Overall rating: 4.5/5
Heading up the 2013 Audi R8 range is the new V10 plus model. While the regular V10 version could hardly be called slow, this ramps things up with more power and torque, plus a useful reduction in weight. It's surprisingly different to the normal car with a considerably harder edge. It won't be for everyone, but that's part of its appeal.
In the Metal:
Audi has changed very little in terms of the exterior design of the new R8, which we have no problem with. The all-LED lights are the most obvious difference and the rear lamps in particular are of interest. There's a distinctive signature look, but the talking point is the new turn indicator, which features 30 LEDs that illuminate sequentially in the direction of the turn. Initially we wondered if this would be a little tacky, but it works brilliantly on the road, really grabbing your attention.
The V10 plus model is differentiated by carbon fibre sideblades, its own set of forged 19-inch alloys and other detail changes. The matt blue paintwork of the car in the pictures is also unique to the plus version. What you can't see is the 50kg weight reduction - in comparison to the regular R8 V10. This is attributed to the wheels, insulating materials, front and rear carbon fibre aero elements, carbon brakes, unique suspension and deep sports seats.
Elsewhere inside it's business as usual. There have been a few tweaks to the detailing and the plus version gets carbon fibre trim inlays as standard, though the fantastic suede-rimmed flat-bottomed steering wheel we tried is optional.
The regular Audi R8 V10 deserves the full five stars here, but we've docked the plus model half a star because, in its goal to be harder edged and appeal to keen drivers (and possibly track day regulars) it loses some of the all-round ability that characterises the V10 model. The main reason for that is the lack of magnetic ride active damping in the plus car - it's not even optional. What it does get is bespoke spring and damper settings, along with altered front camber. The result is a complete absence of body roll, pitch or dive, no matter how hard you drive. Sadly, the price you pay for this is a ride that, while never crashy, is always on the firm side. It's certainly not ideal for long journeys - whereas the regular V10 model is.
Still, this does contribute to this car's remit. Our time on track was limited and the circuit was soaking wet, but even so the R8 impressed. Audi has retained a hydraulic steering system and the helm is rich with information, making it easy to drive fast, even in such inclement conditions. Carbon ceramic brakes are standard on the V10 plus and they excel in this situation, though they don't offer up quite as much feel on the road as the steel items found elsewhere in the range. Attack a wet corner with a little too much zeal and the front wheels gently wash wide of the apex, though be patient with the throttle and you can soon cajole the car into a delicate rear-led slide as you exit. The rear tyres soon hook up and you thunder down the next straight. On dry roads it finds tremendous traction on the exit of corners and you soon learn to ease the power back in early on.
It's surprising just how much faster the plus model feels over the regular R8 V10 when driven back-to-back. At 550hp it has 'just' 25hp extra, plus an extra 10Nm of torque at 540Nm. Those peak figures are produced at the same (high) revs as before and come about from a tweak to the engine management software. No doubt the 50kg weight reduction helps the car feel faster, though the 0-100km/h time is only 0.1 seconds quicker and the top speed only a few km/h up.
We'll go into detail on the new seven-speed S tronic transmission in the review of one of the other versions, but needless to say this gearbox really suits the R8 V10 plus. A six-speed manual is standard and of course it involves the driver more in the experience, but we suspect that most will go for the dual-clutch automatic. We'd like to have the 'Sport' setting on by default though, as only then does the automatic throttle blips on downshift happen and the bypass valves in the exhaust are open all the time. Need we even say how glorious this engine sounds? A naturally aspirated V10 has such a wide range of sounds and you'll never tire of it.
What you get for your Money:
Standard equipment has been boosted across the line-up and efficiency enhanced too. The plus model, for a premium of €25,000 over the regular R8 V10, adds engine and chassis changes, carbon brakes and carbon bits and pieces inside and out, along with the lighter wheels and figure-hugging sports seats to the specification of the regular R8 V10. However, this car also does without the adaptive damping and Bang & Olufsen sound system found in the regular V10. Full LED lights are fitted, as is satnav, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and electric windows. The plus specification is only available in the R8 Coupé and the S tronic version is €5,000 more than the manual.
Carbon ceramic brake discs are standard on the R8 V10 plus and optional on other models. In total this reduces mass by a considerable 12kg. What's more, that's 'unsprung' mass, which means the suspension components have an easier time of it. R8s with these brakes can be identified by their grey calipers. Up front are six-piston monoblock items with 380mm discs; the rear discs measure 360mm and are clamped by four-piston calipers.
To get a chance to drive the new Audi R8 V10 plus is a privilege. It's a highly engaging and very exciting sports car. The combination of an increase in engine output with a reduction in mass makes the car feel quicker, even if the numbers say it barely is. However, despite all this, we'd rather spend our money on a regular V10 and a few choice options.