2dr coupe, convertible (4.2, 5.0 petrol [GT, Plus])
Let's not forget what the Audi R8 did. For decades there hadn't really been a performance coupe that could better the Porsche 911. And then, all of a sudden there was. Few of us would have expected the deposer to come from Ingolstadt, but the 4.2-litre R8 was better to drive, sassier looking and fresher than the Porsche. It was the future and the 911 looked like the past, a notion compounded when Nissan introduced the mighty R35 GT-R.
Audi introduced a V10 version in 2009 and an open-topped Spyder version in 2010, but the biggest changes to the range were announced at the China Motor Show in August 2012. The old R tronic automatic gearbox was replaced by a twin-clutch S tronic, the styling had been subtly refreshed and an R8 V10 Plus variant was introduced as the flagship model. This featured the same carbon fibre reinforced plastic used on the more potent R8 GT derivative that had been sold to help run-out the pre-facelifted model.
Updated R8 models all got that GT variant's carbon fibre reinforced plastic for their front splitters, mirrors, side blades and rear diffusers, with the same lightweight material used to line the engine compartment. On the new top R8 V10 Plus derivative, the 5.2-litre V10 was uprated, producing 550PS and 540Nm of torque. This improved MK1 model R8 line-up was sold from the start of 2013 right through to 2015, when the replacement second generation R8 range was announced.
What You Get
The R8 was the first production car to feature wholly LED lamps front and rear and in this improved first generation model, there are neat strip-like daytime running lights that change themselves into turn signals as you indicate. As for the changes that differentiate a V10 model from its humbler V8 counterpart, well, there aren't many. Assuming that you've missed the badgework on the wings, visual tweaks are limited to intricate Y-spoke 19-inch wheels, wider sills, enlarged air intakes and different exhausts. Plus of course there's the enormous 5.2-litre ten cylinder engine sitting under a rear transparent cover like a work of art in a display case.
The V10 R8 model is impressively light (only 60kgs more than the V8 variant), with a total kerb weight that can be as little as 1,620kgs. A further 50kgs has been trimmed off that figure in the top V10 plus version. With all variants, it helps that 92% of the body and chassis is fashioned from lightweight aluminium - which is just as well in the case of the Spyder soft-top version as it has another 100kgs to carry around, this the inevitable result of fitting it with a beautifully-engineered hood that's coupe-like when raised and stows in just 19s at speeds of up to 30mph.
Inside, where there's what Audi calls a 'luxury-level racing atmosphere', the interior remains an object lesson in how to package a two seat car with plenty of space, decent visibility and fantastic build quality. It's most distinguishing feature is what the stylists call the 'monoposto', a stylised large arc that encircles the driver's area of the cockpit, starting in the door and ending at the centre tunnel.
Ahead of you, there's a grippy leather-covered multi-functional flat-bottomed sport steering wheel through which you can glimpse a driver information system that can display the speed digitally and offer a lap time function for track days. And bootspace? Well, your expectations won't be high and they shouldn't be. There's 100-litres of room in the front boot for a couple of squashy bags and there's also a slot behind the seats big enough, Audi says, for a couple of golf bags - but otherwise, you'll be needing to travel pretty light.
What to Look For
Make sure the car is in perfect condition. There's no reason why it shouldn't be but any dents, scratches or interior damage will knock values hard. It's a buyers' market right now. Check for crash damage at the front and inspect the tyres for signs of uneven wear. The majority of cars that crop up on the used market will have been equipped to well above standard spec. Typically, there will be around £10,000 worth of extras fitted and demand for the R8 is such that sellers will be able to reflect this outlay in the asking price. As for future residuals, well avoid outlandish colour combinations and this Audi should be a sound bet by supercar standards. The running gear is tried and tested and shouldn't throw up too many problems. Otherwise insist on a full service record.
(approx prices for a 2013 R8 5.2 FSI coupe - ex Vat) Tyres are around £375 a corner and you'll need to spend around £600 on a replacement clutch assembly, while brake pads are around £150 for the front pair and £100 for the rears. Door mirrors are £250 per unit.
On the Road
Even the entry-level R8, that with a 430PS 4.2-litre FSI V8, manages rest to 62mph in 4.6s on the way to 187mph, figures the 525PS 5.2-litre FSI V10 model improves to 4.1s and 194mph. That's what you'll achieve if you're quick with the gearstick through the clackety-clack open gate 6-speed manual gearbox that's was available on this car.
Most wanted the S tronic auto transmission that's was freshly installed in this facelifted R8, replacing the frankly awful jerky R tronic set-up that was all you could have on the original version if you weren't prepared to swap cogs yourself. In comparison, S tronic is a revelation, one of those butter-smooth sequential twin-clutch set-ups that selects the next gear before you've even left the last one and is so quick between its seven ratios that it takes three-tenths of a second off the rest to 62mph sprint times.|
Shifts can be made via the selector lever or via steering wheel paddles. There's also a sports mode that adjusts the shift pattern to extract the very best from the V8 and V10 engines. And a launch control function that manages engine speed and permits exactly the right degree of tyre slip for the quickest possible take-off when accelerating.
The V10 Plus gets the full fat version of the 5.2-litre V10, similar to that used by the Lamborghini Gallardo, developing another 25PS over the standard unit's output, boosting power to 550PS and torque from 530 to 540Nm. That's not enough to make a huge difference to the on-paper performance figures - the 0-62mph figure is just a tenth better at 3.5s - but the overall feel of this plus model is rather different.
Why? Well the weight's been cut - by as much as 50kgs thanks to weight savings extracted from the wheels, the seats, the bulkhead, the chassis and the brakes. And the suspension's been sharpened and firmed up. The car's more chuckable into corners as a result but personally, we preferred the overall balance of the more compliant magnetic ride adaptive damping system that's standard on the ordinary R8 V10 but was unavailable on this ritzier version. With magnetic ride, you can switch the damping between a taut set-up or a more comfort-orientated 'Normal' mode. It gives you more options.
But that apart, it's very hard to criticise this car. As with all R8s, it's brilliantly driver-orientated courtesy of the decision to give its quattro four-wheel drive system a rear wheel drive-bias: never more than 35% of the torque goes to the front. Throw the car into a corner and it works with you, with perfect driver feedback, no nasty habits and a lovely hard-edged wail as you thrust towards the 8,000rpm red line, the horizon rushing towards you as if on fast forward. If you were someone seeking to graduate from the lower to the upper more powerful tier of supercar ownership, then owning one of these would be the perfect way to ease that transition.