Audi's second- generation R8 is a clever update

The new Audi R8 is more angular, with a rear deck that slopes more gently and stretches farther back.
The new Audi R8 is more angular, with a rear deck that slopes more gently and stretches farther back. PHOTO: AUDI
The new Audi R8 is more angular, with a rear deck that slopes more gently and stretches farther back.
The new Audi R8 is more angular, with a rear deck that slopes more gently and stretches farther back. PHOTO: AUDI

In 2007, an almost alien styling of the then-new Audi R8 drew gasps and polarised opinion. Eight years later, Audi's first production mid- engined sports car is still an extraordinary work of mobile art.

And its newly unveiled successor is just as stunning, if not more so.

The styling has been sharpened, literally, with more angular and wedge-shaped headlights and tail- lamps, squarer and more aggressive front bumper intakes, and a more jutting grille with chamfered top corners in the latest Audi fashion.

The car looks even more "cab- forward" now, with the glasshouse sitting slightly further forward and the rear deck more gently sloped and stretching farther back.

As before, there are contrasting coloured side-blades running vertically down the flanks just behind the doors, although they are now interrupted by the car's shoulder line, where the previous ones were continuous, one-piece items.

  • SPECS/ AUDI R8 V10; V10 PLUS

  • Price: To be announced
    Engine: 5,204cc 40-valve V10
    Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shift
    Power: 540bhp at 7,800rpm;
    610bhp at 8,250rpm
    Torque: 540Nmat 6,500rpm;
    560Nmat 6,500rpm
    0-100kmh: 3.5; 3.2 seconds
    Top speed: 320kmh; 330kmh
    Fuel consumption: 11.4; 12.3 litres/100km
    Agent: Premium Automobiles

General proportions and overall dimensions remain very similar to the predecessor's, with the new car being a touch shorter, lower and wider.

All in, it is a clever, sensitive update that makes the new car more spectacular, without making the original look too dated.

Just as Audi has shown a light touch with the styling, its overall philosophy with the car has been to improve every aspect in detail, without doing anything radically different.

So, the new R8 retains the spaceframe skeleton of the original. But instead of being cast solely from aluminium, it is now crafted from a mix of aluminium and carbon-fibre- reinforced polymers. This shaves 10kg off the weight of its predecessor's frame and, critically, also makes the structure 40 per cent stiffer.

The cabin of the new R8 is the result of gradual evolution. Its "monoposto" layout, which angles the centre console towards the driver and puts all essential controls within his reach, remains. The instrument display is now a "virtual" TFT one, as first seen in the latest Audi TT.

Satellite navigation and multimedia information now appear here instead of the central screen. And the display can be configured to prioritise either the sat-nav map or the rev counter.

Whereas the original R8 first appeared with a 4.2-litre V8 engine and was joined by a 5.2-litre V10 two years later, the new model is V10 only for now. The engineers at the launch refused to comment on whether a V8 version is in the pipeline, but it would appear likely.

The V10 comes in two states of tune, with 540bhp in the standard R8 V10 and a thumping 610bhp in the V10 Plus - well into the territory of Lamborghini, McLaren and Ferrari.

The Plus variant also has carbon- ceramic brakes, a fixed carbon fibre rear wing instead of the regular model's retractable device, and a firmer suspension set-up (although both models also have the option of adaptive dampers).

Drive reaches all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (there is no longer a manual option), and a new electrohydraulic multiplate clutch allows infinitely variable apportioning of torque between the axles. Unlike its predecessor, the new R8 can, depending on conditions, be front-drive or rear-drive only, or anything in between.

The all-wishbone set-up of the previous R8's chassis is retained and for good reason. The R8 has always had an exquisite handling balance coupled with a beautifully controlled ride and this remains the case with the new model.

The steering seems quicker- geared than before. The car noses into bends very keenly with a roll of the driver's wrists, although subjectively it also feels a touch lighter and less linear now.

Perhaps this has to do with the optional Dynamic Steering fitted on the test cars, which varies the steering ratio depending on speed. It is also not quite as interactive as that of the very best Porsches, although it still shades the almost digital-like helm of the Ferrari 458.

Grip is ferocious, as I discover on a few flat-out track laps. At the very limit, you can feel the car starting to move laterally - but progressively and gradually. Give it more power and the tail will edge out, but never suddenly or without warning.

For a car so planted and agile, its ride is remarkably good - pliant enough to shrug off poor surfaces without upsetting the car's trajectory, yet resolutely controlled over undulations and utterly resistant to roll.

Straight-line performance is tremendous, of course, ranging from storming (standard R8 V10) to eye-watering (V10 Plus). The engine is muscular right from idle speeds and simply belts up to its 8,700rpm limit time, and again as the transmission shifts slickly.

The century sprint times are 3.5 seconds for the regular V10 and 3.2 seconds for the Plus - near- supercar figures.

The new R8 is an entirely predictable sequel to its seminal predecessor, which is no bad thing. Better- looking, grippier and faster than ever, it stands shoulder to shoulder with equivalent Ferraris, McLarens and the like, and cements Audi's place among the top-end sports car ranks.

•The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Sharp and slick'. Print Edition | Subscribe