Audi hasn’t messed with a winning formula, while that V10 remains a masterpiece

There’s a new Porsche 911 lurking around the corner, so it’s no surprise to find Audi has given its R8 a bit of a midlife refresh. It hasn’t gone mad with this update, limiting the changes to a fraction more power, a sharper steering set-up. There are some visual changes too, with the already eye-catching aggressive design given extra edge.

So subtle have been the styling tweaks that externally new R8 looks much the same as the old one. Look closely and you’ll spot the trio of vents above the grille and the reprofiled bumper that features larger air intakes and more prominent strakes and turning vanes – all allegedly inspired by its GT3 racing counterpart. As before, the standard car gets an electrically operated rear spoiler that rises and speed, while the Performance model (which replaces the Plus) gets a fixed unit. There’s a similarly subtle update at the rear, where the LEDs get a new light signature and there’s a full width gloss black grille.

Technical highlights

Essentially, the new R8 is largely unchanged over its predecessor, which means its still underpinned by the same Audi Space Frame (ASF) structure that employs aluminium and carbon fibre reinforced polymer for greater strength and lightness. Off this hangs the familiar double wishbone suspension that’s enhanced with standard adaptive dampers. The revisions made to the chassis are geometry based rather than spring and damper rates, which are untouched.

What has changed is the steering, with both the standard electro mechanical and the optional dynamic set-ups getting a faster rack. The latter has been extensively recalibrated, but retains its variable ratio nature, quickening or slackening its rate of response depending on speed, load and a number of other factors. Interestingly, when you lock the car in its Performance mode (there’s also Auto, Efficiency, Dynamic and Individual) it locks the rack into its quickest setting.

Available for the first time as an official option is a Michelin Cup 2 tyre, which was first introduced on the R8 RWS (the standard rubber is Pilot Super Sport 4S). Developed for the quattro R8, the extra sticky rubber required a subtle remap of the ESP, as much to take account of the extra braking performance as for any increase in lateral grip. Carbon ceramic brakes remain an option, the 380mm front discs replacing the standard 365mm cast iron items (the rear diameter remain 356mm regardless of material) and saving just over 15kg of unsprung mass. Speaking of which, there’s now the option of an aluminium carbon fibre reinforced front anti-roll bar that shaves a further 2kg of the overall weight – although it’s no stiffer that standard steel item.

Engine, transmission and 0-100km/h

Carried over from the old car is the stunning naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10, but some rummaging around in the ECU has liberated an extra 7.5kW, taking power to a heady 457kW (420Nm in the non-Performance model) delivered at 8000rpm, it will rev to 8700rpm before the limiter steps. Peak torque is 580Nm at a heady 6500rpm, but short gearing means this isn’t the problem you’d think.

Of course it’s fast, rocketing form standstill to 100km/h in 3.1 seconds, while the top speed is an impressive and yet irrelevant 330km/h.

The mighty V10 is matched to a transmission that’s happy to help you indulge in the engine’s insatiable appetite for hard work. The seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch fires home ratios fast and slickly, while downchanges are reported with neatly executed blip of the throttle – it’s a shame the paddles are so small and cheap feeling. Leave it to its own devices and it will mooch with the best of them, shifting up early and smoothly.

Connected to this is the brand’s quattro four-wheel drive. Effectively a back-to-front Haldex set-up, it can vary torque to suit conditions, even sending plenty to the back axle for some lairy corner exit entertainment if that’s your thing.

What’s it like to drive?

I’d be lying if I said a few laps of the Ascari circuit was enough to deliver a definitive verdict on the new R8, but it was enough to confirm that it feels a lot like the old one. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the R8 has always been an entertaining Audi.

It hares down the straights, the V10’s spine-tingling war cry trailing in its wake. Throttle response is instant, helping you dish out just as much power and torque as you need – there’s no sudden, unwelcome rush of turbocharged torque here. It helps you to make the most of the R8’s natural balance as you ask it to tuck in here and step out a little there. What you do notice is the quickness of the steering, particularly with the dynamic set-up that changes ratio and response depending on load, speed and so on.

If anything it’s too quick to respond, combining with the Cup 2’s sticky grip to unsettle the balance and creating some nervousness on turn-in that’s compounded by that pendulous V10 behind your shoulder. Better bet is to stick with the standard steering, which offsets its fractionally slower reactions with a more natural rate of response that allows you to load up the car progressively.

Trail the brakes on corner entry and the rear will move round nicely and a bootful of throttle gives the four-wheel drive a chance to send torque rearward and have you exiting the bend with a lovely flourish of oversteer. JAMES DISDALE