You can usually tell how happy a manufacturer is with a car’s performance in the marketplace come facelift time. If it feels the need to start throwing new bodywork and engines at it rather than waiting a few years for its all-new replacement, you can usually assume the car’s not doing its job properly.
So armed with this knowledge, let’s look at all the changes Audi has decided to make to its R8 supercar six years after it first went on sale. Outside there are merely new lights, restyled exhaust pipes, a new valence at the back and a restyled grille at the front. Inside there are a few more aluminium trim panels and promotion from optional to standard for things such as sat-nav, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. There’s confidence for you.
But there’s a little more here than immediately meets the eye, most important of which is in the form of a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to replace the robotised six-speed manual gearbox found in previous two-pedal versions of the R8. Smooth, quick and without any of the old transmission’s habit of stumbling over itself, it is now as good a reason to skip the standard manual as the old auto was to choose it.
Don’t pay too much attention to Audi’s claims that it drops the 0-62mph time by 0.3sec of both the 4.2-litre V8 and 5.2-litre V10 versions because that’s only going to happen if you use its new launch control facility every time you leave the lights. Focus instead on the fact that the one weak link in the R8’s chain of command has now been replaced. It costs an extra £2900, which only sounds steep until you consider it’s less than Audi charges to trim the engine bay in carbonfibre.
There is, however, more to the 2013 R8 than a few visual tweaks and a new gearbox. Though all range members remain, their numbers have been swelled by a new arrival, the 524bhp R8 Plus, essentially a production version of the limited edition R8 GT with 25bhp more than the standard V10, bespoke suspension settings and carbon-ceramic brake discs.
It’s not the additional power you notice so much, for fast though its 3.5sec 0-62mph undoubtedly is, it’s a scant tenth quicker than the normal V10. More significant is how much sharper is the chassis thanks not only to its new suspension but also the reduction in unsprung weight at each corner. While still sufficiently civilised to fill the R8’s essential role as an everyday, all-purpose supercar, it provides the car with a new level of agility and response, and crucially without torpedoing the ride at the same time.
The issue is that Audi wants £127,575 for the V10 Plus with the new transmission, £12,000 more than it asks for the standard automatic V10 and a massive £33,000 more than the V8 with the new gearbox. And because it is this smaller engine that provides the R8 with its sweetest handling, we still reckon it’s the best of an increasingly able bunch.