The Car Connection Audi R8 Overview
The Audi R8 is a two-door sports car that joined the Audi lineup in the 2008 model year. Offered over time as a coupe and as a convertible, with either V-8 or V-10 power, the R8 skipped the 2016 model year—and returns for 2017 with a new design and V-10 power.
The Audi R8 shares its genetics with Lamborghini's Huracan, but the R8 is distinctively German. Both are very capable 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. For 2018, the R8 is mostly unchanged. A new Black Optic appearance package peppers in black styling elements, LED headlights are now standard on the R8 V10 Plus, and as part of a greater shift toward emphasizing the Audi Sport brand, that nameplate is now festooned to the R8's grille.
MORE: Read our 2018 Audi R8 review
The new Audi R8
The second-generation R8 went 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, 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 latest R8 is based on the Volkswagen Group’s new Modular Sportscar System (MSS) aluminum space-frame, which is reinforced with carbon fiber in key areas such as 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 horsepower 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 have forced induction. Shifting duties are handled exclusively by Audi’s 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission in both models. (It's worth mentioning that the V10 Plus model won't have any forward overdrive cogs in its gearbox, which makes it a true trackday special.)
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 standard rearview camera and parking sensors make backing up and parking the car easier.
For 2018, the R8 gains a new Black Optic appearance package that has dark-finish alloy wheels, a black side blade on V10 models, and a few more hints in, predictably, black. LED headlights are now standard on the V10 Plus and optional on the V10, while Audi Sport badging replaces the Quattro badge formerly affixed to the sports car's grille.
Audi R8 history
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-hp 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 6-speed manual gearbox. Distinct from the Lambo exotics, the Audi R8 sported an aluminum space-frame 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 hp and dramatically dropped acceleration figures below the 4-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-facelift R8, a GT model was offered. It weighed 200 pounds less than a comparable V-10 model and was tuned to 560 hp, 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 6-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 hp 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 was offered as Audi prepared to release the 2017 model.