Don’t be fooled by the familiar looks of the new Audi R8. It might, even by the acknowledgement of Audi head of research and development Ulrich Hackenberg, appear a lot like a facelifted version of the first-generation model launched in 2006. But the truth is that everything about the second-generation model has changed in one way or the other.
That even includes the philosophy behind how Audi will position the launch line-up to reflect a more performance-led approach this time around, offering the R8 exclusively with a heavily revised version of its naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 in combination with a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox from the start of UK sales.
If there is one statistic that immediately sums up the advances made to Ingolstadt’s four-wheel-drive performance flagship, it is the deeply impressive 0-62mph time claimed for the new top-of-the-line R8 V10 Plus: 3.2sec. That’s 0.3sec faster than its predecessor and it makes this the fastest-accelerating road car that Audi has placed into series production.
The top speed has also improved, by 8mph, aided in part by a new aerodynamic package that allows the mid-engined coupé to generate 130kg of downforce at its new maximum of 205mph.
The addition of contemporary fuel-saving functions for the first time, including automatic stop-start and a coasting function that idles the engine on extended periods of trailing throttle, is claimed to bring about a double-digit improvement in economy.
We will know a lot more when we actually get to drive the new coupé later in the year, but for now, after a day riding shotgun in a prototype around the Ascari circuit in Spain, it is safe to conclude that the new R8 moves the game along, not only in pure performance terms but also in terms of its on-the-limit dynamics.
Advances in high-definition display technology and a laser lighting option also enhance its reputation as one of the best-equipped supercars money can buy, providing it with renewed appeal following its predecessor’s successful eight-year reign at the top of the Audi line-up, during which time it garnered more than 26,000 sales worldwide in coupé and Spyder bodystyles.
To underscore just how special Audi thinks the R8 really is, the company is establishing a new showcase assembly line at its Neckarsulm factory in Germany. The so-called Boellinger Hoefe site has been conceived exclusively around the new car, which will initially be sold in coupé guise with a successor to the Spyder due out in 2016.
When you first see the new R8 up close, it doesn’t jump out and hit you as being an all-new model. The longer you look at it, however, the more obvious the differences become.
It's not long until you pick up on the various nuances in its aluminium bodywork, including its reshaped grille, more angular headlights, prominent shoulder line, heavily structured flanks and larger side ducts, at which point you begin to see it for what it is: an outwardly sharper yet more elegant car than the one it replaces.
The exterior detailing is quite superb. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the design of the headlights, which use standard LED graphics but can be ordered with advanced new laser beams, as showcased on the final version of the old R8, the LMX.