Audi overhauls the R8 – but is it competitive enough?

May 2007 and the Audi R8 was a month away from its UK launch. I sneaked a peak of the first right-hand drive car in the UK and signed an order within the hour. Then the doubts started to set in.

The R8 appealed as an everyday sports car, more expensive than a 911 but much cheaper (to buy and run) than the Ferrari F430 that I’d previously owned.

I was running a B7 RS4 Avant at the time and my first taste of the R8 was of a car that despite its exotic looks, felt slower than the business-like (and considerably cheaper) RS4. I opted for a manual R8 because the £5,200 (paddle shift) R Tronic box was clumsy and outdated – another puzzling chink in the R8’s armoury.

Five years of the Audi R8 – a short film showing the numerous R8 variants on road and track.

While I waited for my car to arrive, I borrowed a £45,000 V8-engined S5 and was struck by how dated the R8’s dials and controls were compared to its £30,000 cheaper sibling.

Eventually the doubts outweighed the R8’s initial appeal, and just weeks before its scheduled build slot I cancelled my order.

Since then I’ve had the opportunity to bond with the R8 during numerous group tests, enjoying it easy-to-live-with demeanour, but every time we’ve pitched it against Porsche’s benchmark 911 it’s come away with a bloody nose.

Much slower in a straight line (R8 V8 vs 911 C2S), too heavy on the track and that ever-present suspicion that Audi was milking the heritage of its Le Mans winning namesake but underperforming where it really counts – in its performance and driving appeal. Yes, the R8 is a great car to drive, but the competition is even stronger and in the case of Porsche’s 911, BMW’s M6 and Nissan’s GT-R far better value.

So now, 5 years later, Audi has finally updated the R8. Let’s see what they’ve changed.

The 2013 Audi R8

Let’s cut to the chase.

Three improvements which the R8 was crying out for in a revamp were; better performance (for the V8 models), switches and dials befitting a flagship model and less weight. Then of course the R Tronic gearbox was an embarrassment, so that was long overdue for replacement.

The good news is Audi are offering a completely new 7-speed S tronic (double clutch) gearbox – standard on the V10, or as an option on V8 models. The car maker claims a reduction in CO2 emissions by up to 22g/km, and of course its faster by around three-tenths of a second to 62mph.

There’s also a new more focused R8 V10 plus model with 542bhp (almost 25bhp up on the regular V10) and 50 kg less weight to carry. The R8 Plus provides slightly more torque – 398 lb-ft vs 390 lb-ft – which reduces the R8’s 0-62mph time to 3.5sec (down from 3.6 seconds) as well as increasing its top speed to 197mph (from 196mph).

Weight saving on the V10 Plus (available only as a coupé) has been achieved by fitting carbon fibre ceramic brake disks (optional on other R8s), while carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) is used for the front splitter, outside mirror housings, side blades, rear diffuser and lateral air inlets.

The fastest R8 also features adjustable glass fibre reinforced plastic bucket seats, reduced insulating materials, lightweight chassis components and special alloy wheels. The V10 Plus’ suspension has also been tuned with special springs and shock absorbers and a more aggressive camber setting on the front axle.

In some respects the new 2013 R8 range now addresses many of the original car’s shortcomings – performance of the V10 Plus now matches the car’s supercar looks, it’s slightly lighter (although still a rather portly 1570 kg) and that R Tronic automated manual box has now been replaced with something to rival Porsche’s PDK and BMW’s DCT systems.

But what about the remaining issues which irked some customers (including myself) and made us question why we were paying £30,000 to £40,000 more than similarly configured models in Audi’s range?

Interior

In case you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, I’ve added a picture showing R8’s interior and how it compares to other S and RS model Audis. The R8 uses the same switchgear as the much cheaper TT and remains a full generation behind those used in the RS4, S Q5 and every other model in the range.

It looked dated in 2007 and when you’re paying considerably more than those lesser models, it takes something of a shine off that range-topping experience.

It makes no difference to the R8’s driving appeal, but when you consider most people spending upwards of £90,000 do so for reasons of image and prestige, it feels like a glaring omission.

Engines

Audi offer three available engine options in the 2013 R8, the 424bhp 4.2-litre V8 (as used in the RS 4 and RS 5), the 518bhp 5.2-litre V10 and of course the 542bhp V10 Plus.

But with the RS 4 and RS 5 now providing 444bhp, you’re bound to be asking what on earth Audi are doing offering 20bhp less in the R8. While the R8 V8 is lighter than the £30,000 cheaper RS 5 (1560 kg vs 1715kg), it’s still nearly 100kg heavier than the 394bhp 911 Carrera S, which coincidentally offers 10Nm more torque than the R8 (440Nm vs 430Nm).

While Audi boast about the improvements made to the V8’s efficiency and emissions, the R8’s combined consumption of 22.8mpg (with S Tronic) looks positively profligate alongside the 911’s 32.5mpg (mit PDK). Likewise the 911’s CO2 emissions of 205 g/km make the R8 V8’s 289 g/km seem from the dark ages.

As with the R8’s switchgear, you get the feeling that someone in Ingolstadt is deliberately cutting corners with the R8, focusing more on the company’s balance sheet than the value being offered to customers.

Facelift

The one area the R8 didn’t need improving was its looks – yet that’s precisely where it seems most of the updates have been applied. New LED headlights are now standard on all R8 variants, using light-emitting diodes for both high and low beams. They’re brighter, give more contrast and emit a light similar to daylight so are said to be less tiring on your eyes.

These slot within a revised front bumper with optional splitter (standard on the V10 Plus).

For the first time, the rear LED indicators also feature the new and innovative sweeping indicator function powered by a dynamic array which ensures its light always proceeds towards the outside, in the direction the driver wishes to turn.

Other visible changes include a new ‘R8’ logo design, restyled rear diffuser and rounded single exhaust pipes in each corner – now identical on both V8 and V10 models (painted black on the V10 plus).

2013 Audi R8 – Pricing and technical specification

Engine Variant Power (bhp) Transmission CO2 Comb. mpg Price (OTR)

4.2 FSI  (V8)

Coupe

424

 manual

332

19.9

£91,575

4.2 FSI  (V8)

Coupe

424

 S tronic

289

22.8

£94,475

5.2 FSI  (V10)

 Coupe

518

 manual

346

19.0

£112,675

5.2 FSI  (V10)

 Coupe

518

 S tronic

305

21.6

£115,575

5.2 FSI (V10 plus)

 Coupe

542

 manual

346

19.0

£124,675

5.2 FSI (V10 plus)

 Coupe

542

 S tronic

299

21.9

£127,575

4.2 FSI  (V8)

Spyder

424

 manual

337

19.6

£100,225

4.2 FSI  (V8)

Spyder

424

 S tronic

294

22.4

£103,125

5.2 FSI  (V10)

Spyder

518

 manual

349

19.0

£121,325

5.2 FSI  (V10)

Spyder

518

 S tronic

310

21.9

£124,225

With Porsche’s 911 Carrera S tipping the balance at £81,242, this is now another factor where the R8 underperforms against its competitors – Audi’s super car is beginning to carry the price (if not the performance) to match its looks.

No doubt the changes for the 2013 model year make the R8 a more desirable proposition than ever, but it could (and should) have been so much more, not least to allay the nagging suspicion that Vorsprung durch Technik is beginning to be less about technological advancement and more about looks.

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