- Gobs of V-10 power
- Track-ready handling
- Comfortable enough for everyday driving
- No manual transmission
- Little storage space
- Vision astern is obstructed
The 2017 Audi R8 balances thrilling power and handling with everyday livability.
Before a production version of the Audi R8 ever existed, racing fans were very familiar with it. Audi began racing the R8 Prototype at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2000, winning in its first time out and building a legacy of excellence over the next five years. The production car followed in 2008, proving Audi could build a sleek, mid-engine machine with the looks and performance of a supercar.
Now Audi is releasing the second-generation R8 as a 2017 model. It's a stunning performance car with muscular, naturally aspirated power, excellent handling, and a stunning cockpit with a wide-screen digital display unlike anything else on the road.
With its combination of style, on-road comfort, power, and track-ready handling, the 2017 Audi R8 is a worthy competitor for the likes of the McLaren 650S, Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, Porsche 911 Turbo, and even the Chevrolet Corvette Z06. A less-expensive base model, likely to be added later in the model year, will only expand its appeal.
On our scale to 10, the R8 earns an overall score of 8.4. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Audi R8 styling and performance
The new R8’s looks are an evolution of the stunning first-generation model. It has the low-slung stance of a supercar, with the cab pushed forward and the coupe body sloping back in a continuous arch to the rear spoiler. Audi has put a greater emphasis on horizontal lines, making the car 1.6 inches wider, and giving the sides wider shoulders. Those shoulders now interrupt the familiar side blades, making these design flourishes two pieces each instead of one. The grille is also flatter and wider, and its trapezoidal shape creates a natural flow into the wedge-shaped LED headlights.
The R8 is built on the Modular Sportscar System (MSS) platform that also underpins the Huracan from corporate partner Lamborghini. A mostly aluminum spaceframe, MSS also uses carbon fiber to provide extra rigidity to the firewall and central tunnel. The structure is about 70 pounds lighter than that of the outgoing R8, contributing to an overall weight loss of roughly 110 pounds. It also boasts 40 percent more torsional stiffness, thanks in part to a pair of X braces, one on top of the engine and one behind it.
The R8 is initially offered in V10 and V10 Plus models. Both come with updated versions of the 5.2-liter V-10 engine. Horsepower is now 540 for the V10 and 610 for the V10 plus. Audi says fuel economy improves by 13 percent due to the addition of cylinder deactivation and a sailing feature that eliminates engine braking at low speeds.
While the outgoing model also offers a 4.2-liter V-8, the 2017 R8 does not. Audi’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 or a smaller force-fed engine may be offered in the future. Likewise, the 6-speed manual transmission also doesn’t return. That leaves just Audi’s S Tronic 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox as standard equipment.
A supercar is about performance, and the R8 delivers. The V-10 rockets the car from 0 to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds in the V10 model and just over 3 seconds in the V10 Plus. The power is ever-present and relentless when you get on the throttle, but the engine is also docile when the Audi Drive Select system is in the Comfort or Auto modes. The revs stay high in Dynamic mode and a launch control feature lets drivers repeat those quick 0 to 60 mph times over and over again.
Audi’s S Tronic transmission is appropriate for a supercar. Like the engine, the shifts are relaxed in Comfort or Auto and crisp and quick in the Dynamic mode. You’ll go around a track faster using this transmission than a manual, but we still pine for the gated metal shifter of the first-gen R8.
Notable options include an active dynamic steering with variable assist and variable ratios, and 20-inch wheels.
The EPA rates the coupe at 14 mpg city, 22 highway, 17 combined, while the Spyder manages the same numbers.
R8 comfort, safety, and features
The R8’s unique combination of advanced engineering and luxury amenities make it a supercar that can be driven every day. The ride is amazingly supple for a car with the R8’s track capability, especially with the magnetic ride dampers.
The seating position is a bit upright, creating excellent front sight lines, and the cabin is finished with Audi levels of care. That translates to quality materials, impeccable fit and finish, and the latest electronics. Among those features is an updated MMI infotainment system with the brand's new virtual cockpit, which moves the information screen from the center stack to the instrument panel.
No crash-test data exists, and to be frank, trying to see out from the R8 is a chore. We recommend the removal of its roof.
The 2017 R8 V10 is well-equipped with such features as nappa leather and black Alcantara headliners, heated 18-way, power-adjustable sport seats, LED interior lighting, Audi’s MMI Plus with Navigation infotainment system, magnetic ride damper control, and 19-inch alloy wheels. The V10 Plus adds racing bucket seats and carbon ceramic brakes, but gives up the magnetic ride dampers for stiffer shocks and steel springs.
2017 Audi R8
An evolution of the original, the 2017 R8 has the sleek, sexy looks of a supercar.
The first-generation R8 was a striking car that stirred the souls of enthusiasts. Instead of changing that proven formula, Audi has made the second-generation R8 an evolution of the first.
The R8 gets all our points here for a maximum, perfect score of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
It keeps the same low-slung stance, with the cab pushed forward and the coupe body sloping back all the way to the tail. However, Audi has put a greater emphasis on width, making the car 1.6 inches wider, visually lengthening the horizontal lines, and giving the car wider shoulders. The R8's most notable character trait, the side blades, are now two pieces instead of one. The lower portion of each side blade includes a functional air intake.
Other details are changed as well. The "singleframe" grille is flatter and wider, and it takes on a 3-D shape. The grille’s trapezoidal outline creates a natural flow into the wedge-shaped LED headlights. At the back, LED taillights echo the shape of the headlights.
The R8 is initially offered in V10 and V10 Plus models. The V10 Plus has several unique elements. The side blades are carbon fiber, and so is the fixed spoiler. The V10 has a body color active spoiler that raises at speed. The Plus also has carbon fiber front and rear diffusers and black exhaust outlets.
2017 Audi R8
Standard all-wheel drive aids the hunkered-down handling and puts the R8 V-10's relentless power to the pavement.
First and foremost, the R8 is a supercar, and that means it's about power and performance. However, it is also a surprisingly comfortable cruiser. With the Drive Mode Select system in the Comfort or Auto modes, the suspension does a surprisingly good job of soaking up bumps and ruts.
We've given it a 10 here for outstanding drivetrain performance, ride and handling, and a point for being exceptional. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Choose the Dynamic or Performance modes (the latter shuts off the traction control and lets the driver optimize the traction in wet, dry, or snow conditions), and the R8 becomes a track-ready weapon.
By the numbers, the V-10 makes 540 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque in the R8 V10; 610 hp and 413 lb-ft in the R8 V10 Plus. Both are mated exclusively to a 7-speed automatic and Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Drive the R8 hard into a corner, and the first thing you notice is the quick turn-in response. The available active dynamic steering is quick and precise, but we would prefer a bit more weight. Maintain speed through the turn and the relentless grip of the Pirelli P Zero tires becomes obvious. When they do finally give up traction, handling is neutral, reacting according to the driver’s inputs. Enter a turn too quickly and it will push forward rather than rotate unless you can keep the nose down with a touch of the brakes. Kick the throttle too hard mid-corner and the rear end will step out like a rear-drive car. However, at this point the all-wheel-drive system can send power to the front wheels to help you drive out of the slide.
We’ve only piloted the V10 Plus model, which comes with big carbon ceramic brakes. As expected, they provide very willing stopping power, though they require a light touch on the street.
Like the dynamic character, the engine and transmission can be relaxed for street use or at the ready for track duty. In the Comfort or Auto modes Audi's S Tronic dual-clutch gearbox executes relaxed shifts that are perfect for everyday driving. Opt for Dynamic mode, however, and it holds lower gears, keeping the revs up high, and making throttle response immediate. This is an advanced, modern transmission, but we’re sad to see the manual go.
In any mode and at any speed, the V-10 has power to spare. There is no swell of power like in a turbocharged or supercharged car. Instead, power delivery is linear and constant. Standard all-wheel drive and a launch control feature put the power down efficiently, making it easy to achieve Audi’s 0-to-62 mph estimates of 3.5 seconds for the V10 model and 3.2 seconds for the V10 Plus. After that dash, the power keeps building to a top speed of 199 mph for the V10 and 205 mph for the V10 Plus.
2017 Audi R8
Comfort & Quality
The R8 sports a quality cockpit with exemplary materials but lacks storage space.
The R8’s cabin is small but comfortable and adorned with premium materials. We give it a score of 8 here, not at all for its utility (there isn't much), but for the overwhelmingly high-buck feel its leathers and metals create. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The V10 Plus model features full leather upholstery on the seats and dashboard, carbon fiber trim, aluminum pedals, and an Alcantara headliner. The stitching on the doors and dashboard is done in two colors, black and body color, which we find to be a nice touch. The cars we've driven also have had an attractive diamond pattern on both the seats and headliner. Taken together, and given Audi’s ability to build quality interiors for the mass market, the R8’s interior is among the finest in its class.
Like other supercars, the R8 has very little space for occupants and their stuff. It seats only two, but the occupants have plenty of room. The standard sport seats are comfortable and supportive, and their bolsters can be adjusted to hold all types of occupants in place, skinny and wide alike. The racing buckets in the V10 Plus are thinner, allowing for more leg room, but the seatbacks don’t adjust so they aren’t as comfortable to our tastes.
In either type of seat, the driver sits more upright than in most supercars, and that aids a better view to the front. Vision to the rear, especially at the sides, however, is obstructed by the sloping roofline.
While the occupants are comfortable, the cabin is also painfully short of small items storage, and the front trunk is just big enough for a pair of soft overnight bags.
2017 Audi R8
The R8 will probably never be crash tested, but a strong aluminum and carbon fiber spaceframe protects occupants.
The NHTSA and the IIHS don’t generally crash-test sports cars or supercars. The volume is just too low to justify the expense, and it would be a darn shame to purposely crash anything as pretty as the R8. With that mind, don’t expect the R8 to ever be crash tested—or rated here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
However, the R8 does have some features that should make it safe. The aluminum and carbon fiber spaceframe is even stronger than before, and that bodes well for its robustness in collisions. The car also comes with two front airbags, a pair of side thorax airbags, and two roof-mounted head-protecting airbags.
Other safety equipment is available as well. A rearview camera is standard, and that’s important because rear vision is almost nonexistent. Front and rear parking sensors also are offered.
2017 Audi R8
Audi's new virtual cockpit puts the controls and readouts in front of the driver.
The Audi R8 sports an impressive set of standard features with an equally impressive starting price: more than $163,000.
We give it a score of 9, for that roster of stuff, and points for standout features like its full-screen "virtual cockpit." (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The V-10 model comes with interior niceties such as nappa leather and black Alcantara headliner, heated 18-way, power-adjustable sport seats, LED lighting, and the next generation of Audi’s Multi-Media Interface system, dubbed MMI Plus, which includes navigation. A Bang & Olufsen audio system with 13 speakers and 550 watts is standard.
Mechanical bits include Audi’s magnetic ride damper control and 19-inch alloy wheels. Options include active dynamic steering with variable assist and ratios, and 20-inch wheels.
The R8 V10 Plus is positioned more for track duty. It will forgo the magnetic dampers for stiffer shocks and steel springs. Carbon ceramic brakes—15 inches in diameter up front and 14 in the rear—are standard as well, and inside it gets racing bucket seats with a fixed seat back position.
Audi R8 infotainment
The biggest change for the 2017 R8 interior is the introduction of Audi’s new Virtual Cockpit. Instead of a center screen, it has a 12.3-inch screen in the instrument panel. Together with the numerous steering wheel buttons, it keeps most of the controls directly in front of the driver.
The virtual cockpit can be controlled via the familiar dial on the center console or through or a group of buttons on the left side of the steering wheel. The screen is configurable, allowing drivers to choose which type of information they want to see, and a View button on the steering wheel allows features such as the Google Earth-powered navigation system to be shown on the full screen.
We have mixed feelings after our first exposure to the new MMI system and its virtual cockpit. The screen is easy to see and anyone familiar with MMI will be able to work the controls, but right seat passengers won’t have access to the radio and other systems, and entering menus of one system, such as the phone, might mean you can’t see the navigation system for a short time. There’s plenty of room for a center screen. Why not use two screens?
2017 Audi R8
Predictably, the Audi R8 V-10 drinks gas, but it's more efficient this time around.
Three main changes have improved the R8’s fuel economy by an estimated 13 percent while also cleaning up emissions ever so slightly. In addition to last year’s high-pressure direct injection, Audi has added port injection, which provides better emissions at startup and allows the computer to choose which type of injection works best for the throttle demands.
The addition of cylinder deactivation is the main contributor to the 2017 R8’s improved fuel economy. Under light engine loads, it shuts down five cylinders. It can use either cylinder bank to power the car, and when the deactivated bank dips below optimal operating temperature, the system can switch banks. Audi has also added a sailing feature that eliminates engine braking during low-speed cruising when the Audi Drive Select system is in "Comfort" mode.
These changes won’t make the 2017 Audi R8 fuel efficient. The EPA rates the coupe at 14 mpg city, 22 highway, 17 combined, while the Spyder manages the same numbers. That merits a score of 5 on our green scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)