By Marcus Amick
There’s something to be said about a supercar that makes you feel like you’re an amazing driver − even if you’re not.
Kind of like that big smile a kid gets the first time they ride their bike without training wheels, glowing over the accomplishment as if they’ve pulled off some incredible feat nobody else can.
Driving the new Audi R8, which features three models in its line-up, isn’t quite as easy as pedaling that Schwinn. But it’s a lot less intimidating than facing off at your first bike race – though now I’m convinced that the adrenaline rush from both might be quite similar after driving the latest model of Audi’s halo sports cars.
Focused on making the 2014 R8 as much of an everyday car as a weekend thrill ride, Audi has gone to great lengths to ensure that the latest model of its supercar is as much fun for the novice driver as it is for the hardcore racing enthusiast. And considering that I would put myself somewhere in the middle of that pack (full disclosure here), I’d say the automaker has done a great job of pulling it off.
My first spin of the new 2014 line-up was at the wheel of the R8 V10. Sliding into the car’s leather seat, you’re immediately drawn to it’s classic circular dash, eyeing the 220 mph posted on the speedometer. While you know it’s unlikely you’ll even come close to hitting the car’s top governed speed of 195 mph in Malibu (where we were invited to test drive the car) out of fear of needing bail money, the anticipation of the possibility starts building nonetheless.
Once settled into the cockpit, every element of the R8 makes you more eager to drive the supercar whether its touching the racing-inspired leather steering wheel or seeing the sport mode button that sits right below the floor-mounted gear shift. Dials for components like the radio become obsolete as you start zeroing in on the things you’ll need to make the supercar go as fast as it can as you slide the key into the ignition.
The rumbling of the R8’s exhaust note when you fire it up heightens the anticipation even more.
Once on the road, the R8 V10 quickly assures you that despite its raw power (all 525 horses and 391 lb-ft. of torque of it), this supercar is refined enough to adapt to your driving skills without sacrificing any of its high performance capabilities.
… It’s really the thrill of being behind the wheel of the R8 that sells you on the car and leaves you with this grin…
It’s truly a driver’s car, which lets you revel in the idea of being some hot-shot Formula One racer as you rail through corners, even though you’ll probably never, ever be one. But it gets you pretty close.
And don’t be fooled by its polite manners during city driving. The R8 definitely has an aggressive side, it just leaves it all up to you to unleash it, which I quickly figured out once taking in some of Malibu’s twisty scenic canyon roads in the topless Spyder model, which was the perfect choice for unraveling the roads overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Every new element of the 2014 model is aimed at enhancing the driver’s experience behind the wheel of the race-inspired two-seater. The most notable is a new seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which makes gear shifting about as good as it gets in a car with this kind of power.
The new S tronic system, which replaces the R8’s previous R Tronic single-clutch transmission, features two clutches as opposed to one. Half of the gears are actuated by one clutch and the other gears are changed by the second clutch nearly simultaneously for faster and smoother shifting. Naturally, a computer oversees operation of the transmission. It works like a “regular” automatic transmission, just much, much faster and much more smoothly.
In addition to a fully automatic mode, the car’s dual-clutch transmission (DCT) can be operated “manually” using the gear shifter or racer-style by tapping the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Deciding which mode is better is really a matter of personal preference considering the operation of Audi’s DCT system is quite seamless. You do, however, feel a bit more “one with the car” using the floor-mounted gear shifter or the paddle shifts, which are now larger, making them a lot easier to operate when driving. But the shifting is still pretty impressive if you leave it up to car’s system to figure it all out on its own in the automatic mode, which leaves the driver free to just enjoy the ride.
Audi also continues to offer the mid-engine R8 with a standard gated six-speed manual transmission with a manual clutch for those performance enthusiasts who prefer the traditional, old-school type of sports car experience. However, our test cars were equipped with the optional S tronic transmission.
The supercar, which features Audi’s Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system, truly lives for high performance driving. And despite its wide body, it’s as impressive tackling some rather narrow turns as it is at speed on straight-aways. Cornering the low-slung wide body car through Malibu’s canyons at what most would probably consider unthinkable speeds is clearly second nature for the R8.
In fact, it seems to egg you on to seek out the next twisting set of turns to prove to you what it’s capable of. Push the sport mode button and you immediately feel the car’s suspension stiffen up even tighter in higher performance situations. The R8 is pure driving adrenaline on steroids, more akin to taking the wheel of a luxury roller coaster than driving something like a Ford Mustang.
Credit a lot of that to the fact that the R8 shares more than 50 percent of its parts with the customer racing version of the R8, the GT. The R8 V10 Plus model, which i had a chance to test drive as well, features much of the same DNA that has earned Audi wins at all of the major 24-hour races at Daytona and the famed Nuerburgring.
Still, for as comfortable as the R8 V10 is at pulling off high-performance maneuvers, it’s just as enjoyable driving up the coast taking in the scenery – although you definitely get the sense that the R8 V10 Plus is much more suited for the track.
Built to replace the R8 V10 GT, the new 550 horsepower V10 Plus is much more enjoyable when driven fast. Well, very fast, actually, as opposed to cruising (sorry, no speed disclosures here). The Plus has been stripped of some of the comfort features available in the other R8 models to help reduce the weight of the car by about 130 pounds, which makes it an even bigger adrenaline rush revving through the canyons but a bit of a rougher ride for everyday city driving.
The V10 Plus’ reduced sound insulation in the engine bay, however, does give the higher-performance model a more menacing rumble.
In-car tech takes a back seat
When it comes to in-car technology, there really isn’t a lot to rave about in the new R8. In fact, it’s pretty basic − especially for Audi, which typically prides itself on its in-car tech features. Here, the most notable are Audi’s MMI navigation system and a Bluetooth microphone integrated into the seatbelt, which helps to minimize noise while on a call. Smart.
Keeping it simple, says Audi, fits the car considering that most people who buy the R8 aren’t as concerned about features like Wi-Fi and streaming video as they are about connecting with the road. I know what you’re thinking – typical PR response. Yeah, my initial thoughts as well. But honestly, you really don’t miss features such as Google 3D Maps offered on Audi’s latest MMI interface system because you’re so caught up in the experience of driving the car.
Even as much as I enjoy listening to SiriusXM‘s BPM station when test driving vehicles, I found myself wanting to hear the R8’s engine far more than anything coming from the car’s Bang & Olufsen audio system. However, it’s definitely a nice option.
That’s not to say that the other vehicles in Audi’s fleet that offer more in-car tech features aren’t exciting to drive from a performance standpoint because they are. It’s just that the more you drive the R8 you really start to appreciate that what makes a new supercar such a joy to drive is the performance technology not a lot of in-car gadgets.
All that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next gen R8 comes equipped with a more enhanced Audi infotainment system. Either way, chances are most who buy the car will never miss the features if it doesn’t.
The 2014 model, however, has gotten a few nice new cosmetic updates inside such as high gloss black accents and available diamond-stitched leather seats that really gives the cockpit a much richer look and feel than the standard leather seating interior.
The Spyder model is equipped with thermal-resistant leather seating, which lowers the surface temperature by up to 68 degrees to keep you cool on hot, sunny days when driving with the top down.
Take your pick
From performance options to interior features, the R8 line-up now offers a model tailored for just about anyone in the market for a high performance sports car. That’s if you got $100,000 or more (much more, actually) to toss around.
In addition to the 525-horsepower 5.2-liter R8 V10 ($151,200 base), the line-up also includes a 430-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 model ($114,900 base) with 317 lb.-ft. of torque and the 550-horsepower 5.2-liter V10 Plus ($170,545 base) with 398 lb.-ft. of torque.
The lighter, more track-oriented V10 Plus has a 0 – 60 mph time of 3.3 seconds, an improvement of 0.3 seconds over the previous comparative model.
The standard R8 V10 (that is, if you can call a V10 standard) has a 0 – 60 mph time of 3.4 seconds in the Coupe model and 3.6 seconds in the Spyder equipped with the S tronic transmission.
The V8 S tronic model, which unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to test drive due to scheduling (hint, hint Audi), has a 0 – 60 mph time of 4.2 seconds in the Coupe and 4.4 seconds in the Spyder.
Additional new performance features include waved brakes on the R8 V8 and V10 that reduce weight and improve brake cooling. The V10 Plus features ceramic brakes to lighten the load of the vehicle even more.
Exterior design changes on the R8 are minor, which you appreciate considering the iconic styling of the car. Most notable are the new full LED headlights now standard on all R8 models, Audi’s hexagonal Singleframe grille, new side mirrors, large, round tailpipes and new R8 badging – all of which give the car a bit more classic racing appeal.
The V10 Plus is further distinguished by a titanium license plate bezel and front air intakes.
Still, it’s really the thrill of being behind the wheel of the R8 that sells you on the car and leaves you with this grin as big as that kid’s who finally beats the neighborhood bike racing champion.
- Seven-Speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission
- V-10 Plus Model – oh my, the power
- Available Diamond Stitched Leather Seats
- Lack of in-car tech packages
- Not much room for groceries
- Price – but if you have to ask…