Tuesday 12th February 2013


Rejuvenated R8 fights back with new dual-clutch S Tronic gearbox

“Here are the keys, and off you go.” So runs the normal introduction to a new press car. Usually, it’s accompanied by a frisson of excitement, but this time, there was more than a touch of apprehension. You see, I was at St Pancras International, and the keys were to Audi’s new £115,575 R8 V10 S Tronic. My task was to drive it out of central London in rush-hour traffic. Preferrably without glancing an errant taxi or nudging up against a lane-hogging bus. And, just to complicate matters, snow was forecast. Good.

R8 is as docile as ever, when you want it to be
R8 is as docile as ever, when you want it to be
I needn’t have worried. Through the traffic, the V10 is utterly content to dawdle, and then out through the Millennium Falcon snowstorm on an ever-whitening motorway, the easy-going throttle and four-wheel drive meant I was no less relaxed than the chap in the rep-spec A4 next to me.

Of course, this was par for the course. The R8 has gained a reputation as one of the most usable supercars around, and it’s for that reason that it’s been such a hit. Over 20,000 have been sold worldwide since it was launched. But even a car as successful as this can’t get away without a mid-life spruce up, so Audi’s thrown a few shiny bits at the R8 to keep it fresh. And while we’ve driven the top-of-the-range V10 Plus model out on a track, the real test of a facelifted R8 was always going to be on the road.

S-Tronic box is the biggest change
S-Tronic box is the biggest change
It isn’t just a cosmetic makeover, this. The biggest change is under the skin, where the new dual-clutch S Tronic gearbox replaces the R Tronic robotised manual. And this is one of those cars where a dual-clutch system works. The new gearbox fits with the R8’s character perfectly, offering relaxed and easy-to-handle cruising ability when you need it. Hit the kickdown switch, though, and all hell breaks loose.

The ’box thunks down two gears so quickly that, even with the traction control activated, the back end squirms (like the old car, there’s a 15:85 F:R torque split as standard, extending to 30:70 when the going gets slithery). Once grip returns, you’re catapulted up the road accompanied by a V10 yowl that never stops, thanks to the rapidity and savagery with which the gearbox rams home the next ratios. Flick a paddle to enter manual mode and there’s more of the same, only this time you’re controlling things – quite literally. In sport mode, the car really won’t change up until you tell it to, which is gratifying, and on the downshifts there’s a truly delectable blip of the throttle. It’s one of the most convincing applications of a dual-clutch box that we’ve seen, and streets ahead of the old R Tronic. If you can stretch to the £2,900 it adds to the base price, it’s worth it. So equipped, the V10 will now hit 62 in 3.6 seconds, and top out at 195mph; in manual form, those figures are 3.9 seconds and 197mph respectively.

V10 sits in the middle of the R8 range
V10 sits in the middle of the R8 range
Of course, if you're looking for more, there's always the new V10 Plus. This comes with an extra 25hp, for which you'll have to pay £124,675. 0-62mph drops to 3.8 seconds and top speed goes up to 198mph; add the S Tronic box for the same £2,900 and you'll get a 0-62mph of 3.5 seconds and a 197mph top speed. And if you can't quite stretch to either V10 model, never fear; the V8 is still available. It, too, gets the new gearbox as an option - again costing £2,900 over the standard car's on-the-road price of £91,575. You'll do without a few toys and you'll swap a V10 wail for a V8 warble, but you'll still get a pretty rapid 0-62 time of 4.3 seconds and a top speed of 187mph (4.6 seconds and 188mph with the manual gearbox).

So, what else is new? Well, not much of substance, it must be said. The most obvious differences are in the headlights, which are now LED units front and rear. The rears, meanwhile, now feature directional indicators, which ‘flow’ out toward the side of the car as they flash. Sounds gimmicky; is. But also rather cool. There have also been a handful of detail cosmetic changes, including new exterior colours (the matt finish is striking), some fiddling with the grille vanes, and optional diamond-quilted leather inside.

OK, so a Porsche is more pointy, a Ferrari more finessed and a Lambo a touch more lunatic, but the R8 is very nearly as good as all of those cars at all of those things, while also being eye-poppingly beautiful, addictively dramatic and just as usable as it always has been. And now it’s available with the S Tronic ’box, it’s better than ever.

5,204cc V10 direct injection
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power (hp): 525@8,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 391@6,500
0-62mph: 3.6sec
Top speed: 195mph
Weight: 1,645kg
MPG: 21.6 (combined)
CO2: 305g/km
Price: £115,575 OTR (manual £112,675)

Photography: Prime Exposures

Author: Alex Robbins