When Audi facelifted the R8 supercar in July 2012, it also announced a lighter, tuned-up flagship version: the R8 V10 Plus we’re driving here. Is £130,000 too big a price tag for an Audi-badged car to carry? Read on for the CAR verdict.
An underwhelming name for an exceptional car
RS, GTO, SV, CSL: evocative tags reserved for the hardest, fastest, most performance-focused models from the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini. So with all the good names seemingly taken, Audi’s Quattro tuning division has been forced to make do and label its hottest R8 as… the ‘Plus’.
Hardly heart-racing stuff, but although this new range-topping R8 has been born from a minor facelift (standard LED lights, extra kit for the V8 variants, not much else of note) it’s the first of many Plus models to come from Quattro, all of which will get more power, less weight and unique chassis settings.
What has been changed for the Audi R8 V10 to earn its ‘Plus’ moniker?
For this coupe-only R8 Plus, that means the 5.2-litre V10 is cranked up to 542bhp, the ceramic brakes, bucket seats and carbonfibre parts (like the front spoiler, rear diffuser and sideblades) trim away 50kg, and Plus-specific suspension means revised spring and damper rates. It’s £12k more than a standard 518bhp R8 V10, on which the seats and brakes alone are options worth £9500. Plus (sorry) it’s only 10bhp down on the outgoing limited-edition 552bhp R8 GT, but £20k cheaper. It’s almost a bargain.
Moreover, the GT was handicapped by its sole gearbox option, a jerky automated manual. But that clunky R-tronic ’box has now been replaced (across the whole range) by a seven-speed twin-clutch S-tronic, and although the R8’s visual mid-life revisions are minor, a huge amount of work has gone on under the skin to make the new transmission fit. At £2900, the S-tronic is £2410 cheaper than its two-pedal predecessor, meaning even in the manual-mad UK just 18% of R8 customers will choose to shift with a stick. Shame.
Does the new S-tronic gearbox improve the R8 driving experience?
There’s no arguing with progress: the new ’box causes none of the Churchill dog head-bobbing that afflicted the ponderous R-tronic. It’s on par for both smoothness and speed with the twin-clutch units in the Ferrari 458 and McLaren 12C, and way ahead of the Mercedes SLS. A Sport setting uses lower gears and holds onto them longer, or if you’re in Manual mode it stops the ’box changing up at the redline or downshifting when you floor it, leaving you to control everything via larger wheel-mounted paddles.
The rest of the R8’s recipe remains as superb as ever. It’s sublimely balanced, four-wheel-drive ensuring impeccable traction, but with a rear-biased torque split so it never feels like all four tyres are being driven. There’s no switchable Drive Select system to corrupt the sweet steering and it’s both easy to drive slowly and rewarding to drive fast.
There’s nothing better this side of a Ferrari 458. The only downside is the Plus’s firmer (and fixed-rate) suspension, which doesn’t have the fluency of the magnetic system on the regular V10. So as magnificent as the R8 Plus is, we’d spend our (wholly theoretical) cash on an R8 V10 Spyder.