What is it?
It’s a mid-life facelift for the Audi R8 super-sports car. If you want the abridged version, it consists of new LED headlights, a new gearbox, some extra standard equipment and a small price hike. No changes to either engine or suspension, though; Neckarsulm isn’t fixing what it rightly considers ain’t broke.
There are a few exterior styling updates for the R8, of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em variety. All cars now get a new rear valance design with two large-bore exhaust pipes (previously, you could tell a V8 from a V10 by the smaller quad pipes of the former). There are also new LED taillights with indicators that ‘sweep’ from one side to the other, instead of blinking. Something done, you suspect, for sufficiently moneyed David Hasselhoff fans who model themselves on TV’s Michael Knight. To everyone else, it’ll look a bit naff.
Inside the car you’ll find a few more matt-finish aluminum trims around the cabin than were there before, and a slightly more generous kit list that now includes iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, sat-nav and heated nappa leather seats.
But otherwise it’s the same R8, complete with cocoon-like driver’s seat, a slightly high but otherwise excellent driving position, and a typically German if slightly conservative cabin ambience.
What's it like?
In most of the ways that matter, still brilliant. And in a few of the ways that it wasn’t as good, much improved.
The aura of must-have novelty that surrounded the R8 when it arrived on the scene in 2007 may have long since evaporated, and the case for its private ownership weakened slightly as a result, but five years haven’t dimmed by one iota the genius of the R8’s dynamic responses or the distinctiveness of its positioning.
A new Porsche 911 is now a smarter place to put your money, it’s true, and a Ferrari 458 is a better driver’s car. But a Porsche 911 isn’t a proper aluminium spaceframed two-seater, and it doesn’t have a mid-mounted engine that might have graced something made in Maranello 20-odd years ago. And a mid-engined Ferrari is no longer a £100,000 buy.
That, in a nutshell, explains the uniqueness of the R8 in the current market. Most sports cars at this price point have monocoque bodies and front-mounted engines, and tend to make better grand tourers than out-and-out handling machines. In order to buy a hand-built car as stiff as the R8, you have to spend proper supercar money. Except in this case, 911 money will do.
And if you’re wondering how much difference a proper spaceframe and a beautifully smooth and powerful V8 engine revving to 8000rpm makes, well, all you need is to approach a sequence of corners while at the wheel of the R8 to find out.
The R8 may be wrapped very cleverly by a thin outer layer of idiot-proof understeer, but this car’s handling is basically so agile, and its directional responses so tenderly adjustable, that it provides road-based involvement and track-based thrills you simply don’t find every day.