The Audi R8: Origins, Generations, Specifications
All things Audi R8 on Automobile.
Audi R8 Essential History
Despite a rich motorsports history with overwhelming success in both rallying and endurance racing, Audi's always remained at arm's length when it came to producing a true sports car. The once-popular Audi TT has most of the right ingredients, but the front-wheel-drive underpinnings pulled primarily from the VW Golf kept it well below the Porsche Boxster, Nissan Z cars, and BMW's assorted roadsters and two-seat coupes.
Since the early 1980s, Audi remained content developing high-performance versions of its premium coupes and sedans, focusing on promoting all-wheel drive technology and turbocharged engines, even if the resulting speed-specials were softer and more road-oriented than the adrenalin-charging weapons from Mercedes-Benz' AMG or BMW's M division.
It was only during the early-2000s when the reality of an Audi supercar began to coalesce, born from Audi's ongoing Le Mans domination and the then-recent acquisition of Lamborghini by the Volkswagen Auto Group. To amortize the cost of development of the nascent Lamborghini Gallardo and to bring Audi a little closer in-line with Mercedes and BMW, the plan for the mid-engine Audi R8—the brand's first supercar—took shape with the Le Mans Quattro concept in 2003.
Audi Le Mans Quattro Concept
Visually, the Audi Le Mans Quattro concept was nearly identical to the production R8 that arrived in 2007, though the wild twin-turbo V-10 engine was tossed for a more production-friendly iteration of Audi's naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8. Power was reasonable for a mid-engine sports car of the era, with 414 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque sent to all-four wheels through either Audi's R-Tronic six-speed automated manual or a gated six-speed manual transmission. Zero-to-60-mph times for these early R8s were around the low four-second mark, with a top speed around 188 mph.
The Audi R8 Goes V-10
For the 2009 model year, the R8's Lamborghini roots shone in full-force, when the updated 5.2-liter V-10 from the Lamborghini LP560-4 was shoehorned into the R8. Fun fact—that Lamborghini V-10 is actually an Audi V-10 pulled from the S6 and S8. So, the R8 V10 actually uses an Audi V-10 pulled from a Lamborghini, but we digress. The V-10 engine increased the R8's output to 518 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque, dropping the zero-to-60 mph sprint to 3.9 seconds, and raising top speed to 196 mph.
The Audi R8 Spyder
Drop-top Spyder variants launched for both the V-8 and the V-10 models, with the V-8 adding an extra 14 horsepower over the V-8 coupe, growing the total to 428 horsepower, though torque remained unchanged at 317 lb-ft. The limited edition R8 GT arrived in 2011, cutting 220 pounds from the curb weight of the regular R8 V10, while increasing the V-10's output to 552 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. As you'd expect, the R8 GT also brought with it a range of suspension, braking, and aerodynamic upgrades over the regular car to compensate for the additional power and to enlarge the overall performance envelope. Production of the GT was limited to 333 units worldwide, with an additional 333 unit run of the corresponding R8 GT Spyder.
The first-generation R8 received a mid-cycle refresh for 2012 in the rest of the world, arriving in the U.S. in 2013 as a 2014 model year. The refresh brought mostly aesthetic updates, though a few significant mechanical upgrades were also brought to the R8, most significantly a new seven-speed dual-clutch replacing the balky R-Tronic automated manual transmission. Standard magnetic damping was also added for the R8 V10, an optional upgrade for the V-8 models.
The R8 V10 Plus arrived on our shores in 2014, adding a new range-topping trim with extra power and performance in the same vein as the older R8 GT. The same 5.2-liter V-10 as found in the standard R8 V10 was upgraded to 542 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque in the R8 V10 Plus, which also got a re-tuned suspension, updated interior, and massaged aesthetics.
Second-Generation Audi R8
After these short-lived upgrades, the first-gen R8 was replaced by an all-new model in 2015 for the 2016 model year. In keeping with the Lamborghini bones of the prior generation, the second-gen R8 shares much of its structural DNA with the Lamborghini Huracan. This includes the familiar 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V-10—the only engine offered at the moment—initially available with either 533 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque in the base R8 coupe or 602 horsepower and 413 lb-ft in the R8 V10 Plus coupe. With the exception of the limited-edition R8 RWS (Rear Wheel Series), power is transferred to all-four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
For 2019, the second-gen R8 was updated with extra power and an aesthetic refresh. Power for the base coupe jumped to 562 horsepower and 413 lb-ft, while the newly renamed R8 Coupe Performance Quattro packs 602 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. Performance for all iterations of the second-gen R8 is impressive; factory-quoted zero-to-60 mph times range between 3.2 seconds and 3.5 seconds, though these times have proven to be conservative in independent tests.
Audi R8 Highlights
Time will likely be kind to the Audi R8. The first generation of the supercar consistently ranks at the top of many enthusiast's lists of best designs of the 2000s, and it's only going to get better with time. Although older R8s may carry a bit of a stigma as simply a used supercar, give it time—or pick one up now, while they are at the bottom of their depreciation curve.
Once the first R8s are out of the too-new-to-be-classic but too-old-to-be-cool dead zone, the R8 will be one of the better ways to get into something genuinely exotic for not much more than the price of entry to a loaded mid-size crossover SUV. Early V-8s are particularly inexpensive to purchase, and compared to a Ferrari or Lamborghini of similar vintage, significantly less expensive to keep on the road. As far as upkeep price goes, think more than a BMW or Audi sedan, and less than an Aston Martin—maintenance on a regular Porsche 911 is likely a good comparison.
By design, the R8 of any generation is a more professional, lower-key supercar—if that's even a thing. The current R8 is priced closer to the Porsche 911 Turbo, current Acura NSX, and Aston Martin Vantage than to Lamborghini's Huracán or McLaren's 720s, but in our experience, the R8 doesn't fall far short of those more exotic models in performance or theater. In fact, we'd likely take a new R8 over any of the listed alternatives on the strength of its sound and the vicious launch control. We've also heard whispers that a first-gen Audi R8 V10 with the gated manual transmission is one of the best "exotic" experiences that can be had for less than $100,000, so there's that.
Audi R8 Buying Tips
Audi R8s of any generation or spec are fairly robust and shouldn't provide too many undue surprises mechanically. A thick sheaf of maintenance records is always a welcome inclusion with any potential purchase, as is a pre-purchase inspection at a local specialist or dealer. Parts availability for the R8 is high, considering even the oldest R8s still have factory support from Audi—for now. As stated above, expect regular maintenance bills similar to what you'd expect of a Porsche 911.
If you are in the market for a first-gen R8, we highly suggest you seek only those with either the six-speed manual transmission or the later dual-clutch examples. Avoid the R-Tronic at all costs; it's clunky, slow, relatively fragile, and for some enthusiasts, ruins the overall experience. Engine type matters, too, as V-8s will obviously be more affordable than the V-10s, but there is a significant difference in both speed and upkeep between the two engines—as well as a difference in prestige, which can enhance (or detract from) collectibility.
Audi R8 Auctions
Despite undeniable desirability, the Audi R8 isn't collectible enough to cross the stage at major auction houses—yet. Bring a Trailer never disappoints, as the healthy record of sold R8s is enough to give an idea of what you might pay for a first generation. For second-generation R8s—the current model—there are enough on Audi lots that you might be better off getting one straight from the source.
Audi R8 Quick Facts
- First year of production: 2007
- Last year of production: Ongoing
- Base Price: $171,150 (2020)
- Audi's first supercar
- Lamborghini bones for (relatively) cheap
- Time will be very, very kind to the R8 family
- We'll take ours with the V-10 and the gated manual, please
Audi R8 articles on Automobile
We drove the refreshed first-generation Audi R8 in 2012.
Here's our review of the second-generation Audi R8 V10 Plus.
We sampled the rare Audi R8 RWS as well.
We got our hands on the updated second-gen Audi R8 late last year.
And just for fun, here's a test of the race-ready Audi R8 LMS.
Audi R8 FAQ
You have questions about the Audi R8. Automobile has answers. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked Audi R8 queries:
Is the Audi R8 a supercar?
Absolutely. With any engine or transmission and from either generation, the Audi R8 is quick, fast, and visually stunning enough to be considered a supercar.
How fast does an Audi R8 go?
The early first-gen Audi R8 4.2s topped out at 188 mph, while the latest and greatest Audi R8 V10 Performance Quattro smacks a mighty 206 mph.
How much is the new Audi R8?
The base 2020 Audi R8 will run you $171,150.
What year is the best Audi R8?
Hmm, great question. We reckon it depends on what you want from the car. For an engaging drive, we'd pick the cleanest first-gen V-10 with the gated manual we could find. However, the current R8 is stunningly quick and aurally spectacular as any car we've driven, so perhaps one of the few R8 RWS would find its way into our dream garage.
2020 Audi R8 V10 Performance Coupe & Spyder Specifications
|BASE PRICE||Coupe, $199,445/$219,445; Spyder, $211,645/$230,345 (base/as-tested)|
|ENGINE||5.2L DOHC 40-valve V-10/602 hp @ 8,100 rpm, 443 lb-ft @ 6,700 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, AWD coupe or convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/20 mpg (est)|
|L x W x H||174.4 x 76.4 x 48.7-48.9 in|
|WEIGHT||3,638/3,913 lb (coupe/Spyder, mfg)|
|0-60 MPH||3.2/3.3 sec (coupe/Spyder, est)|
|TOP SPEED||205/204 mph (coupe/Spyder)|