The Audi R8 has received a subtle makeover for 2019. There's a sharper new look, a bit more power, a few technical updates and cabin tweaks. We had a brief – yet intense – taste of the newcomer at a rain-soaked Ascari Circuit.
Audi's naturally-aspirated and free-revving "everyday supercar" is much loved by the Cars.co.za team. Unlike some hardcore supercars, it rewards driving enthusiasts generously, yet flatters and indulges inexperienced drivers in equal measures. Even in the most congested traffic jams, the R8 sits is happy to potter around in its most docile setting... while it waits for the road to clear. Of course, being a supercar means it has to deliver thrills and dynamics worthy of its hefty price tag. It does this with ease and we could happily make that sonorous V10 sing up to its redline every day.
What's new for 2019?
The 2019 Audi R8 has some subtle changes on the front. Note the 3 slots which are a tribute to the Group B Quattro rally car
The changes are subtle. On the outside, you'll notice sharper-looking sheet metal with aesthetic detail revisions to the front and rear. There are enlarged oval exhausts and 3 slots on the bonnet, which are a tribute to the 1984 Sport Quattro Group B rally car. Don't fret too much about this "tribute", the new Audi A1 has them too. However, the critical changes lie under the skin, where Audi Sport has stiffened its supercar's suspension and installed an anti-roll bar (made of carbon) at the front. The latter is much lighter than the unit on the pre-facelift version, which was made out of steel. There are also tweaks to the steering and for the first time, variable ratio Dynamic Steering is available, although it is an option.
In terms of power, the 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 engine is retained and there are increases in power and torque on both versions. The SA market will only get the Performance version (previously called Plus), which produces a thumping 456 kW and 580 Nm, but SA-spec cars will be slightly detuned to 449 kW and 560 Nm. Power goes to an all-wheel-drive quattro setup via a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and the new R8 Performance is capable of blitzing from 0 to 100 kph in a claimed 3.1 seconds, going on to a top speed of 331 kph. The brakes are carried over unchanged and the Performance version comes equipped with carbon ceramic stoppers, which will work hard, given the R8's weight.
What's it like to drive?
A dry Ascari raceway. The Audi R8 grips and grips, and the V10 loves to be revved hard.
Firstly, a disclaimer. Our drive of the Audi R8 was on a drenched Ascari Race Circuit near the town on Ronda in Spain, as the entire Andalucia region was battered by an intense cold front. The task of evaluating Ingolstadt's latest transformed into an exercise in trying to keep a multi-million Rand supercar on the black stuff, which was made harder by massive pools of water on the circuit. Yep, first-class tickets on the aquaplane were in abundant supply. Nevertheless, we donned some helmets and set off. Stab that big red start button located on the steering wheel and the V10 barks to life. Activate Race Mode by pressing the checkered flag button just below the Drive Select button. This will put the Audi R8 into its most hardcore setting and the stability control will loosen its grip. Given the conditions, we manually re-engaged full ESC to deploy an additional safety net.
To be honest, it's difficult to spot and analyse the dynamic changes between this version and its predecessor; we reckon it'll require some serious driving of both derivatives back to back for the updates to become apparent. However, the outgoing R8 was an exceptional crowdpleaser thanks mostly to its rollicking engine. We will rue the day when a raucous naturally-aspirated V10 is laid to rest in favour of greener, muted powerplants.
The facelifted Audi R8 is a beautifully balanced driving machine that is simple and intuitive to pilot briskly
The Ascari Circuit has quite a technical layout, thanks mostly to major elevation changes. The R8 may boast a quattro setup, but it can (and will, in the wet) exhibit understeer if you barrel into a corner too quickly. Try to accelerate hard out of a corner and the rear-wheel-drive-biased quattro system will allow some tail wagging, which can be a little daunting for the uninitiated. One sector of the track had a rather large stream of rainwater running across it, which just so happened to coincide with the start of the braking zone. An aquaplane moment at 160 kph was enough to widen the eyes and flood the body with adrenaline, and we weren't the only victims on the day; many journos encountered similar heart-stopping situations.
Thankfully the wet conditions and expertise of the Audi instructors on hand allowed us to experiment with the new handling setup over numerous laps. The first turn at Ascari is a majestic downhill leftward sweep and as you transition from brake to accelerator, the car steps out gracefully and feels entirely manageable. Who said quattro and all-wheel drive systems had to be boring and anti-fun? A second disclaimer here, sorry. Our test units rode on the optional 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in optional trick Michelin rubber, which certainly will assist in the handling stakes.
We do like the steering setup of the new Audi R8. It's not ultra direct like that of the McLaren 570, nor meaty like the AMG GT R's, but the tiller is responsive and accurate enough to make the car dart about with intent and purpose. We had the chance to sample the Dynamic steering too, which, according to Audi, "allows the driver to experience even more precise response characteristics." Could we feel a difference? After driving a standard car and then a Dynamic-equipped car back to back, there were some slight differences, but essentially the steering feels a little more precise at the expense of substance and feel. Should you tick that option? Given how good the standard steering setup is, we'd say no.
This Audi R8 features the optional 20-inch alloy wheels
Also worth a mention are the stupendously strong brakes. They're ceramic units, specifically fitted to the Performance version as the lower-end models use steel rotors. They work hard thanks to the weight of Ingolstadt's supercar. At just under 1 600 kg, the R8 is a heavy machine as it stands (we attribute that to the complex quattro system and massive V10 engine). In comparison, the dry weight of a McLaren 570S sits at 1 356 kg.
A driving summary, then? The facelifted Audi R8 is a beautifully balanced driving machine that is simple and intuitive to pilot briskly. With the sound of that magnificent V10 at full tilt right behind you, it's hard to not be emotionally drawn by what the Audi R8 has to offer.
The Audi R8 cabin is an exercise in making the most of a confined space
The cabin of the Audi R8 is a textbook example of how to make the most of the limited available space. Supercars are generally cramped and awkward places to hang out, yet the supercar's cabin feels acceptable and just about spacious enough to convince a partner that the 2 of you can go away for a weekend in the R8, which can effortlessly perform a GT role, if need be. There's a front boot, which is good for 112 litres (or a duffel bag) and there's a surprising amount of space on the rear shelf. The rest of the cabin is wonderfully put together and oozes sophistication.
What's more, the quality and tactile feel of the materials used is class-leading, and the ergonomics are pure and simple. Audi Virtual Cockpit dominates the driver's eye line and it continues to be one of the finest digital infotainment systems in the supercar segment, if not the new vehicle market. Much like in the TT, there's a minimalist design to the Audi's cabin, with just the ventilation controls occupying the central dashboard.
These Audi Sport seats are wonderfully supportive and comfortable
The "everyday supercar" is a description that's often overused by motoring writers to describe certain products, but unfortunately, it's certainly the most appropriate description of the latest iteration of the Audi R8. While the fling we had with the newest iteration of the supercar was just that and we'd love to spend more time with the newcomer to get a real feel for it, our initial impressions are positive. Given the performance-or-nothing focus of the usual suspects in the supercar segment, the fact that the R8 is quite suitable for the daily commute makes it a terrific proposition.
However, when the road opens up and the traffic clears (or you decide to visit your local racetrack), the R8 is more than capable of delivering that "unbridled supercar" feeling – and in abundance. It's wonderfully easy to live with, effortless to drive fast and not horribly compromised and cramped. The cabin and associated quality is bespoke and reeks of futurism. Not only is the Audi great to look at and a symbol of 'I've made it', but it's just as majestic on a public road as it is on a race track. It could also double as a GT and easily be driven great distances at a time.
With that magnificent naturally-aspirated V10 engine seemingly on death row, we can't help but wonder how long the Audi R8 will be around. Audi Sport engineers have no doubt experimented with the 2.9-litre biturbo V6 and 2.5-litre 5-cylinder turbo motors, but they wouldn't invoke that full fat, red-blooded supercar feeling now, now would they? We suspect that the next-generation Audi R8 will feature some form of electrification, so it will be fast and economical. Will it have the same character or drivability? We doubt it, especially in terms of what makes the R8 special, so best you start looking at your investment options around the middle of 2019 when this facelifted R8 V10 comes to SA. You won't be disappointed.
This iteration of Audi R8 is a wonderful all-round performer and should be in SA around the middle of next year