But under the skin there are quite a lot of changes. As you'll probably already know there isn't a V8 any more, or a manual. Both of those things might be considered a pity. Instead there are two V10 options, a 540hp standard one starting at £119,500 and a £134,500 610hp Plus version. If that latter figure sounds familiar it's the same as the Lamborghini Huracan with which the new R8 shares much of its fundamental architecture and powertrain. This includes the new 'hybrid' carbon enhanced MSS aluminium spaceframe, optional Dynamic Steering system (more on this shortly...) and dual direct and port fuel injection system. Referred to as Iniezione Diretta Stratificata in Lambo land in Audispeak this gets Germanised into the rather less emotive sounding Saugrohreinspritzung/direkteinspritzung but gains cylinder deactivation, shutting down a whole bank of cylinders when not required.
Reverting to type
When the first R8 came out it was something of a shock, looking and feeling like an Audi but most definitely not driving like one. From the rear-biased four-wheel drive chassis to the lush damping and lovely steering feel it was a huge departure from the typically fast but numb uber-Audi RS saloons and Avants. Once the crude R Tronic robotised manual was dropped in favour of the S Tronic dual clutch and the V10 unleashed the true potentialin the car it was clear Audi had nailed the usable supercar thing first time out and given the Porsche 911 its first real scare in decades. This new car is a whole lot more 'Audi' in look and feel and those migrating from other products in the range will be in for less of a culture shock than before. Plus it has stiffer competition than ever in the face of its own Lamborghini blood brother, newly turbocharged Ferraris, ever more potent Porsches and new arrivals in the sector like the 'entry level' McLaren 570S. It needs to be bloody good.
noise like this who's to complain...
Evolutionary or not, the R8 still looks superb too. It's a pity the original's more distinctive visual feature - those sideblades - have been toned down but overall it's been subtly sharpened and made more aggressive looking, not least from the rear where the diffuser and visible mechanical components behind mesh venting have more than a hint of race car.
Which is appropriate given the R8 LMS was developed in parallel and shares as much as 50 per cent of its architecture. An N24 win just 10 weeks after unveiling and shortly before the debut of the road car gives this new car some instant credibility too, the fact it beat far more established and developed rivals first time out something of a coup. It's a bit like the annoying class swot acing their exams without breaking a sweat. But respect where it's due...
A la mode
The familiar Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual settings are available from Audi Drive Select but a new Performance Mode selector (optional on the V10, standard on V10 Plus) on the wheel gives you three further modes over and above these. Self explanatory Snow, Wet and Dry options override the Drive Select, which is handy because the latter partially disables the stability control and thereby gets around the fact Audi - in typical style - disables the ESP off button on its launch cars in an attempt to curb hacks' desire for skidfoolery on the circuit. Like Jurassic Park's dinosaurs nature always finds a way and there's enough latitude in this setting to put a smile on your face/get you into trouble according to talent and enthusiasm.
As stock the V10 Plus comes with a passive Sports suspension set-up, which even on seriously bumpy Portuguese back roads proves itself lithe, compliant and composed without a trace of harshness. The increased stiffness - a 40 per cent improvement is claimed - and 50kg weight saving gained from the carbon/aluminium spaceframe no doubt helps, the reduction in undamped body flex meaning the suspension can really work to its best ability. It's not actually as light as it feels though, the headline sub-1,500kg weight climbing to 1,630kg with fluids and not especially powerfully built 75kg driver.
The magnetic dampers are pretty damned good too and another gadget to play with if you really feel the need. But, frankly, the standard chassis is so good we'd save the money and invest it in some fancy carbon garnish in a rare instance of style being preferable to substance.
One of the more astonishing things about the R8 is its sheer breadth of character. The Huracan has a comparatively easier job, simply needing to be noisy and exciting even when mooching about at urban speeds. But the R8 has to deliver that kind of drama at one extreme while being as refined and user friendly as a TT on the daily commute. So hushed and composed is it in Comfort mode on the motorway there would be no qualms at all about using it this way but when you demand more it delivers in abundance. We've been guilty before of scepticism about this modern age of multitudinous modes and configurability but, in this instance, the technology is truly an enabler.
That engine remains your last emotional link with the speed the R8 is all too capable of, the Plus getting seven 'proper' ratios compared with the standard car's six-plus-overdrive set-up and feeling even more urgent than the additional 70hp suggests it should be. Gearchanges don't punch through like a Huracan in Corsa mode but rattling up and down the 'box and savouring the sounds this unleashes is a USP turbocharged rivals simply can't match.
So to Portimao circuit and a chance to explore what lies beyond the R8's exemplary road pace... Really let off the leash the V10 reveals a hint of the savage side seen in the Huracan, launching out of the pit lane in a blaze of noise and rapid-fire upshifts. Portimao's first turn is a fast and committed blind right and if the steering doesn't give you a whole lot of weight or information the R8 immediately feels more positive at the front end than its Lamborghini brother, eagerly pushing through initial understeer and into a subtle rotation under power.
Front-end push is more obvious on the tighter right that follows and the blind crest after that unweights the tyres just when you want maximum turning force. Hold your nerve and the R8 hauls itself straight and shows brilliant stability in the brutal downhill stop from 120mph and into a tight hairpin left. A lift tucks the nose into the apex and from there if you've timed it right and managed to keep it in the sweet spot of the torque delivery it erupts out of the turn with just a hint of oversteer as the power shuffles to the rear.
By the last corner - a long, fast right-hander - the R8 is so biddable a nip, tuck and bootful of throttle to provoke a lovely four-wheel drift seems an entirely natural thing to be doing.
AUDI R8 5.2 V10
Engine: 5,201cc V10
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 540@7,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 398@6,500rpm
Top speed: 199mph
Weight: 1,670kg (EU, including 75kg driver)
AUDI R8 5.2 V10 PLUS
Engine: 5,201cc V10
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 610@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 413@6,500rpm*
Top speed: 205mph
Weight: 1,630kg (EU, including 75kg driver)