Overall rating: 4/5
Driven in isolation the Audi R8 V8 is a rewarding, enjoyable, fast and fun sports car. The new look, new equipment and option of a dual-clutch transmission make it more desirable than ever, but it's overshadowed somewhat by the astounding V10-engined versions.
In the Metal:
Audi's designers have finessed the exterior of the R8 for the 2013 model year and though not an expansive redesign, the changes freshen up an already unique and attention grabbing shape. Front and rear lights are now entirely made up of LEDs, and the rear indicators are highly unusual, as they illuminate from the inside to the out in the direction of the turn. The entry-level V8-engined model has smaller air inlets and sideblades, its own set of 19-inch wheels and body colour for the area under the rear lights.
The interior has come in for mild revision too. There's liberal use of gloss-black trim and soft leather, while the paddles for the S tronic transmission are usefully larger than those fitted to the R tronic model of old. Behind the heated leather seats there's apparently room for two golf bags, while the 'boot' up front swallows 100 litres of luggage.
If you're seriously considering buying the V8-engined R8, then do yourself a big favour: don't test drive the V10 model. Driven back-to-back the entry-level car feels relatively flat and uninspiring. The specifications reveal that the V8 engine produces 430hp and 430Nm (to the V10's 525hp and 530Nm), yet it's 60kg lighter so the 0-100km/h time difference is a scant 0.7 seconds. Nonetheless, the power delivery of the V8 engine is much less urgent than the V10's. It's not slow, but it doesn't truly come alive until beyond 5,500rpm.
This 'softer' characteristic does mean it's a very forgiving car, making it a cinch to drive in poor weather or on bumpy, narrow roads. Front end grip is high and traction is immense. Once you learn how to extract the most from the engine and start leaning on the tyres on the exit of corners it turns into a rapid cross-country machine and the V8 engine makes a stirring sound at high revs.
That's especially the case if you have Sport mode selected, as the bypass valve in the exhaust is held open. In S tronic equipped cars this also means automatic throttle blips whenever you change down a gear or two. Only on a long motorway journey would we have it any other way.
The S tronic transmission is worth a special mention. This seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox replaces the clunky R tronic system of old and it transforms the car. The shifts are seamless and instantaneous on part-throttle and suitably hard-edged when you're really pushing the car on. Previously, there's no way we would have considered anything other than a manual gearbox for the R8, but now it's not such a clear cut decision. It really is that good.
What you get for your Money:
That new S tronic transmission brings with it substantial efficiency gains. So-equipped, the R8 V8 emits 21g/km less CO2 and goes nearly two more miles on a gallon of unleaded. The V8 model is also better value than before thanks to the addition of the LED lights, 19-inch wheels, satnav, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and heated leather seats.
The new starting price for the Audi R8 is about €165,000. S tronic adds €5,000, going from coupé to Spyder is €12,500, going from V8 to V10 is €55,000 and the premium from V10 to V10 plus is €25,000.
While Audi makes much of the benefits of the R8's quattro four-wheel drive, it may escape the notice of many buyers that it's still set up to mimic the dynamics of a rear-drive model. By default, a massive 85 per cent of the engine's torque is channelled to the rear wheels by a multi-plate clutch. Even when required, a maximum of 30 per cent of the overall torque is sent to the front wheels. Hence it's not at all difficult to initiate oversteer if you have the space an inclination. The ESP system features a mid-way 'Sport' setting that allows a safe level of rear slip before intervening.
The entry-level Audi R8 is a good car, of that there's no doubt. However, it's considerably eclipsed by the V10 models in the line-up and the new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S is a formidable rival. Nonetheless, the R8 looks fantastic, sounds good, is well equipped and as quick and competent as anyone needs in reality. And buyers finally have the option of a brilliant automatic gearbox.