The mid-engine all-wheel-drive Audi R8 came on the scene in 2008, sharing structures with the Lamborghini Gallardo. R8 was developed from the racing cars that won Le Mans and other international sports car endurance races. It needed that pedigree to compete against cars like the McLaren 650S, Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, Porsche 911 Turbo and Corvette Z06. And now the new Lexus LC 500 and Acura NSX.
Since then, the R8 has gotten better, while enhancing its civility and capability as a daily driver, with a supple ride and fully finished cabin. The 2017 model year began its second generation, restyled and with a new platform built on the Modular Sportscar System (MSS) that’s under the Lamborghini Huracan. It’s an aluminum monocoque spaceframe that uses carbon fiber in the firewall and backbone tunnel for torsional rigidity, aided by two big X-shaped engine braces, over and behind the engine. The new chassis was 70 pounds lighter, as well as stiffer.
For 2018, R8 gets a new Audi Sport badge on the front fascia. The 2018 R8 V10 Plus has LED headlamps with the distinctive Audi laser design. There’s a new optional appearance package called Black Optic, with a dark interior, dark exterior accents, and 20-inch wheels. The interior inlays in all 2018 Audi R8 models get a bit darker.
Audi R8 comes as a Coupe or Spyder convertible.
Two versions of the 5.2-liter V10 engine are offered, the standard one making 540 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque, while the V10 Plus makes 610 hp and 413 lb-ft. Both engines are mated to an S Tronic 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Audi invented the dual-clutch automatic manual transmission in its early racecars, and remains the leader in the technology.
The R8 can be so mild a granny could drive it (in Comfort mode), but in Dynamic Mode it flies, from zero to sixty in 3.5 seconds. The V10 Plus takes just 3.2 seconds, using Launch Control to keep the tires from spinning.
It rates 17 miles per gallon EPA Combined, with the engine using deactivation down to five cylinders, and port injection, which efficiently manages the throttle mixture.
It hasn’t been crash tested because the NHTSA and IIHS don’t destroy expensive low-volume cars, but R8 offers race heritage and a monocoque chassis, not to mention extra airbags in the doors and roof.
The 2018 Audi R8 Coupe ($164,900) and R8 Spyder ($177,100) come with a 540-hp V10. V10 Plus models feature a 610-hp engine.
R8 comes standard with Nappa leather upholstery, black Alcantara headliners, heated power sport seats, LED interior lighting, Audi’s MMI Plus with Navigation infotainment system, magnetic ride damper control, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
R8 V10 Plus adds LED headlamps, racing bucket seats and carbon ceramic brakes, and replaces the high-tech magnetic ride dampers with plain old shocks and springs, because they are stiffer. Racy options include active dynamic steering with variable assist and variable ratios, and 20-inch wheels.
Because the design has been around for 10 years, it’s hard to still say it has supercar styling, but it does. It holds up and it’s not dated. It still looks sleek, smooth and not edgy. The restyling for 2017 kept it looking young.
The profile is low and markedly cab forward, the coupe roof arcing from the windshield to the carbon-fiber rear spoiler that raises at speed. In 2017 it was widened by 1.6 inches at the shoulders, and the horizontal lines were tweaked to make it look longer. The two-piece carbon-fiber side blades serve as air intakes.
The grille is a flat and wide three-dimensional trapezoid that flows into wedge-shaped LED headlamps. At the rear, LED taillamps match the shape of the headlamps.
The V10 Plus also has carbon-fiber front and rear diffusers and black exhaust outlets.
The cabin is small but comfortable, and roomy enough for two people in front, but there isn’t much storage space. Even the front trunk is only big enough for a couple of overnight bags.
The fit and finish is impeccable, and the materials are the usual high Audi quality. In fact, the R8 interior is among the finest in its class.
The sport seats are comfortable and supportive, with adjustable bolstering. The racing leather bucket seats in the V10 Plus are thinner, and thus allow more legroom, but the seatbacks don’t adjust. Both seats are fairly upright, affording good visibility through the windshield. Rearward visibility is poor because of the steep low roofline.
The V10 Plus has leather seats and dashboard, carbon fiber trim, aluminum pedals, and an Alcantara headliner. The stitching on the doors and dashboard is in black and the color of the body.
Audi’s new virtual cockpit uses a 12.3-inch screen in the instrument panel that keeps most of the controls directly in front of the driver, also the steering-wheel switches. The screen is configurable to the information the driver chooses to see, while a button on the steering wheel allows viewing of things like the Google Earth navigation.
The virtual cockpit can still be controlled by the MMI on the center console, but passengers can’t access the sound system. Also, the screen is easy to see but in some cases it only shows one function at a time, so for example you can’t multi-task with navigation and radio.
With Audi’s Dynamic Select modes, the character of the car is flexible and versatile. In Comfort or Auto, it’s relaxed and very easy to drive. In Dynamic or Performance (which shuts off the traction control) mode, the R8 is ready for the track, ready for a top speed of 199 mph for the V10 and 205 mph for the V10 plus. In Dynamic mode, the throttle response is quicker and so are the gearshifts; the dual-clutch transmission also holds the R8 in each gear for a longer time.
The S Tronic dual-clutch gearbox makes shifts that are perfect for everyday driving. There’s always power to spare, linear and constant, not arriving with a burst, like a turbocharged or supercharged car.
The V10 has plenty of reserve power. Unlike a turbocharged engine, the R8’s V10 delivers smooth, linear grunt through the entire rev range. It’s easy to hit the automaker’s 0-62 mph estimate of 3.2 seconds for the V10 Plus and 3.5 seconds for the standard R8 thanks to the standard launch control system.
The acceleration from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds will push your eyeballs back into your skull. They will pop back out onto your cheeks when you hammer the brake pedal with the optional big carbon ceramic brakes. They demand a light touch on the street; in fact, we think they’re too sharp for the street.
There is a sailing mode eliminates engine braking at low speeds in Comfort mode. We like the feature because it rewards smooth driving, and lets the driver think for himself.
The available active dynamic steering is quick and precise, but too light for us.
Turning into a corner, the response is quick. If you enter a turn too quickly the R8 will understeer, and if you accelerate too hard through the turn it will oversteer, even in all-wheel drive, which raises the cornering limits. So it’s not idiot-proof. But the good news is it’s forgiving, maybe thanks to the all-wheel drive sending power to the front wheels to get the driver out of trouble. And the grip of the Pirelli P Zero tires is awesome, enough to give idiots extra room. Of course, even the best grip does not go on forever, so when the P Zeros say enough is enough, it’s possible to come to grief, but still not likely, as the R8 recovers with neutrality and obedience.
The Audi R8 stays strong in the game with McLaren, Mercedes, Porsche, Corvette, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and the discontinued Viper. Great seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The 5.2-liter V10 is well developed.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.