the road and in the occasional track session.
With 316kW of power and 430Nm of torque, the updated R8 V8 hits 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds (0.3 faster now with S tronic over R tronic – 4.6 seconds in manual) with a top speed of 300km/h. It also has that distinctive Audi R8 sound that is, for a lack of a better word, mesmerising.
We found the V8 hitting about 235km/h down the main straight, which was noticeably slower than the V10 plus, but overall it felt smoother and more composed around corners and a little less manic.
If you must have the best, the Audi R8 V10 plus is the new king at Audi. It comes with pretty much all that Audi has to offer in terms of performance and looks. Its $400K-plus price point puts it in touch with a base model Lamborghini Gallardo but it’s every bit a better car for the money. It’s the ideal track car that can also be a regular drive.
Nonetheless, the ‘standard’ Audi R8 V8 remains one of the best ‘affordable’ supercars on the road today, with gorgeous looks, excellent dynamics, near-perfect weight distribution, plenty of go and an infinitely improved transmission system. If you can put the exhaustive options list aside, it’s a fantastic buy.
Basicspecifications of 2013 Audi R8:
Audi R8 V8: 4.2-litre – 316kW – 430Nm – 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds with S tronic – +0.3 for manual)
Audi R8 V10 – 5.2L-litre – 386kW – 530Nm – 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds – S tronic only
Audi R8 V10 plus – 5.2-litre – 404kw – 540nm – 3.5 seconds – S tronic only.