When Audi first introduced the R8 nearly 10 years ago, it was a stunningly futuristic sports car from a brand that always seemed to be in the shadow of its German rivals: BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche.
It was a dead ringer for the radical concept car that previewed it, which helped the R8 production car elevate Audi to a much higher level than it ever reached before. All of a sudden, Audi was rubbing wheels with 911s and Corvettes on the track and jockeying for valet stand supremacy with Aston Martins and Jags.
Audi has just launched the second-generation R8, which still looks lightyears ahead of the competition, and keeps pushing the performance envelope to supercar status.
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While the 2017 Audi R8 doesn’t stray far from the design of the original one, it really didn’t need to. It was ahead of its time a decade ago, and it still remains completely distinctive in the sports car scene. Everything is more angular, the body creases sharper, splitting the signature side “blade,” and it all comes together to look wider, lower and meaner than its soft-shouldered predecessor.
Besides looking the part, the R8 also delivers a genuine supercar driving experience, from its aluminum frame and wild V10 engine to a sumptuous yet modern and high-tech cabin.
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Power to the Audi People
Because the R8 platform was developed in concert with Lamborghini’s Huracan, no expense was spared to deliver a world-class product, and the result is a weight-saving aluminum frame with partial carbon fiber tub that yields an ideal combination of light weight, rigidity, and durability. It’s 40 percent stiffer than the first-generation car, but the mid-engine design still has the V10 behind the driver, housed under a glass panel that shows off its aluminum construction and gratuitous carbon fiber trim. In base trim, it weighs in at 3,649 pounds, but the V10 Plus shaves that down to 3,572 lbs to go along with an extra helping of power.
The R8 comes with only the V10 engine for now, but in two states of tune. In base V10 cars, it makes do with just 540 hp at 7,800 rpm, with peak torque of 398 lb-ft coming online at 6,500 rpm. We hear, however, that Audi is working on a twin-turbo V6 to slot in as the new base model.
The subject of our test drive was the V10 Plus, pumping power up to 610 hp (same as that aforementioned Huracan) at a stratospheric 8,250 rpm and doling out 413 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm. It’s a screamer, winding all the way up to 8250 rpm in a flash, and sounding like one pissed-off race car all the way up to that insane 8,700 rpm redline. Lift the throttle partway around the tach, and the V10 fires off a series of overrun shotgun blasts that will have you cackling and chortling with glee. That’s right, chortling.
With that light aluminum frame and all that power delivered to all four corners, the R8 shoots off the line like an arrow, pressing you into your seat as you blow away any known speed limit before you can catch your breath from your lungs being squeezed from the g forces of acceleration. Audi’s official acceleration time to 60 mph is 3.2 seconds and a claimed top speed of 205 mph, but some publications have hit 60 in less than 3 seconds.
It has a launch control that allows for perfect launches every time when you want to feel the full force of this engineering marvel. But even without trying to launch at 100 percent, it’s so fast and smooth that it is almost too easy to drive too fast, so keep an eye on the speed if you ever pin the throttle.
When it’s time to scrub off all that speed, V10 Plus models are equipped with standard carbon ceramic brakes with 15-inch rotors at the front, 14 at the rear. They are a touch grabby when you first get to know the car, but once you settle in and get used to them, they can be modulated for smooth stops with superb feel. And when you need to, they can snap you forward into your seatbelt and put the Pirelli P Zeros to the test. Brakes on the base V10 are steel ventilated wave design discs, 14.4 inches in front and 14.0 in the back.
As with any modern sporting Audi, a dual-clutch gearbox takes care of shifting, smooth and steady trundling through traffic, but anticipating gear changes with clairvoyant precision when accelerating hard or braking for a corner, especially in the transmission’s Sport mode. Alternatively, you can flick the paddle shifters for quick gear changes when it suits you or keep it in manual mode.
Although electromechanical steering assist is very light at low speeds, such as when parking or just crawling around in town, the steering firms up on the highway for great stability and when hunting for an apex, it is surgically precise, with plenty of weight to help you measure your turn-in. The R8 just dives into corners with the kind of balance only a mid-engine car can manage and Quattro all-wheel drive with electronic torque vectoring balances power to all four wheels so you can power out of corners with complete confidence.
But it’s not all supercar all the time. Using the Drive Select button on the steering wheel, you can adjust the car’s aggression from a smooth grand tourer to enraged beast with the flick of your thumb. In Comfort mode, the ride is still firm, but not harsh, and gear changes and power delivery smooth but still quick, which is a relief compared to the previous V10 Plus, which was rock-hard and very aggressive all the time. Switch to Dynamic mode and throttle response is lightning quick, gear changes feel like a whip cracking and Magnetic Ride dampers lock into their firmest setting, while the exhaust goes into “shut-up-and-drive” mode. An Auto mode will vary each of these systems according to your driving at any given moment, and an Individual mode can lock in different settings for throttle, steering, suspension and transmission.
First Class Cabin
Audi has made a name for itself with impeccable interiors, and once you manage to squeeze yourself into the low-slung cabin, everything is easy to reach, the seats wrap around you and hold you firmly in place. It’s a slick, high-tech zone, but it’s also easy to use.
It looks like a futuristic flight simulator with controls on the steering wheel and all the information in the high-res 60 frames-per-second “Virtual Cockpit” gauge cluster that can display a view of the map or audio selection in the middle with small or large gauges at the sides or switch to a central view of the tach with ancillary info on the sides. You can control the screen using the steering wheel buttons or the large dial on the center console, which doubles as a touchpad with handwriting recognition, and voice commands are available to make it your personal concierge when your hands are busy driving the car.
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The tech is intuitive and it’s perfectly complemented by an interior that is one of the best in the business, with creamy leather seats, gorgeous aluminum trim, and every knob and button damped just right, with precise and purposeful weight and feel, just like the steering.
The steering wheel itself is a joy to hold, a nice, small diameter, but thick grips covered in perforated leather. The red missile-launch start button is plenty cool nestled against the three-o’clock spoke, but there are a ton of buttons on the steering wheel, which allows for that efficient control but also gives away the fact that it is not a purist’s car.
The Verdict: 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus Review
While it doesn’t stray far from the first-gen R8 in looks or capabilities, the subtle changes keep it fresh, following the 911 school of sticking with a recognizable design and tweaking engineering to improve, while maintaining character.
For a car with such superhero looks, it is surprisingly easy to drive and live with, but push the right buttons, and an entirely different character emerges. Its dual personality means there are sharper tools out there for attacking a track or a mountain pass, and others that coddle on a long cruise, but none of them have quite the same range, the ability to deliver relative comfort on a daily basis, yet turn into a backroads terror and track-machine at the driver’s whim and a moment’s notice.
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