SINGAPORE –New taxes have pushed supercar prices into the stratosphere, so it’s probably just as well that Audi’s now-iconic R8 has just been given a mid-life revamp, the better to keep millionaires interested.
The timely facelift involves new styling elements to give it a mild visual makeover, but perhaps the biggest change is something you can’t see: a switch from the six-speed R tronic gearbox to a new seven-speed S tronic box of cogs.
Along with an extra gear ratio the S tronic transmissions brings with it a dual-clutch shifting setup, which is worth cheering. The single-clutch R tronic offered slow, lurching gearshifts that were always the main weakness in the R8’s game.
In spite of a 20kg weight penalty, the seven-speed gearbox brings with it lower fuel consumption and faster acceleration.
There are still 4.2 V8 and 5.2 V10 versions of the R8, in both closed and open bodystyles, but the facelift brings the most difference to the R8 V10 Coupe. It’s actually been replaced by a tweaked, slightly more piquant ‘V10 plus’ model, which features a power hike to 550bhp (from 525bhp).
The V10 plus also has different brakes, some styling highlights of its own and even a different type of battery to save weight. Indeed, it’s the only new R8 to be lighter than the model it replaces, weighing in at 30kg less than the previous R8 V10.
Its price has risen to an eye-watering $975,800 withe COE, but it’ll hit a hair-raising 317km/h, which is genuine supercar stuff. If that isn’t worth a million bucks, what is?
APPEARANCE AND STYLING
Externally the R8’s been given the mildest of facelifts, with the new bits pretty much all bolt-on items. Unless you’re an R8 fanatic (or, like us, you had a cheat sheet listing all the new items) you won’t be able to spot them, and even then you’ll have to squint.
The most obvious new features are the lamps, which are full LED items now. The front ones get the neat ‘paper clip’ style design that’s graced a few of the current Audis, while the rear lamps have a uniquely sweeping signal light; instead of blinking, the yellow signal shoots outward from the middle of the car towards the edge. Meanwhile a sound generator accompanies the sweeping light with ‘Pew! Pew!’ Not really, but I’d option one if I could.
The facelift also brings a slightly reshaped front grille, which is meant to give the front end a lower, broader look. Meanwhile the huge air scoops and vents on the front and back are now finished in matt titanium.
But if you have a fetish for carbon fibre that you’ll be in for a treat, because it’s used extensively now, with the wing mirrors, front spoiler and rear diffuser all in cabron (or, to be more precise, Carbo Fibre Reinforced Plastic).
The V10 model’s side blade is in CFRP too, and its air scoop sticks out more prominently, to better satisfy the bigger engine’s hunger for cool air.
V10 Plus models get wheels in a darkened finish, and overall the new styling elements give the R8 a little more mean, don’t-mess-with-me cred to flaunt.
Not that it was in desperate need of a restyling. During our time with the car we found out that the R8, even after half a decade, still turns heads
PERFORMANCE AND EFFICIENCY
More power, less weight and an extra gear ratio… no prize for guessing what to expect, and if you ever had your doubts about the R8 V10 being a genuine supercar before, then the V10 Plus stomps on them with steel-toed boots.
100km/h flashes up in a ridiculously fast 3.5 seconds (from 3.9 seconds before), and thanks to the all wheel-drive system and launch control, it fires off the line like something propelled by a rocket.
The acceleration’s strong to begin with, but once you have the engine spinning past 4,400rpm or so it finds a second wind and the performance just builds into a scary crescendo of speed.
Because it’s enormous, the engine never feels lazy, and since it hits its maximum output at 8,000rpm, it’s just a monstrously addictive experience that has you longing for clear roads on which to stretch the Audi’s legs all the time.
The brakes are similarly savage. V10 plus rotors are carbon ceramic (which adds longevity and stamina, rather than bite) items and they feel tireless. They’re slightly grabby when cold, and even when warmed up they have ferocious stopping power.
That said, the R8 does have its civilised side. It can be decently quiet (a flap in the exhaust sees to that), and until you activate the ‘Sport’ mode the exhaust doesn’t crackle or pop. That puts the car into a fairly aggressive mood, though, and sometimes the gearbox will drop three gears as soon as you press ‘Sport’, bringing the engine revs up into their hot zone.
You’ll have to change gears yourself via the steering wheel paddles if you want the loudness of the exhaust on Sport mode, or else be content to potter around everywhere in no higher gear than third or fourth.
Still, gearchanges in both direction are instant, so there’s no hardship to using the paddles, and there’s even a handy indicator telling you to shift up if doing so will save you fuel. Best obey, because the Audi can be fearsomely thirsty. The new gearbox drops average fuel consumption by a litre per 100km, but that still means 12.9L/100km.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Driving an R8 quickly is, in some ways, a no-brainer. The steering has a lot of sneeze factor built in (that is, it’s fairly low-geared just off centre) so even at speed you don’t feel as if a wrist spasm will send you into the scenery, and there’s a tremendous amount of grip from the fat, sticky tyres.
As explosively powerful as the engine is, it won’t really unstick the rear wheels in the dry, and even if it does the quattro system can send up to 30 percent of torque to the front wheels to help keep everything straight.
That said, getting the very best from the R8 requires great lashings of skill and careful technique. As with an open-seater racing car, to get the front end to really bite you have to be well-versed in trail braking (that is, braking deep into a corner and easing up on the anchors progressively as you steer into the apex), which takes plenty of commitment and practice.
On exit you then have to be really smooth with the throttle, because the R8 is super sensitive to how you apply the power. Do it roughly and the Audi responds accordingly, and you end up all over the place as you steer through a corner instead of tracing a neat line through it.
Skilled drivers will find it adjustable, alive, and definitely engaging. On the other hand if you fail to be smooth, the Audi will feel nervous, which does the car a disservice.
That might sound scary, but it’s only fitting because this is the hardest core of the current R8 models. The V10 plus has slightly firmer suspension than its stablemates, and unless you drive to work every day via billiard table, you’ll at times get some idea of what the contents of an Orangina bottle must feel like.
That said, one gets the feeling it would be fabulous on the track, which is saying something; racing circuits tend to expose a car’s weaknesses, but at Sepang you get the impression it’s the Audi’s strengths that would reveal themselves.
That would also be the perfect venue for honing those trail braking abilities in relative safety, too. With a partner like this, if you’re not willing to up your game, you shouldn’t really be playing.
ON THE INSIDE
There isn’t a whole lot to report on that’s new inside the R8. The gearshift paddles are larger than before, and if your car has 10 cylinders it will have scarlet instrument rings (instead of chrome for the V8). If you like the diamond-pattern stitching inside our test car, you’ll have to pay extra for it.
With two seats the Audi doesn’t need a huge cabin, and the press team says that a half set of golf clubs would fit onto the ledge behind the chairs.
In its time with us the Audi nearly failed the airport-run test because a medium suitcase wouldn’t fit into the 100-litre boot, but lo, the shelf behind the seats accepted the bag with a bit of shoving.
EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY
At first glance, your million dollars doesn’t seem to buy much (other than mind-bending performance). There’s no satnav, no push-button engine starting, no iPod interfacing, memory seats, or any of the conveniences you’d expect in a car costing a quarter of the price.
But that’s because the Audi’s options list is fairly skimpy to begin with. There’s a back-to-basics feel about the R8, as if the engineers were given free rein to do a car for themselves (which is probably how the R tronic gearbox made it to market in the past).
Most of the options tend to involve cabin enhancements, and the pricing is the stuff of supercars; $30,969 for a luggage set? Eep…
On the safety front, the Audi has side airbags embedded in the seats, as well as adaptive airbags that can vary their explosiveness with crash severity.
Whatever you think of its badge, the R8 V10 plus is all the supercar you could ever want. It’s no more impractical than the Italian exotica, and because it’s German you know that nothing will come off in your hand even after years of ownership.
The performance is stunning, but as ever, the R8 demands a skilled hand. Extracting the very best from one isn’t the work of a moment. Thanks to the smoothness of the new S tronic gearbox, however, living with one has never been easier.
$975,800 with COE
$5,834 annual road tax
3 year/100,000km warranty
SPECIFICATIONS – Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10 plus Coupe quattro S tronic
Bore x Stroke 84.5mm x 92.8mm
Power 550bhp at 8,000rpm
Torque 540Nm at 6,500rpm
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch
Construction Aluminium space frame
Tyre size (F+R) 235/35R19 (F), 305/30R19 (R)
Tyre type Pirelli P Zero
0-100kmh 3.5 seconds
Top Speed 317km/h
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km) 19.9 / 8.6 / 12.9
CEVS band C4, $20,000 surcharge
Kerb Weight (EU) 1,670kg
Fuel Tank 75 litres
Boot 100 litres
Traction Control Yes
Stability Control Yes
NCAP rating No Rating
Auto headlights and wipers, full LED headlamps, AGM battery, loads of carbon fibre
Nappa leather with diamond stitching upholstery ($23,669), carbon fibre door trim ($5,807), leather gearknob ($0), five-piece leather luggage set ($30,969), ‘exclusive floor mats’ ($1,934)
The new S tronic gearbox transforms the R8, giving it far more everyday civility, while the ‘plus’ spec gives the V10 more raw ability than ever
Photos by ‘Go go’ Gerald Yuen