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2014 Audi R8 Spyder, R8 V10 and R8 V10 Plus

When you drive by someone's house in an Audi R8, the people in the front always smile. This happens even in Malibu, California, where people instinctively glare at Italian exotic cars, perhaps for fear that it might be some trashy Hollywood teen idol planning to move into the neighborhood.

We're here in Malibu to drive a few models of the 2014 R8. In fact, there's an entire array of 2014 Audi R8s awaiting us - every available R8 test car in America. It makes us feel like, well, some kind of teen idol with just a little too much cash in his pocket.

Bite-size candy treats
The 2014 R8s are lined up on the flagstones of the long driveway of this big house in the hills above Pacific Coast Highway. They're in every color, as if someone had spilled a very expensive bag of Skittles.

For the 2014 car, a slightly modified, hexagonal full-frame grille is flanked by full LED headlights. The outside mirrors of the R8 have been reshaped as well, and naturally there's a new range of available wheel styles. Around the back, you'll see LED taillights and round exhaust tips, plus an example of the new R8 badge.

Once you're in the driver's seat, you'll now find R8 badges on the doorsills, the shift lever, the optional, multi-functional sports steering wheel, the instrument cluster and even the start-up screen of the on-board electronic monitor. The interior has a more stylized appearance overall thanks to the use of more leather, more glossy black and more aluminum. And if you're willing to pay the price, the seats can be upholstered in diamond-stitched leather.

More engines, more speeds, fewer pounds
The arrival of the 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus is the headline news, as it carries a high-performance version of the 5204cc Audi V-10 rated at 550 horsepower @ 8000 rpm and 398 pound-feet of torque @ 6500 rpm. Meanwhile the standard 5.2-liter Audi V-10 makes 525 hp @ 8000 rpm and 391 lb-ft of torque @ 6500 rpm. And finally the familiar 4163cc Audi V-8 makes 430 hp @ 7900 rpm and 317 lb-ft of torque @ 4500 - 6000 rpm.

The V-8 and V-10 engines can be had in either the 2014 R8 coupe or 2014 R8 Spyder, while the high-performance V-10 comes only in the 2014 R8 V10 Plus coupe. The new, dual-clutch, seven-speed, Audi-designed (not Getrag, Ricardo or ZF), automated manual transmission can be matched with any of these engines. Audi engineers quietly believe that the new S-tronic gearbox shifts quicker than any of its rivals, and it helps speed the R8 V10 Plus coupe to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, the R8 V10 coupe to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, the R8 V10 Spyder to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, the R8 coupe to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and the R8 Spyder to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

It takes the R8 V10 Plus some 3.7 seconds to reach 60 mph with the six-speed manual transmission, and when you match up the other engine and body-style combinations with the six-speed manual, it takes 0.2 seconds longer to get to 60 mph than it does with the seven-speed S-tronic.

If you've got an R8 with the V10 Plus engine behind you, the car will be wearing carbon-ceramic brake rotors. The R8 and R8 V10 have steel brake rotors, although these rotors similarly feature a racing-type wave shape to reduce weight.

Just as important, you'll be carrying a little less weight with you in the 2014 R8 than before. The all-aluminum structure has some new components, plus there are the fiberglass-frame seats and less acoustic insulation, so the V-8-powered R8 coupe weighs 3583 pounds and the R8 Spyder weighs 3638 lbs, while the V-10 adds 154 pounds to these totals. The GT3-style V10 Plus weighs 3605 pounds, because it has manual-adjustment seats, a smaller fuel tank, lightweight wheels, carbon-ceramic brake rotors and carbon-fiber construction for the front aero splitter, rear aero diffuser, rear wing, and even the side-blade bodywork trim.

Choose your own adventure
If it's a sunny morning and you can see the Pacific Ocean from where you are, which all-wheel-drive Audi R8 should you be driving?

If you're going for a drive along Pacific Coast Highway, it'll be the $173,800 Audi R8 V10 Spyder with S-tronic. The top goes down in 19 seconds, plenty quick enough to get it down before the stoplight changes. And since people smile and even wave wherever you go, you never feel like you're showing off. The S-tronic makes the Spyder easy to drive even in traffic situations where you would otherwise fear for your fenders. These automated gearboxes have made all exotic cars practical to drive, and this is what has made the market explode for these cars, not performance.

Latigo Canyon usually would be the last place we'd take a car like the $114,900 Audi R8 coupe with a six-speed manual transmission. The climb to the low crest of the Santa Monica Mountains winds tortuously through narrow ravines, and it's better suited to a SuperMoto motorcycle than a 188-mph mid-engine supercar. Yet the broad powerband of the Audi V-8 works to your advantage, minimizing the shifts so you can concentrate on your hand discipline on the steering wheel and make smooth, direct moves through the tight, steeply cambered corners. The shift linkage of the six-speed manual seems typically German to us, combining long, low-effort throws with firm gear engagement. It works well, although there's a kind of plastic feel to it.

When you're at the wheel of the $179,645 Audi R8 V10 Plus with S-tronic, you want to have a good idea of where you're heading, so the gently winding curves of Mulholland Highway suit this car. There are some straightaways where you can get a sense of this car's 196-mph potential, but no top speed runs unless you want to fly off a cliff. It rides well, even though this is a sporting suspension calibration.

No matter which flavor you pick, the 2014 Audi R8 remains the most civilized and drivable of exotic cars. It's meant to be enjoyable, not intimidating. No wonder people smile at it wherever you go.

2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus

  • On Sale: Now
  • Base Price: $179,645 (S-tronic)
  • Engine: 5.2-liter V-10 turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 550 hp
  • Fuel Economy: 13 mpg City/22 mpg Highway/16 mpg Combined
  • Drive: All-wheel
  • Curb Weight: 3660 lbs