Can the Audi R8 already be high-school age? Yep, born in 2007 as a V8, the R8 is now deep into its second – and last – model cycle (at least in its current form); hence this relatively mild yet effective makeover which has just arrived to blitz Aussie roads.
The top-tree V10 Performance now costs $395,000 with, Audi claims, an extra $10,000 in bits over the outgoing model, including a leatherised interior, a sharp exterior makeover, laser LED lights and adaptive damper-based suspension with a trick new carbon-wrapped anti-roll bar up front.
Still based around a 79 per cent aluminium/13 per cent carbon fibre chassis, the R8 Performance carries over the alloy V10, on display for all the world to see underneath its glass hatch cover.
A legacy of the company’s deep-rooted involvement in GT3 racing, the 449kW/560Nm – Australia misses out on the European-spec full-whack 456kW/580Nm because of local fuel quality concerns – beauty combines genuine firepower with real-world civility and drivability.
It even has a cylinder-on-demand mode to save fuel. Audi says most of the power increase is down to a revised valvetrain with components made of titanium.
Meanwhile Audi has also tweaked the dynamic steering and suspension for better response; and updated the ESC software which also results in slightly shorter braking distances.
On board, the manually adjustable fixed-back bucket seats are an odd mix of not-quite-right and a bit underdone. Narrow across the base and through the lumbar area, taller drivers may have trouble finding an ideal position behind the wheel or in the passenger seat.
As well, the R8 isn’t the greatest for storing literally anything, though the addition of an inductive phone-charging box is welcome.
Everything is forgiven when you thumb the start button on the steering wheel, though, as the ballsy V10 takes its first gasps of life.
The 5.2-litre’s torque delivery is ramrod straight, smouldering and plentiful, and it relentlessly piles on speed like a plummeting wall safe.
So stiff is the chassis it rides in, though, the impact of the mighty V10 on your shoulder blades can feel disappointingly underdone – until you look down at the digital dash. The naturally aspirated urge from the dry-sumped marvel is delivered in one relentless, massive, straight line of torque right around to its power peak of 8250rpm.
It emits lovely noises through the standard bi-modal sports exhaust, and while some suggest it’s not quite vocal enough when on song, it’s still plenty entertaining, and perfectly in keeping with the car’s silken glove, iron fist ethos.
And the agility from the seven-speed auto gearbox is as intoxicating as ever – and praise be, the Golf-spec paddle shifters have been binned for milled alloy items.
A great car is the sum of its parts, and the R8 is still a great car. Its chassis feels hewn from iron, allowing the wheels to track intimately over all road surfaces and sending detailed messages back through your fingers and backside.
I reckon Audi’s non-adaptive R8 suspension tunes have been pretty darn good, but the adaptive damper spec steps it up a notch. Ride? Check. Handling, grip, feedback? Check. The R8 will not spook even the most timid of pilots, yet it will reward the more adventurous. Its electromechanical steering is still a shade too light underhand for my tastes, but it’s a joy to be able to place the front wheels exactly where you want them with so little effort.
Drive traction off the corners, too, is tops, with the quattro system seamlessly and instantly delivering power where it’s needed most.
If you want to potter around at 60km/h, its silence and civility is a marvel to behold, with zero histrionics from the highly-strung drivetrain. Of course, the caveats of a low-slung, broad supercar in an urban environment come into play, with care required on steeper driveways and when manoeuvring in tight spots.
The 2020 R8 Performance is a fitting evolutionary step for one of the most intriguing sports cars of the 21st century. It’ll be a sad day when it’s retired, despite the plethora of talent coming from Audi Sport, and it’ll be nigh-on impossible to replace. In the coming issues we’ll jump onboard the new R8 RWD to see if it picks up where the much-loved RWS left off.
4.0 stars out of 5
Like: Epic engine is epic; awesomely fast; well-judged styling; response; comfort
Dislike: Interior could feel more special; prescriptive handling; early understeerer
2020 Audi R8 Performance specs
Engine 5204cc V10, DOHC, 40v
Power 449kW @ 8250rpm
Torque 560Nm @ 6500rpm
0-100km/h 3.2sec (claimed)