In the annals of supercars, the Audi R8 has always suffered from the curse of the tweener. While successful in racing, it's overshadowed by the Le Mans-dominating Audi diesel race cars; inside the Volkswagen empire, the shadow comes from the Lamborghinis that use the same V-10. With Porsche assimilated into VW, there's even more potential for internecine thunder-stealing.
So Audi decided to ensure the new R8 has thunder to spare.
The 2016 model that will be shown live for the first time in Geneva next week hones the R8 into more of a pure sportscar. The V-8 editions are cast out (for now); the only power source is the V-10, either in 540 hp or 610 hp states of tune, equal to what's granted those flashy Italian models. Power runs through a refreshed seven-speed automatic transmission and a bolstered Quattro all-wheel-drive system which will route all of it to either the front or rear axles as called for. And the revised aluminum-and-carbon fiber chassis sheds 110 lbs. from the first generation R8 — a necessary move, as it's the basis for the GT3 race-car edition.
The result: the R8 now hits 62 mph in 3.2 seconds, a half-second faster than before, with a top speed of 205 mph — the fastest car to ever wear the four rings from the factory to the public road.
In typical Audi fashion, the styling changes inside and out involve alterations rather than renovations — although the new R8 face looks tauter in every direction, the dimensions have barely changed. Other supercar brands can cite their low volume as a reason to skimp on amenities despite their price tags, but Audi has a luxury reputation to uphold, and throws every option it has at the R8, from carbon-ceramic brake discs to custom-stitched Alcantara headliner to in-car WiFi for what must be the world's most blasé passengers. And in a nod to the real world, the V10 now features both cylinder deactivation and a "coasting" mode to save that precious high-octane fuel.
The GT3 version of the R8 due next year will use 50 percent of the road car's parts, including a detuned version of the V10. While the R8 V10 eschews the modern trend toward hybrid supercar power, Audi says it will build all-electric versions on the R8 on order. The new R8 e-tron is the first car from an established manufacturer to hold more electric power than a Tesla Model S — 92 kWh, which Audi says gives the e-tron a range of 279 miles, and can be recharged in two hours with Audi's high-energy charger. The e-tron is slower than the V-10 — 3.9 seconds to 62 mph, and a top speed limited to 155 mph — and Audi will only build them upon request, at a price that wasn't disclosed but is guaranteed to be breathtaking. It's the kind of engineering muscle-flexing that's not possible in Maranello or Sant'Agata or Stuttgart, and with the new R8, Audi has made it clear it wants to be second to none.