New & Used Audi R8: In Depth
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The Audi R8 is a mid-engined, two-seat sports car with dashing if somewhat reserved looks and impressive performance. The R8 shares some of its DNA with the entry model from sister company Lamborghini, but the overall product is distinctly German—and surprisingly practical for what amounts to a supercar.
Carried over virtually unchanged for the 2015 model year, the R8 still comes in convertible and coupe body styles, offering a choice between V-8 and V-10 engines, with standard all-wheel drive, and yes--still with an available manual transmission. A new R8, the second-generation version, has debuted and will arrive for 2016.
MORE: Read our 2015 Audi R8 review for pricing with options, specifications, and gas-mileage ratings
The R8 broke cover at the 2006 Paris Auto Show to immediate acclaim. Audi paired the first 2008 R8 with its own 4.2-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 mounted midship, behind the driver and passenger. Elsewhere, Audi borrowed liberally from the Lambo parts bin to create the R8: the four-wheel-drive system is related to that in the Lamborghini Gallardo, as was the semi-automatic R tronic gearbox that was offered initially and the standard six-speed manual gearbox that carries on today. Distinct from the Lambo exotics, the Audi R8 sports an aluminum space frame that gives it an overall length some five inches longer than the Gallardo's--and as a result, it has much more interior space, not to mention a far more logical interior layout.
Even in base form, the R8 offers up stunning straight-line and cornering performance. A tenacious handler, the R8 also has excellent electric power steering and strong brakes. On the safety side, it offers side-impact and curtain airbags, although neither crash-test organization in the U.S. has seen fit to put an R8 through that final exam. In all, TheCarConnection's editors praise the R8 most for its surprising practicality and balanced handling, with reservations expressed for its tiny cargo area and obstructed rearward views. The available rearview camera and parking sensors, which are included on some models, makes backing a bit easier, as does lowering the top on Spyder models.
The R8 carried into the 2009 model year mostly unchanged. Starting in 2010, Audi introduced a string of new versions. The first was a V-10-powered model that drilled out 525 horsepower and dramatically dropped acceleration figures below the four-second mark. A Spyder version was introduced in 2011; fitted with the V-10 engine and the R tronic transmission, and priced well above the R8 V10 coupe's $150,000 sticker, it was the one to have for those who wanted exclusivity. The Spyder's fabric roof is power operated, although the Spyder lost the Coupe's distinctive "sideblade" intake covers in the transition.
For 2012, as a sort of swan song for the pre-face-lift R8, a GT model was offered. It weighed 200 pounds less than a comparable V-10 model and was tuned to 560 horsepower, allowing a 0–60-mph sprint of 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 199 mph. Just 333 R8 GTs were built for sale worldwide, all of them coupes wearing body kits and spoilers for extra downforce.
Audi skipped the 2013 model year entirely, selling the 2012 models through the arrival of the refreshed R8 early in 2013 as a 2014 model. This most recent R8 gets some mild appearance updates and some more significant mechanical changes. At the top of the list is a new S tronic dual-clutch transmission that replaces the previous automated manual (a six-speed manual transmission is still available in most models). This new dual-clutch is exactly what should have been in the R8 all along, offering paddle-shifted manual control while also managing almost psychic levels of automatic-mode predictive downshifts and upshifts based on the driver's use of the brake and throttle. Mild exterior and interior appearance updates came alongside the new S Tronic dual-clutch transmission.
A new V10 Plus model joined the range for 2014, generating 550 horsepower and shaving 110 pounds from the weight of the standard V10 Coupe, but without the extreme edginess or limited sales targets of the R8 GT.
The big news for 2015 is a very small run of special R8s. The R8 Competition is based on the V-10 Plus and makes an additional 20 hp; it's being produced as a tribute to Audi's LMS race cars. The package includes special carbon-fiber trim, a modified aero setup, and other touches. Only 60 will be offered in the U.S. This is the last special R8 of this generation, as the second-gen car is on the way for 2016.
The new 2016 R8 boasts a weight reduction of up to 100 pounds. There is more power from updated V-10 powertrains: 532 hp in the R8 V10 and 602 hp in the V10 Plus; no V-8 model has been mentioned, although it could rejoin the lineup in the future. Unlike most other Audi models, the R8 retains normally aspirated engines. Shifting duties will be handled exclusively by the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic, meaning a manual R8 will no longer be offered.
The 2016 R8 will also bring the long-awaited e-tron model to the range. This electric car will be rear-drive only and have a range of 280 miles from its lithium-ion battery pack. The rear motors will provide 456 horsepower and 679 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, Audi will build very few of them, and the model is not likely to reach the U.S., at least in this first iteration.
Audi has debuted an LMS racing version of the new R8, which has been designed to compete in the GT3 class. It is powered by a 5.2-liter V-10 similar to the road car's, but it sends power only to the rear wheels. The new racing R8 will begin racing in 2016 competitions.