DRIVEN: AUDI R8 FACELIFT
Farewell clunky R tronic, hello dual-clutch S tronic and the new and (much) improved R8 that results...
New paint options, including trendy matt finishes and new wheel designs plus increased capacity for 'individualisation' also feature. Inside the changes are blink and you miss 'em although the diamond stitched quilted leather option does look rather good. But in general, the R8's inherent design 'rightness' remains pretty much untouched. Which is fine, because there was precious little to complain about.
So long R tronic
The big news is the arrival of the S tronic double-clutch gearbox. This option replaces the flawed robo-manual R tronic. Heavier but more compact, it promises ultra-fast shifts via the conventional gear selector or steering wheel paddles, improved acceleration (three tenths faster to 62mph than the R tronic equivalent) and reduced CO2 emissions by up to 22g/km.
hardcore GT. With the new gearbox, it will hit 62mph in 3.5 seconds. Top speed is 197mph.
Before heading out to find some suitable Italian roads, we had the opportunity to try the V10 Plus around Misano for half a dozen laps. Admittedly those laps were one at a time and required a pit lane potter in between but it was a good opportunity to let the V10 off the leash and try the gearbox in extremis on the racetrack.
Willing and able
The Plus certainly impressed on its first date. Grip at both ends is excellent and it retains that nice broad window of operation from mild understeer, through neutral, to mild oversteer where you can tailor its stance to suit your style, without feeling as if you are compromising its pace. Steering feel is good, body control on smooth tarmac outstanding.
In Manual/Sport it is a 'proper' manual. Drive into the limiter and it will stay there until you upshift, floor the throttle from tickover in 6th and it won't shift down. However, in M but without Sport selected, it will auto upshift and it will kick down if it thinks you require a more appropriate ratio. It didn't happen very often, but when it did, it irritated. If it is in Manual mode, then that is what it should mean, surely?
Out on the public road the V10 Plus feels firm without being jittery. It's relatively happy to pootle and the auto mode on the S tronic is pretty good - although in sport it does want to kick down a lot.
Up the ante and you soon realise that there aren't many supercars you'd hurl along tight, twisty roads with such confidence. It's easy to place precisely, has bags of grip, faithful brakes and masses of torque. It's fun, too. Not exactly playful like a hot hatch, but compact and adjustable enough to forget the price tag and enjoy yourself on 'normal' back roads.
We also got to try the Spyder, and the V8 coupe. And the V8 is the sweetest of the lot. The engine is restrained and smooth, but hit Sport and it finds its voice in fine style. Magnetic ride is an option on the V8, and the ability to choose between damper settings is a real bonus as the car felt so much more compliant on the softer setting, without compromising its dynamic performance, and it coped infinitely better with the kind of yumps, bumps and potholes that are a feature of any rural road.
The old R tronic gearbox was, perhaps, the only real flaw remaining in the R8's impressively comprehensive talent arsenal and its replacement answers any remaining questions. The new range, with V8, V10, Spyder and now the more focused Plus variant priced from £91,575 up to £127,575 will stand comparison with anything. Which is timely, given that over in the Porsche corner the new dual-clutch equipped, four-wheel drive Carrera 4 has just made its debut too...
AUDI R8 V10 PLUS S TRONIC
Engine: 5,204cc V10
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@8,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 398lb ft@6500rpm
0-62mph: 3.5 sec
Top speed: 197mph
MPG: 21.9mpg (NEDC combined)