2020 Audi R8 first drive review: Improving an already fantastic supercar
There are some sounds that are becoming rare in our modern world. Chief among them? The roar of a naturally aspirated V10. Yet that's exactly the sound you hear when you fire up the brand-new 2020 Audi R8 -- in this case, the V10 Performance model.
In practice, this new R8 only offers modest changes. The 5.2-liter V10 now delivers 562 horsepower in base spec -- 30 more than before -- thanks to a new titanium valvetrain. The V10 Performance, previously known as V10 Plus, keeps the same 602 horsepower as before. The standard coupe will run to 60 miles per hour in 3.4 seconds, while the Performance will do the same spring in 3.2.
The front antiroll bar is now available in carbon and aluminum instead of steel, which saves 4.5 pounds over the outgoing car. The 2020 R8 gets an improved suspension setup, and while I'm told the dynamic steering option has been improved, my test car has the standard fitment.
The only other change is the mild exterior makeover, which some people love and other folks hate. There seem to be more vents dotted around the front and sides of the car, but upon closer inspection, the majority of them appear to be nonfunctional. They do help distinguish the new R8 from its predecessor, and the result is a coupe that's still quite handsome. Subtle tweaks aside, this coupe is still instantly recognizable as an R8.
Otherwise, the Audi R8 V10 Performance is identical to the outgoing R8 V10 Plus. But that's not a bad thing.
Because when that glorious engine fires up and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system sends 413 pound-feet of torque to every corner, grabbing the road, propelling you toward the horizon, you quickly realize the meaning of the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The joy of driving an R8 comes from its approachability. It's not an intimidating car. Where its VW Group sibling, the Lamborghini Huracán, dazzles you with exotic lines and creases and welcomes you in to an intimidating cabin seemingly trying to emulate a futuristic fighter jet, the R8 feels familiar and understated. There is little on the interior to distinguish the R8 from a TT, which to some would defeat the purpose of buying a supercar in the first place. On the other hand, this makes the R8 feel like a familiar car you can really go out and drive.
The 2020 R8 is a car you could use every single day. I felt much better after driving this car across the UK for hours on end than I did after just an hour behind the wheel of the Lamborghini Huracán Evo earlier this year. All those Lamborghini theatrics come at a price, and payment is dutifully collected from your spine at the end of the day. The R8 doesn't try to stray too far from the luxurious comfort available in its road cars.
Audi says there is now a greater difference between the R8's driving modes, and in the more comfortable settings, the coupe certainly feels perfectly pleasant over long distances. With everything switched to Dyanamic, however, you get to enjoy the R8 at its fullest. The rear-biased Quattro system gives the car a mostly rear-wheel-drive feel, but with the benefit of all-wheel-drive grip when you need it. Carbon ceramic brakes come standard on the V10 Performance, with giant, six-pot calipers that can scrub off speed remarkably well, without being too grabby at lower speeds.
Although the R8 can feel a little heavy it is still nicely composed through bends. It definitely feels rear biased without getting too squirmy. A trailed brake into a corner can easily initiate rotation, but the Quattro system immediately allows you to use the available torque to pull you straight out of a corner and onto the next.
The result is an R8 that still works as a great supercar for those who may not have previously driven a car with more than 600 horsepower. The roar of the engine and the thrill of the thrust get your heart pumping while the drivetrain and chassis make sure you don't get yourself into a situation you can't get out of.
If there's one thing I would've liked in this update, it's a tweak of the steering wheel-mounted paddles that control the eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission. Where both Lamborghini and Ferrari offer engaging, beautifully crafted paddles nestled behind the wheel, Audi still insists on using small, plastic units that feel dead to the touch and make you seriously consider whether or not it's ever worth taking the R8 out of fully automatic mode.
This is in stark contrast to the manual gearbox with which the Audi R8 originally offered more than a decade ago. That gated gearbox was one of the most fun and characterful around, and while the switch to a dual-clutch-only setup is a sign of the times, what we're left with is a horrible substitute to do-it-yourself shifting. Of course, most customers likely won't use the paddles at all.
The 2020 Audi R8 doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. Rather, the nudges and tweaks help the car stay up to date. In fact, it's what hasn't changed that makes this car so special. For as long as the R8 keeps its glorious, naturally aspirated engine and incredible driving experience, it's going to take a lot more than lousy shift paddles to make me lose my interest.
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