Sat Dec 07 2013 16:10:08 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
I haven't driven an R8 for a few years. This V10 Plus with the new dual-clutch gearbox is way more civil than the last model. The transmission is less vicious and much smoother than the previous single-clutch gearbox. The old one featured violent shifts that would throw you forward and then slam you back into the seat following gear changes. Shifts in this R8 are nearly imperceptible. Seriously, with your foot to the floor, this all-wheel driver accelerates hard but is completely smooth, even through two, three or four changes.
Tapping the sport button increases the throttle sensitivity, and it must open an exhaust valve, because the car was definitely louder. But it's not nearly as loud as a Mercedes-Benz AMG engine or the Jaguar supercharged V8 in the F-Type.
Audi has some killer sheetmetal with this car. If Ferraris and Lamborghinis are a 10 on the exotic scale, this is surely a 9. There were people taking pictures, asking about it and laughing when it took me five minutes to find the gas cap release. The front and rear only received minor changes for the new generation, which added a little flair to the head and taillights. The carbon fiber sideblade is still there, looking as great as ever. The only suggestion, and this came from a friend, was a glass roof. I then added “how about a Targa top?”
I was a bit disappointed in the steering. It didn't feel direct enough for me. You almost have to cross your arms over around a 90-degree corner when you don't need to in most super sports cars. I don't know if it tightens up in sport mode, if it does I couldn't tell. The car does settle down in normal mode with the automatic shifting engaged, making it feel very tame. Like the old one, you could almost be convinced you're in an S6, except for the height and view.
In Audi's sedans you can sit low, which makes you feel surrounded by the vehicle. Even though the R8 is super low to begin with, it feels like you're sitting higher in the cockpit. It's not bad, just a little different, and front visibility was surprisingly good.
So, I think buyers will like the fact that the car can settle down and act like a sedan -- a super sweet-looking, fast, low, sedan. So Audi might get a few buyers who want that option. And I'd bet set a winter tires would make this car loads of fun in the snowy stuff. It's really a supercar that you could drive almost all year, as long as you don't need too much luggage space, or care about gas. I averaged about 12.5 mpg.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: The last time I flung around a 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus, I was at a tight racetrack in Italy last year and blasting through the Alps. Hard to believe that was more than a year ago, but I'm definitely glad to see it again on Autoweek's home turf.
Highlighting this car is a new, in-house developed dual-clutch S-tronic gearbox that takes the place of the not-so-smooth single-clutch R-tronic that the R8 was straddled with since the car launched. Personally, I would be getting my R8 with the gated six-speed manual every time, but the reality is that roughly 60 percent of R8s sold here in the United States are examples with two pedals. Before that meant the R-tronic and while it was OK when you were driving the daylights out of the car, it was awful when you drove normally around town. To get the transmission to perform a shift that was anywhere close to smooth, you had to lift off the gas, shift and then get back on the gas. And those shifts weren't quick, which is normally the case with single-clutch units like BMW's old SMG and even the box that's in the Lexus LFA when just puttering about.
With the dual-clutch S-tronic, all the complaints of jerky operation go out the window. Not only are shifts remarkably smooth in manual and full-auto modes, but it boasts optimized launch control and can skip gears, unlike the R-tronic, which had to sequentially engage each gear, enabling the new trans to be much quicker.
Sitting atop the R8 range now is this V10 Plus model that's 110 pounds lighter than the standard V10 thanks to things like forged-aluminum wheels, carbon-fiber side blade, front splitter and rear diffuser, carbon brakes, and a conventional suspension in place of the magnetic suspension. And finally there is a revised engine management to squeeze an additional 25 hp from the 5.2-liter V10 for a stout total of 550 hp.
All that power was a nice thing to have over a weekend that saw me shuttling my best friend to the church to get hitched. Everything was going fine until he forgot something at home, requiring us to turn around, retrieve the package and thus put us behind schedule. As the digital clock on the center screen climbed closer to my required delivery time, I began to sweat a bit, remembering that the night before I promised Bridezilla that I would have the groom to the church on time.
The good news is that we made it on time and I can confirm that the R8 V10 Plus' acceleration is brisk with power building all the way up to redline. Gearbox shifts are quick on both up- and downshifts; sounds lovely when you have the right pedal pinned. And high-speed stability is solid.
When I wasn't trying to avoid the wrath of a woman on her wedding day, the R8 V10 Plus was again lovely. I've spent a lot of time in R8s throughout the years, and I remain a big fan. The one thing about this car is that it's not a car that feels brutally powerful. Instead, it offers a refined performance to make it feel like more of a precision instrument instead of a blunt, brutal object.
Steering is direct and weighty in my opinion, which is just the way I like it. The set suspension is firm and keeps car stuck around corners with very little to no roll that I can pick up on. There's some damping for bumps and ruts tuned into the suspension, but it's for sure a little rougher. I could live with the ride quality on a daily basis and I suspect the majority of folks could, too.
With the cooler weather, the carbon brakes were squeaky almost all the time, but they are strong to slow matters immediately.
If there is a complaint that I have about the car, it's minor and involves the infotainment software. It isn't the latest stuff from Audi and is a little slow.
But the R8 remains nearly a perfect everyday supercar in my mind. On top of the more than respectable performance and easy to drive nature, there's a decent-sized trunk up front and it's fairly comfortable. There would definitely be one of these in my dream garage.
Options: Diamond-stitch full leather package including napa leather seats, full leather package, contrast stitching, diamond-stitched interior ($5,000); Bang & Olufsen sound system ($1,800); black Alcantara headliner ($1,300); Sepang blue pearl effect paint ($650); Audi music interface including iPod cable ($100).