New & Used Audi R8: In Depth
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The second-generation Audi R8 goes on sale in early 2016 as a 2017 model, offered only as a coupe with a V-10 engine. Standard all-wheel drive returns, but the V-8 of the last generation is gone, though it will likely be replaced by a new smaller engine, possibly a turbocharged five-cylinder, within a year or so of the car’s release. The convertible body style will also return about a year after the debut of the coupe. Unfortunately, Audi has no plans to bring back the manual transmission, but the long-awaited all-electric e-tron R8 should arrive in 2017, though probably not on these shores.
The R8 shares its genetics with Lamborghini's Huracan, but the R8 is distinctively German. Both are amazing mid-engine supercars, but the R8 puts more emphasis on everyday drivability. Still, with its handsome, somewhat reserved good looks, the two-seat sports car hides impressive performance.
MORE: Read our 2017 Audi R8 review
The 2017 R8 is based on the Volkswagen Group’s new Modular Sportscar System (MSS) aluminum spaceframe, which is reinforced with carbon fiber in key areas like the central tunnel and firewall. This, along with other measures, helps the car save about 110 pounds. There is more power from updated V-10 powertrains: 540 hp in the R8 V10 and 610 hp in the V10 Plus. The V-10 also delivers 13 percent better fuel economy thanks to the addition of port fuel injection (it already had direct injection) and cylinder deactivation. Unlike most other Audi models, the R8 retains normally aspirated engines, but the forthcoming base engine will probably be force fed. Shifting duties are handled exclusively by Audi’s seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission.
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, as well as a very rigid body structure. As a supercar, don’t expect the R8 to be crash-tested. In all, we 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 make backing up a bit easier.
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 was related to that in the Lamborghini Gallardo, as were the semi-automatic R tronic gearbox and the standard six-speed manual gearbox. Distinct from the Lambo exotics, the Audi R8 sported an aluminum spaceframe that gave it an overall length some five inches longer than the Gallardo's--and as a result, much more interior space, not to mention a far more logical interior layout.
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 was power operated, though 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. That car received some mild appearance updates and some more significant mechanical changes. At the top of the list was a new S tronic dual-clutch transmission that replaced the previous automated manual (a six-speed manual transmission was still offered). This dual-clutch was 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.
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.
For 2015 Audi offered a very small run of special R8s. The R8 Competition was based on the V10 Plus and made an additional 20 hp. It was produced as a tribute to Audi's LMS race cars. The package included special carbon-fiber trim, a modified aero setup, and other touches. Only 60 were offered in the U.S.
No 2016 model will be offered as Audi sells down the 2015 and prepares to release the 2017 model.
The long-rumored e-tron 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 its 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 2017 model was developed in tandem with the LMS car.