Audi R8 2023 review: still scintillating in its twilight years
The second-generation R8 is nearing the end of its life, but it's still an exciting and thoroughly involving supercar
The Audi R8 first appeared on the scene in 2007 and instantly became a class disruptor. Designed to rival the Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage with a cutting-edge mid-engined aluminium platform and crisp naturally aspirated engines, the original R8 paired this technical brilliance with a level of quality and usability unusual for a supercar.
But only one generation later the R8 has a rather different image, one under the shadow of its threatened mortality. Why is its end near? Audi’s investment in electric powertrain tech, plus the constant need to weed out heavy polluters, even in a model range as diverse as Audi’s, is forcing its hand.
The current R8, itself a mild update of the second-generation model first revealed in 2017, comes exclusively with a 5.2-litre V10 engine and dual-clutch transmission, and is available in three forms – RWD Performance, and V10 Performance Quattro and the limited edition RWD GT, of which just 333 will be built as a final flourish for Audi's supercar.
Amongst new-generation rivals such as the stunning new Maserati MC20, evergreen Porsche 911 and the McLaren Artura, its unique cocktail of a high-revving naturally aspirated engine and friendly demeanour still appeal, but is the R8 now a case of ‘best get it while you still can’, or is this just natural selection that Audi’s been shrewd enough to acknowledge?
Audi R8 in detail
- > Engine, gearbox and technical specs - A 5.2-litre V10 engine is the jewel in the R8’s crown, perfectly matched to a slick dual-clutch box
- > Performance and 0-60mph time - It might lack turbos or an ocean liner-like torque figure, but the R8’s performance is still stunning
- > Ride and handling - Huge grip and adjustability make the R8 as sweet to drive as ever, with the hardcore GT RWD adding more bite and precision
- > MPG and running costs - Fuel consumption is not a strong point, but then long runs can squeeze over 25mpg, which realistically is about what a super saloon is able to achieve
- > Interior and tech - The R8's cabin feels refreshingly simple in 2023, with intuitive controls and no screens tacked onto the dashboard
- > Design - This is where the R8 falls down, as the second take on the original R8’s innovative aesthetic is contrived and sometimes awkward
- > Living with one - evo editor Stuart Gallagher had the tough job of finding out what six months of Audi R8 Performance ownership was like...
Prices, specs and rivals
The R8 has just the one engine and transmission option available (albeit in different states of tune depending on the model), but prices vary considerably across the range. The cheapest Performance RWD model combines a 563bhp variant of the V10 engine with rear-wheel drive for £131,725. Nappa leather trim and Matrix LED headlights are included in the standard equipment list, but the starting price is nearly £10,000 more than a 911 Carrera GTS. The £140,785 Performance RWD Edition shares the same technical specs, but adds in a spread of carbonfibre components inside and out, 20-inch wheels and an uprated stereo to the spec sheet for £142,725.
At £151,830 the four-wheel drive V10 Performance is firmly in supercar price territory, but then this top-spec 611bhp version of the V10 and a new Performance mode make it more capable than RWD versions. A selection of grey styling elements and carbon-ceramic brakes help explain the price rise, but it too is available in Edition spec which includes carbonfibre side blades and diamond stitched leather trim. At £158,830 it’s more than double the price of the original R8 4.2 FSi at launch in 2007 – and it's not even the most expensive iteration yet.
That would be the R8 GT RWD, of which just 333 will be built with 15 examples finding homes in the UK. Costing around £200,000, the GT RWD does at least offer meaningful mechanical upgrades and a more aggressive character to justify its asking price. With the a 611bhp V10 driving the rear wheels alone, the GT gains a close ratio gearbox, a carbonfibre aero package and an optional adjustable coilover suspension kit that provides sharper, tauter responses on a track. Carbon ceramic brakes are standard fit, too.
It’s impossible to overlook the Porsche 911 as the R8’s core rival, despite the Audi’s supercar-like price tag and mid-engined body type essentially putting it in the class above. At £116,000 in Carrera 4S form, the Porsche’s price advantage over lesser R8s isn’t quite as stark as it once was, but then it’s not that far behind in performance terms. The brilliant, thuggish Aston Martin’s Vantage is between the two when it comes to power at 503bhp, but its ageing interior and tech work against it.
The Maserati MC20 is close to the GT RWD in terms of price, and this new bright spark has a real presence with its deftly tuned chassis, technical styling and charismatic V6 engine. It might lack the Audi's screaming top end, but it replaces it with an almost Group B rally car-like aggression that was enough to take victory at evo Car of the Year 2022.
Closer to home, the Lamborghini Huracán has morphed into a formidable opponent in Evo and STO forms, proving ultimately more exciting but pricier and less liveable than the R8. Then there's the stunning McLaren Artura, which kick starts the firm's mainstream hybrid push – albeit for an asking price of £189,200 that puts it out of reach for all but prospective R8 GT RWD buyers.