What is it?
The new for 2013, facelifted Audi R8, here in V8 engine, 4.2 FSI quattro form. Available as a hard-top coupe or soft-top Spyder, and with a six-speed manual gearbox (with a gorgeously tactile open-gate shift, a la Ferrari F355) or a seven-speed twin-clutch paddleshift gearbox, prices start at £92,710.
The new seven-speed S-tronic DSG transmission is the biggest single improvement in Audi’s otherwise low-key (but effective) makeover of its flagship sports car . The added responsiveness and refinement feel much more in line with Audi’s immaculate engineering standards than the agricultural single-clutch automated-manual R-tronic of old. Still, the enthusiast buyer will still probably choose to click-clack their way through the manual’s open gate while they still have the option.
The 424bhp R8 V8 is far from a slow car, as a 0-62mph time of 4.5sec (4.8 with the regular six-speed manual) and a top speed of 187mph testify, but you don’t need to look at the spec sheet to know the V8 lacks the muscle and firepower of the V10. You can feel it whenever you squeeze the throttle, for there isn’t a lot there below 4500rpm. But flex its muscles and it sounds nearly as good, and in a supercar market where nothing less than warp speed is considered boast worthy, a car with more noise than outright speed is actually a more rewarding and useable companion.
Other facelift tweaks are usual nip’n’tck stuff, including the headlights and taillights. Being Audi, though, this is done with some style. The front LED running light pattern is more distinctive than before, while the rear indicators perform a song and dance for those following, the orange LEDs trickling from the middle to the outside of the car rather than simply flashing. Chintzy and unnecessary, perhaps, but that doesn’t stop you wanting to show it off to friends with a cheeky press of the hazard warning light button…
What’s it like to drive?
Weirdly (and unexpectedly, it has to be said), the S-tronic ’box doesn’t feel quite so convincing as its other applications when mated to the 90-degree V8. Drive in automatic mode and it rarely has the effortless, intuitive shifts that make it so impressive in the V10 cars. Run the car in Sport mode and its character goes too far the other way, kicking down too readily and aggressively, often to a gear lower than you’d have gone for yourself.
It makes for frustrating and at times embarrassing progress, as a micron too much throttle leaves you revving the rods off the engine and making a right old ‘look at me’ racket as you howl by. You can use the stubby paddles to bat up and down the gears yourself, but as the automatic mode must be a big part of the S-tronic’s owner appeal, the fact it either feels too lazy or too hyper is disappointing. Of course, you could just buy the manual…
The rest of the R8 thankfully remains as seductive as ever. Audi has been smart with its evolution, making just enough detail changes to keep the car looking fresh, but not so many as to deviate from the original, instantly recognisable design. It still looks wonderful and still turns heads. It really suits being a drop-top too, that snug turret-top creating a long rear deck that gives the Spyder a look all its own.
Dynamically, the V8 still feels a more delicate, subtle device than the V10, but it’s not so marked that you would choose it over the V10 if you could afford either. You need to work it harder too, and although the engine is supremely smooth and sounds fabulous, there are times when you’re left wishing it had more punch at lower revs. That said, the R8 V8 is still right up there with the very best for feel and feel-good factor, thanks to its precise, exploitable handling and a consistent, cohesive level of connection and feedback. Anyone familiar with a Lotus Elise or Porsche Cayman will instantly feel at home with its finely-honed mid-engined balance.
How does it compare?
The Audi R8 arrived in 2007 as a very clear attack on the Porsche 911. If you don’t need rear seats, and forgiving its lower real-world fuel economy, it’s just as friendly and useable in everyday life.
The most comparable 911 is the four-wheel-drive Carrera C4S, with 394bhp and priced from £88,304. Other alternatives are the Nissan GT-R (542bhp, £76,610) and the Aston Martin Vantage S (424bhp, £96,080).
Key rivals for the Spyder are the Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet, with 394bhp and costing £96,964 in manual form, and the 444bhp Maserati GranCabrio Sport, which costs £103,910 and isn’t as precise as the R8, but is more dramatic and seductively soundtracked.
Anything else I need to know?
The S-tronic gearbox adds £2900 to your R8 bill, the Spyder version an additional £8650 while upgrading from 424bhp V8 power to the 518bhp V10 5.2 FSI demands a £21,100 premium across the range. There are, of course, many other options to flesh out your tab…