DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — It’s hard being the sensible one in the family. People think you’re great, really smart and all, but you’re just not as fun as your sister. She’s the wild one — gets away with everything; excuses made for her every failing. You? You have to put up a defense for every good choice you make at the expense of fun. Even when you do let your hair down, they look at you askance, seeing only the awkwardness in your unpracticed freedom, not the joy of release. You’re the Audi R8. And your damn sister is a Lamborghini.
Well, folks, that was the last generation. This time around the whole family is a bit nuts, but in the best possible way. Sure, the Lamborghini is still the rowdier one, but this time the Audi knows how to party till dawn — and still get to work on time.
Picking up where the last R8 V10 Plus left off, the 2017 Audi R8 is better in every way imaginable: it’s more comfortable, it’s better looking, the cabin looks more like a supercar’s should, and it’s quicker, faster, and sharper to respond. As it should be. And that’s the “entry level” R8. The new R8 V10 Plus is, well, all of that — plus.
These conclusions weren’t just plucked out of thin air. They were found in the hazy isoprene hanging between the peaks of Blowing Rock, Sparta, and Fancy Gap; in the gravel-strewn corners and alongside fast, cold-water creeks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They were found on the banks of Daytona International Speedway at 177 mph, and on the infield circuit at 1.3 g. Whether right on the surface or deep into its performance envelope, the new R8 is rewarding, engaging, and most of all, fun.
The stats back up the impressions, too. While Audi claims a 3.5-second 0-60 mph time for the standard 2017 R8 V10, and 3.2 seconds for the V10 Plus, our colleagues at Motor Trend recently tested the Plus at 2.6 seconds to 60 mph. To put that in perspective, it’s on par with the McLaren P1, and quicker than a Bugatti Veyron and just about anything within shouting distance of its $191,150 sticker for that matter. And all of that without any turbochargers or fancy hybrid power bricks — just good old-fashioned suck-squish-bang-blow.
Straight-line performance comes primarily from power, and the new R8 packs plenty: The base car gets a 540-horsepower rating that sits on a fat plateau from 7,800 rpm to 8,700 rpm — a screaming peak for the 5.2-liter V-10 engine behind the cabin. The R8 V10 Plus scores 610 hp, which arrives at 8,250 rpm and holds on until the 8,700 rpm redline. The torque difference between the two models is smaller: Both reach their peaks at 6,500 rpm, the standard R8 V10 rated at 398 lb-ft, and the Plus rated at 413 lb-ft.
But the differences between the “base” $164,150 R8 and the $27,000-dearer V10 Plus don’t end at the crankshaft. In fact, one of the biggest and most immediately noticeable differences from behind the steering wheel is in the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission: gearing. You see, even if the base R8 and the V10 Plus had the same power output, the base model would feel slower, because it’s geared taller in gears three through seven. The numerical difference in gearing results in a qualitative difference in acceleration: The standard R8 feels much less urgent, less like a 540-hp supercar, and more like a 450-hp sports car. The difference is most notable in mid-range acceleration; once the tach climbs north of 6,000 rpm, the power ramps up and the car’s 540 hp rating is much more credible to a calibrated butt dyno.
The real revelation in this new R8 comes not at the seat of your pants but at your fingertips. A completely re-designed front end, a more rigid chassis, and suspension that now mounts directly to that chassis makes for much sharper steering feel, especially noticeable at turn-in. Mid-corner feel is also very good, if not quite the telepathic experience of a modern mid-engine Ferrari or even a 991-series Porsche 911. On back roads the front end feels alive, direction changes seemingly going direct from motor cortex to contact patches. On track, the gaps in the R8’s communication are more obvious, but by no means egregious; there’s information aplenty to rail the car at the limit with confidence.
Quattro all-wheel drive also plays a definite role in the R8’s performance, simultaneously enhancing its abilities while making them more accessible. Drop the hammer on 600-ish horsepower in a rear-drive coupe while the wheel is still a bit crossed up on a cool, sandy mountain corner, and you’re as likely to make a new vein of carbon-rich mountain wall as you are to come out the other side. Do the same in the R8, and the car scrabbles right out of the corner, the only drama happening behind you as the big V-10 sings its way to the limit. Power-on understeer? Not a hint.
Even the brakes on the new R8 are remarkable, especially the carbon ceramics — standard on the V10 Plus, optional on the base car. They can be a bit grabby for around-town use, making smooth city stops a delicate affair. But when pushed, they deliver massive, phenomenal, easily modulated stopping power from 60 mph or 160 mph, the first time or the 50th.
Rolled all together, these capabilities make this not only the best Audi R8 yet, they form a car that’s one of the most enjoyable, impressive machines available at any price. And yet there’s a whole other side to its character, the one that emerges when the party’s over and it’s time to get back to business.
While some production cars can match the R8’s absolute performance on track — and few can beat it — only the elite can come close to the R8’s civility while retaining that raw, race-bred edge. McLaren’s Sport Series, for example, and the far reaches of Porsche’s 911 line. Sports and supercar royalty.
This double-duty nature shines brightest in the standard R8 V10. Make no mistake, the R8 V10 Plus is a car anyone with the necessary limberness can drive every day; the base R8 V10 just makes it a more pleasurable experience. The taller gearing means highway-speed engine noise is much lower, a small thing you’ll notice on the second or third hour of an extended road trip.
The standard magnetorheological dampers of the base car (the V10 Plus comes only with standard, non-adjustable hydraulic dampers) provide a wider range of performance, from a much softer, more comfortable option to an even firmer, smooth-track setting. And though some might not mind the big, fixed carbon fiber wing riding the back of the R8 V10 Plus, the tasteful retractable spoiler of the standard R8 V10 tucks itself away when not in use.
That’s not to say that all is peachy in the new R8. The MMI system is better than ever, and the screen that displays its output is crisp, clear, and — to the delight of some, and the consternation of many — mounted right in front of the driver, with no secondary screen in the center of the dash, a layout dubbed Virtual Cockpit. That means the driver has tons of detailed, gorgeously displayed information at their fingertips on a variety of configurable screens, easily controlled directly from the steering wheel. It also means the passenger has to lean over, squint, and look at a shallow angle at the portion of the screen they can see at all, just to input navigation data or adjust the radio. Is it a major beef? No. It’s likely something owners and their passengers will quickly get used to, and it’s much better than the system mounted in any McLaren. But to many it will be an unnecessary complication of an otherwise great entertainment and information system.
Even with the minor annoyance of the Virtual Cockpit, the standard 2017 Audi R8 V10 makes a strong case for being one of the best — possibly the best — everyday supercars around, from value to practicality to performance to style. The only thing that holds it back from taking that title and running away from the crowd is its ability to hold the things you’ll want to take with you on any trip farther than your office.
The R8’s cargo space is divided into two areas, both awkwardly shaped and neither especially easy to access. Under the front “hood” you’ll find a compartment that holds an inflation kit and some other odds and ends, shaped roughly like a medium-sized plastic storage tub. A briefcase, backpack, or small overnight bag will fit easily — two of any of these will be tricky, but may fit. If you have any more than that you’ll have to hit up the secondary area: behind the seats. While it’s as wide as the cabin, it’s also narrow. Because the engine lies directly behind the bulkhead, the roofline dives toward each end of the car. In addition, the seats only move so far forward, so it can be tricky to get anything of substantial size in or out of the space—though in theory, at least, it should hold a golf bag. If you want to get into whatever you’ve stored on the parcel shelf behind the seats while you’re sitting in the car, however, you’ll want to brush up on your yoga skills. Here, again, the base R8 is a better pick than the Plus, at least as it will be most commonly configured: Those race-inspired shell seats in the Plus (now available for the first time in the U.S.) don’t recline, making it even harder to access this storage space.
Still, considering the raw ability, easygoing comfort, and newfound passion all contained in the newest Audi R8, it’s a small sacrifice to pare your travel gear down to the minimum. After all, in a car like this, the journey itself is every bit as enticing as the destination.
2017 Audi R8 V10/V10 Plus Specifications
|Price:||$164,150 (V10); $191,150 (V10 Plus)|
|Engine:||5.2L DOHC 40-valve V-10/540 hp @ 7,800 rpm, 398 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm; 610 hp @ 8,250 rpm, 413 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||14/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||174.3 x 76.4 x 48.8 in|
|Weight:||3,737 lb; 3,627 lb|
|0-60 MPH:||3.5 sec; 3.2 sec|
|Top Speed:||199; 205 mph|