I’m still genuinely amazed every time I lay eyes on a first-generation Audi R8.
Its design really came to fruition in 2003 with the Audi Le Mans quattro concept. The production car, which followed three years later in 2006, didn’t deviate much from the original brief at all.
Consider that the first-generation car was conceptualised at the turn of the century, then. Look at it now. I still think it looks modern, almost contemporary of 2020, in fact. Don’t take my word for it, though. Instead, listen verbatim to passers-by while we were out and about shooting this pair of supercars.
“Oh wow, they’re beautiful. What are you doing?” pondered my old mate.
“We’re shooting a first-generation Audi R8 with the new version," I answered.
"Oh, cool. Which one is the new one?" my old mate continued to ponder.
We heard that more than once.
In fact, we actually made a bit of an entrance into our photography destination, which was the quiet, affluent suburb of Palm Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches.
How do I know this?
Well, later that day we shared a photo of the twinning pair to the wide audience that follows our social channels. Within hours, we had commenters tagging their friends seeking confirmation.
“Are these the ones you saw at Palm Beach?”
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Quite the convoy in Sydney today, where we’re comparing the old Audi R8 to the new R8. First thing we noticed? How difficult is it to tell them apart from certain angles because the design has aged SO well. In front is the 2020 V10 auto, in back is the 2008 V8 manual. Which would you want? #audi #audir8 #modernclassic #performancecar #carlovers #audicars #audilove #r8
Talk about making a statement. One of our followers even reached out to me personally to say that the sight of our entourage actually made his day.
That’s what supercars do. That’s what they’re good for. It’s also confirmation that they are both real McCoy exotics. So, let’s please not waste any more word count on debating whether the Audi R8 is supercar enough to actually be one.
Let’s instead focus on the pair we have today. This match-up is interesting, as both of these variants are anomalies in the wider Audi R8 range. One is close to becoming a modern classic. The other is destined to follow suit.
First, the old car. I actually helped procure this particular 2008 Audi R8. As some of you are already aware, I genuinely adore cars. I put my money where my mouth is and buy both new and old cars, as a testament to my passion, or insanity, depending on how you view it.
As a consequence, friends and family often approach me for advice. My brother-in-law, who runs successful jewellery business Michael Arthur Diamonds, did exactly that when it came time to park a trophy in his garage. A sign of his success and hard work.
I'd consider Michael a car enthusiast. When I was first introduced to him, in 2006, he was driving a Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R and, rather stereotypically, a Holden VL Commodore Turbo. We found common ground with cars instantly, which prevented him from caving my head in for dating his younger, and only, sister.
Soon after we met, however, he sold them both, started a family and 'grew up'. Fast-forward 13 years, he finds himself ready to rekindle his love for cars.
Naturally, he came to me, as I have my finger on the pulse when it comes to modern classics, or in this case a potential future classic. I'm a big believer that if you pick wisely, you can either break even or make a quick buck along the way while having a heap of fun.
“Find me another R32 Skyline GT-R,” he requested.
“It’ll cost more than an Audi R8, believe it or not,” I rebutted.
He didn’t need to think twice about that decision. As tough and soulful as a Skyline GT-R is, it isn’t in the same league as an Audi R8. It seems nonsensical to compare that pair, but if we’re talking about purchase price alone, it’s actually a fairly logical comparison to draw.
After establishing that, we set off in search of German supercars. Within weeks, we came across a one-owner Audi R8 V8 equipped with the ever so important manual transmission.
For Michael, this car would be a pure pleasure toy used rarely whenever he gets a break from running his small business or being a father. A manual was a must for him.
The car was owned by a high-profile Victorian, who had slotted it in alongside a stack of other fantastic metal in a small collection. This well-to-do gentleman ordered the car in 'Ice Silver metallic' with a slightly contrasting silver slide blade and an optional Alcantara headlining. Just what the doctor ordered.
It’s an interesting colourway that’s arguably aged more gracefully than the two other, more commonly seen combos – silver with gunmetal grey side blade, or silver with carbon-fibre side blade.
It’s unusual, as the yellowy-silver side blade as seen on Michael’s car is usually reserved for white cars.
The wheels feature a bright, machined finish to the face and painted sections inside, which together work well to break up the monotonal, arguably dreary colour combination. There's no doubt that its classical theme assists its timelessness.
Our new car is an Audi R8 V10 rear-wheel drive. Again, like the manual V8, it's a curveball in the R8 saga, and one that’ll go down with enthusiasts quite well. There's something spicy about a rear-wheel-drive Audi, especially one that has a V10 shoehorned into the back.
This combination is quite rare, too, as there aren't many rear-wheel-drive V10 cars around. It’s finished in a much more latter-day colour of Daytona grey, which is a wonderfully lustrous three-coat gunmetal hue.
Interestingly, the new car sees the side blade torn into two. It's not a side blade anymore. 'Side ducts' is a fairer way to describe what they are now.
I feel as if the original car’s bold design element, or 'grown-ups' racing stripe' as I like to refer to it, is quintessential to the Audi R8 recipe. Nothing before it rocked a huge, off-coloured stripe down its side. It became a thing synonymous with this exotic from Germany. It usually takes brands ages to set trends. Audi did it seemingly overnight with its first go at a supercar. Not a small feat that.
It remains a divisive topic. Be sure to let us know what your thoughts are on the side blade in the comments below. I think it's a shame that it no longer exists.
The overall proportions remain so close between the two. The new car has lost all but 3mm of length, put on 34mm of width, but still retains an identical wheelbase. Despite lacking quattro all-wheel drive, the modern-day R8 is 55kg heavier.
As a whole, despite the side blade, the genealogy is clear as day. The positioning and character of the headlights and tail-lights, A-pillar design, and clam-shell front bonnet are just some of the similarities.
Stylistic forays appear to be hereditary, too, with the pop-up rear spoiler, huge ducts at the front, and equally massive apertures at the rear, which do their part to allow heat to escape from out back, all transcending time.
Peering into the guts of both cars, either through the buttressed rear window or overhead glass viewing panel, looks and feels the same. I enjoy the fact that Audi continued to fit engine bay illumination as standard, as it makes walking up to the car in low-light scenarios just that extra bit special.
The second-generation car, in facelift guise, has stretched out the brand’s single-frame grille treatment. The old car now appears to feature a rather small, dainty interpretation of the signature Audi front end. It almost looks oddly small given what other brands are doing with their frontal treatments nowadays.
Inside, things are different. The new Audi R8 does away with any form of infotainment screen, instead opting to have just a sole 12.3-inch screen in lieu of gauges in front of the driver. It's a selfish affair. If you’re a passenger, you’re only that in a new Audi R8.
I have to be honest here and confess that I miss the bespoke gauge pod from the old car. It’s ornamental, looks unique, and artful in the way it presents rather boring vehicle data. Its grey background, symmetry, and preference of oil pressure to fuel levels all relay performance messaging back to the driver.
What isn't missed from the original is the awfully dated Audi navigation system, which employs the use of map data on DVDs. You remember those round, mirrored discs that contain 4.7 gigabytes of information? Yes, those.
Infotainment has come a long way, and for the better, too. Some concepts lose charm as they’re translated with a modern vernacular, like the gauge cluster we were just chatting about. Others deserve to get lost in translation. Buried, in fact. Old-school, first-generation touchscreen car infotainment systems are one of those things.
Ironically, however, part of this old-hat infotainment system lives on, as the new car still features a CD player in exactly the same spot as the old car. Amusing. These are trivial distractions, though.
Let’s address the real question – V10 dual-clutch auto or V8 manual?
What the automatic transmission does highlight, despite the new car having nearly 100kW more than the old car, is a difference in pace. Audi’s dual-clutch auto gives the experience a sense of relentlessness. It’s miles faster because of a self-shifter, no question there.
Another factor that rises to the top is how awfully balanced this engine is. It’s easy to overlook that point and file it under business as usual, however.
Spinning a pair of odd cylinders off a common crank always meant the odds were stacked against this engine in terms of inherent wobble. What’s also true is that seeing such an engine configuration in series-production means it was always going to feature holy amounts of internal harmony.
It’s an Audi, too. The writing is on the wall.
That shouldn’t undermine the fact this engine revs in a way that can only be described as utter theatre. Or, set an expectation that it just about meets. It’s like eating chocolate. You know what’s inside and what it’s made of. It means it’ll be delicious. The expectation is there. It’s a guarantee.
That doesn’t stop you going 'mm, mm', though, does it?
This engine is just that. You know what you’re getting, but gosh does it still punch above its weight when you soak it all up. In isolation from all of that nonsense, it’s up there with the best of the best in the internal combustion hall of fame.
Many use this as an illogical argument to look past, and even berate, the V8 version. It shares its genes with the regular range. It’s not an immortal artifact forged by a deity. It’s plebeian. That's just some of the line-for-line I've heard in my time.
Again, dropping preconceived notions helps a lot here. This engine is also brilliant, and will go down in the history books as something special. Just on page three or four, and not the opening page where the V10 version will be.
I caveat that point with the fact that Michael has taken the liberty to install a high-end aftermarket exhaust to his example. Having spent plenty of time behind the wheel both pre and post exhaust modification, I’ll be frank here – it was way too quiet before.
The noise it makes now is somewhat competitive with the V10 model. There’s this high-tech hot rod thing going on – Germanic brutality, refined anger. It’s a good sound. Still, not as melodically pretty as what emits from the newer car, but close enough to create large amounts of inharmonious opinions.
After all this debate is where the manual comes into play.
Top trumps. You know that card that can’t be beaten in a deck? The old car just played it.
I'll counter that hugely audacious sentiment with the fact that I'm looking at both of these cars through a lens of fanciful 'occasionality'. If I owned one, I’d rarely take it out of the box. When I did, I’d want to play with it.
The gated shift action found in the old R8 is a shining beacon of tactility that we, caught in the past, lust for so much. Rich, eventful and never cumbersome, the way this engine responds when you’re feeling in control of it seals the deal for me.
I use the word 'feeling' because you're no less in control in the automatic version, are you? The manual transmission is just casting an illusion over the experience, which we all seem to fall for.
It's hypnotic. Taking that all in, as with the side blade question, please let me know if you'd agree.