Friday 26th October 2012


DRIVEN: AUDI R8 FACELIFT

Farewell clunky R tronic, hello dual-clutch S tronic and the new and (much) improved R8 that results...


Hard to believe it is time for a new R8. Hard to believe it is six years since this bold machine made its Paris debut. But 'new' is pushing things a bit: this is a mild mid-life makeover, in truth.

Different you say? Well, yes, in parts
Different you say? Well, yes, in parts
Cosmetic tweaks are very minor and include the inevitable front LED signature and at the rear new 'dynamic' indicators that sweep directionally to indicate which way the car is turning. Sounds gimmicky, looks quite cool, and is only a short stretch from giving Knight Rider fans what they have always wanted!

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.

Cabin as good as ever, with detail tweaks
Cabin as good as ever, with detail tweaks
There is also a new range-topper - the R8 V10 Plus. That's plus 25hp to 550hp and plus 12,000. It is 50kg lighter thanks to use of CFRP elements (sideblades, diffuser, front splitter), ceramic brakes and seriously buckety lightweight seats. It also features unique suspension settings described by the Audi engineers as 'very similar' to the 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.

Flappy paddles now the acceptable alternative
Flappy paddles now the acceptable alternative
Even when trying to unsettle the car - upshifting under hard acceleration on corner exit or downshifting, turning and braking all at the same time, the R8 refuses to bite. The gearshifts are so quick the car barely flickers from its line and of course it can channel up to 30 per cent of its thrust to the front wheels, although in 'normal' circumstances it's only half that.

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?

Huge ability but very exploitable with it
Huge ability but very exploitable with it
Out in public
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.

Matt paint finishes now available
Matt paint finishes now available
The steel brakes are more likeable too. On the track, the big ceramic stoppers on the Plus felt powerful, tireless and well-judged - and of course they reduce unsprung weight. But in terms of subtlety and feel - especially from cold - the new 'wave design' steel setup has the edge.

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
Weight: 1,595kg
MPG: 21.9mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 299g/km
Price: 127,575





Author: Dom Holtham