► New Audi R8 Coupe and Spyder
► Facelift, with suspension tweaks
► ... and still naturally-aspirated!
Audi has given its R8 supercar a mid-life refresh, with increases to power and torque that push all variants over the 200mph border for the first time. As before, Coupe and Spyder versions are available, with a V10 engine in one of two states of tune, and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox the only transmission.
Prices start from ‘approximately’ £128,200 for the entry-level coupe, rising to £150k or so for the V10 Performance Spyder. First UK deliveries begin in spring 2019.
So what’s changed on the 2019 Audi R8?
Exterior changes are subtle, but include a wider, flatter front grille, three little slits at the front of the bonnet that recall the Ur Quattro, and there’s a new, wider front splitter and more upswept rear diffuser. There are a couple of new colours (Kemora Grey, Ascari Blue), new 19-inch alloys (20s for the V10 Performance) and some optional high-gloss carbon/glossy black trinkets for the bodywork. Mostly it just looks a little lower and more lantern-jawed at the front. The interior is unchanged.
The engineers have, however, fiddled with the double-wishbone suspension – though spring and damper hardware carries over – and there’s a new optional front anti-roll bar in carbonfibre and aluminium that saves 2kg. Audi had the standard and optional items on display, with the former feeling like a chunk of lead piping in comparison. All cars we drove got the special anti-roll bar. The changes are said to complement both the standard electromechanical and optional Dynamic steering (both of which have software changes), and the steps between the different driving modes – Comfort, Auto and Dynamic – are said to be more pronounced.
Please tell me the R8 hasn’t gone turbo…
The R8 hasn’t gone turbo. The naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 lives on with a chunk of extra performance and torque thanks to ECU re-mapping. The standard model now produces 533bhp at a screaming 8250rpm, an increase of 30bhp. Torque rises by 7lb ft to 406lb ft, again at a high 6500rpm.
What was previously known as the V10 Plus becomes the V10 Performance. Its 612bhp/428lb ft is an increase of 10bhp and 15lb ft respectively, which Audi attributes to a revised valvetrain with titanium components as well as fresh ECU mapping. It means the V10 Performance coupe can accelerate from zero to 62mph in 3.1 seconds and reach 206mph – one tenth and 1mph up on the old car.
The Spyder achieves 3.0sec and 205mph. But, an engineer tell us the power figures are low-ball – maybe this is post-dieselgate conservatism, maybe it’s to protect the Lamborghini Huracan (the base model Lambos are now slower, though the Performante is still ahead), but either way we’re told the typical figures are 5% up. Let’s call it about 650bhp then.
The standard coupe isn’t sluggish at 3.4 seconds and 201mph, with the Spyder again a tenth and 1mph off those benchmarks. Expect comparable mpg and CO2 emissions to the previous model, though the new car will be tested in line with the new WLTP regulations and the figures weren’t available in time for our drive.
All versions come with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and all-wheel drive. We asked the engineers if the rear-wheel drive RWS will re-appear, which caused much ‘I must check with my colleagues in marketing’. This seemed very promising.
What’s it like to drive?
Caveat time: with homologation still pending, we were restricted to track driving in the V10 Performance Coupe at the Ascari circuit in Spain. We were also driving on Michelin Cup 2 tyres – stickier tyres normally found on the 911 GT3, Ferrari Pista and other track-bred projectiles. They are optional, but Audi can’t tell us which markets they’ll be offered in – so, they might not even come to the UK.
Does it feel even faster and hungrier at high revs? Possibly, but then I’d never driven an R8 on track – an environment where you’re constantly wringing out an engine for all its worth. So, gains in performance aren’t immediately obvious, but the V10 continues to be a majestic unit that defines this driving experience – the R8 really is a viscerally quick machine.
It is, of course, less enthusiastic at lower revs and less able to cover your mistakes when you’re in a gear too high than a turbo rival, but we’re not complaining – the V10’s crispness of response, searing power delivery and fearsome acceleration will never have you drumming fingers on the dashtop. Mix in an exotic soundtrack of cultured low-rpm purrs and white-hot high-rpm fireworks and you’ve got a powerplant that not only make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, but waxes them clean off too. The turbocharged McLaren 570S and 600LT cannot come close to this kind of excitement.
The dual-clutch transmission is blessed with a huge bandwidth – the first- to second-gear upshift at full revs and full power has a likeable mechanical violence, and yet you can drop it in auto and mooch about silkily. If anything, the transitions between higher gears at race speed could have a little more definition and character, but they’re certainly smooth, quick and extremely effective.
On track, the R8 strikes a good balance between traction and a neutral to slightly understeery balance on a steady throttle through faster corners. This provides not only high limits, but also a good feel for the outer edge of those limits. But the mid-engined layout also allows you to use the not inconsiderable weight of the V10 to playfully adjust the rear end under braking or with well-timed lifts off the throttle – it gives the R8 a multi-dimensional, highly reactive feel. The stability control Sport mode lets you exploit all this without clumsy intervention too.
A McLaren 570S does feel lighter, more nimble and more tactile, but the R8 makes for a secure, fast but still engaging way to get yourself around a circuit. The carbon-ceramic brakes also proved very capable, though the pedal went a little soft after a few hot laps –firmer initial feedback wouldn’t go amiss.
How did you get on with the Dynamic steering?
Both the regular steering system and the optional Dynamic alternative have been fettled via adjustments to software. We’d stick with the standard system, which has a weightier, more consistent feel, something that added a sense of support and feedback through some of Ascari’s long, fast corners. That said, the faster-paced Dynamic set-up is far from off-putting, and there’s no doubt it adds to the sense of agility through lower-speed flicks of direction – I wouldn’t discount an otherwise perfect used model with the system fitted.
New Audi R8 (2019): verdict
A track test on Cup 2 tyres isn’t the best environment to pick up on nuanced differences between old R8 and new. But we do know that the Audi R8 remains the ultimate daily supercar, one blessed with a unique mix of attributes too: a howling old-school V10, the security of all-wheel drive, a cabin that’s high on refinement and technology, and pricing that undercuts mid-engined rivals.
Lamborghini’s Huracan might come close because the two are based on the same architecture, but the Italian’s interior and infotainment lag behind, it’s costlier too, and you don’t get the benefit of all those Audi dealerships to turn to. Once again, though, we suspect the purer rear-wheel-drive R8 will be the one to have, if they do indeed build it.
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