FIRST DRIVE | The new 2019 Audi R8 is a last naturally-aspirated hero
Ronda, Spain — Confession time: I love the R8. Every time I get the nagging thought that it may be the last big-banger naturally aspirated junior supercar. The end of cars such as the R8 is inevitable, and what we’d all lose is immeasurable.
The R8 Performance quattro delivers authentic, unsynthesized character like no other car near its price point.
The revamped R8 just looks meaner, with optional laser headlights and standard LEDs. Chrome is stripped away from the nose there are three horizontal vents, a front splitter that trails off down the sides, and a huge air diffuser at the rear.
The engine note — at any point in the rev range — is one of the most heart-warming sounds known to man and the throttle response verges on synapse-fast. And it helps you to shift your butt faster and further than ever before, with a 3.1-second burst to 100km/h and a 331km/h top speed.
The charm isn’t just the speed. It’s the shameless beefiness with which it gathers it, attacking the horizon, the ears and every piece of skin that touches part of the car with equal enthusiasm.
At 456kW and 580Nm the Performance version hits 7kW and 20Nm harder than before. Even the stock R8 quattro’s power has seen its power rise from 397kW to 419kW and lifted its torque 20Nm to 560Nm, and it’s capable of sprinting to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds and topping out at 324km/h.
This is a car that prefers to give life to the 5.2l engine’s performance, not just to deliver it. Every single point in the rev range has its own character and sound, and it runs into every other point in the range logically and beautifully, creating symphonies of intake noise and throatiness and sheer gristle rising to arias at 8,500rpm.
While the beautifully crafted manual gear-lever faded into history with the first-generation R8, it left the R8 with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that spreads drive to all four wheels. It can spread them very quickly from one end to the other, too, and is capable of firing all of the torque to the front or the rear, as needs be, and from side to side via the skid-control system.
It’s all based around an aluminium space frame chassis that’s backed up by a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) rear bulkhead, transmission tunnel and two B-pillars that add body stiffness.
And it’s not a small car, with a 2.65m wheelbase. There are lighter mid-engined cars out there, but not many of them have an all-wheel drive as sophisticated as the Audi's.
The real steps forward here aren’t the extra power, but the R8 Performance quattro’s extra manners and fun. It has stiffer springs and dampers and the software has been rejigged to be more stable in its standard modes, calmer in the rain and looser and faster in the dynamic mode.
And there are more optional tricks up its sleeve. There are the magnetic dampers, which have had a speed upgrade over the old cars, dynamic steering, and a lightweight CFRP front anti-roll bar with red mounting brackets.
We were limited to just day and night laps of the private Ascari race resort in Spain’s south, with the R8s shod with track-biased Michelin Sport Cup 2 rubber instead of the stock Pirelli PZeros. So read on with that in mind.
The handling is crisper and more accurate than before It’s also more fun than before, especially in its dynamic mode and with its crash-busting software switched to its higher-drift plane and even more so with its crash-busting software switched off.
For lovers of hard driving — and, oddly, those who drive in cities by necessity — the dynamic steering is a big addition. It comes with a range of steering ratios. Effectively, it predictively shortens up the driver’s steering inputs for a given corner, especially if it’s a tight corner. In some bends, like hairpins, it cuts off more than a quarter of a turn of steering lock.
The updated R8 is happy to drift its way into corners, with the skid-control nuancing the car’s way to the apex time and again, making it fun and fast at the same time.
The brakes, too, feel like they are foolproof, though our cars carried the optional carbon-ceramic units and not the regular steelies.
The best part about the R8 is how egocentric it is. It feels as though every rev change is for you to enjoy, every cracked gearshift is for your enjoyment and every hard-pushed slide is intentionally designed for you to feel gleeful about.
It makes sure of it by turning the interior into a homage to the driver. There’s exactly zero stuff for the passenger to play with, even though there is 226l of luggage space behind the front seats.
The 12.3-inch infotainment screen is for the driver’s eyes only, including everything about navigation, speed, revs, fuel, lateral acceleration and torque and power use. And it’s really all you need.
The facelifted Audi R8 will arrive in SA in the third quarter of 2019.