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2017 Audi R8 sharpens its look, amps up performance

The new Audi R8 may have simplified its distinctive visual style, but the performance from the V10 plus model looks to be sharper than ever.

GENEVA -- The Audi R8, the automaker''s halo car, gets a major overhaul at the 2015 Geneva auto show. New from the ground up, the super coupe gets improved performance, new tech and even frickin' laser beams in its frickin' headlights.

The new R8's design is simpler and more geometric, borrowing heavily from the new Audi TT that debuted last year in Geneva. However, the the first thing that I noticed about the 2017 Audi R8 is the reduced prominence of the vehicle's trademark "side blades" which sat just aft of the doors on the previous model. The contrasting color panels are sort of still there but are now broken up by the sculpted sheet metal and are no longer the massive focal point of the R8's profile.

My opinion of the look swayed wildly as I walked around the coupe. Viewed from some angles, the R8 looks a bit more generic than its more curvaceous predecessor, but overall I think the angular design is more menacing and more attractive.

Two V10 options

The 2017 R8 will be available in two trims: V10 and V10 Plus. Both models are powered by an amidships mounted 5.2-liter, 10-cylinder engine, but differentiate themselves where power is concerned. The standard model is good for a stated 540 ponies while the Plus outputs 610 horsepower. The models twist their crankshafts to the tune of 398 and 413 pound-feet, respectively.

The R8 is available with two different tunes for its V10 engine, which is displayed under the rear glass. Josh Miller/CNET

In the most powerful R8 V10 Plus configuration, the Audi goes from zero to 62 mph (100 km/h) in a claimed 3.2 seconds and powers on to a top speed of 205.1 mph. It's quick, but it also should be more efficient than before. Direct injection, cylinder deactivation, and stop-start anti-idling tech should help the R8 to achieve up to 19.9 US mpg according to the automaker's estimates.

A seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch transmission is the only gearbox available, and when coasting, it can disengage both clutches to further fuel savings. Also standard is Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which defaults to 100 percent rear-axle power, but can send up to 100 percent of available torque to the front wheels if that's where it can find grip.

Lightweight construction

With extensive use of aluminum and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), the 2017 R8 manages to shed 110 pounds compared to its predecessor, now tipping the scales at a dry weight of 3,205.5 pounds for the V10 plus model. Audi tells us that the R8 is not only lighter, but also stiffer.

The coupe features a wide stance and low-slung construction that help its standard double wishbone suspension do its job of keeping the car planted in the corners. Optional Audi magnetic ride shock absorbers allow the driver a bit of customization over the ride quality.

In keeping with the current efficiency trends, the R8 also uses an electronic power steering system that can be upgraded to Audi Adaptive Steering system that allows the character of electronic assist to be tweaked via the drive select controller.

MMI virtual cockpit

Speaking of the drive select controller, that knob moves from the center console to the steering wheel's face along with the Start button. (How Ferrari of you, Audi!)

Keep those hands on the wheel. The Start button and drive mode selector move to the steering wheel, along with the paddle shifters and the virtual cockpit controls. Josh Miller/CNET

The cabin also features new sport bucket seats and is highlighted by the appearance of Audi's virtual cockpit. Similar to what we've seen in the new TT, the virtual cockpit puts a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in a free-standing housing ahead of the steering wheel. This system can be interacted with via steering wheel thumb pads and customized to display a wide variety of infotainment data, everything from performance data to maps and navigation to audio controls. What makes the virtual cockpit unique is that it moves nearly the totality of the infotainment system to the instrument cluster; there is no central display.

Graphics for the virtual cockpit are powered by Nvidia with T30 chip handling the lifting. Web-connected data for Google Earth navigation, destination search, and more flow into the system via an LTE wireless connection or through WiFi.

Laser headlights (for Europe only)

Audi is one of the automaker's pushing LED headlight tech to the market, which the R8 offers as standard features. In the European market, the R8 is also available with optional laser projector high beams. (Different lighting standards mean this feature will not make it to the US market.)

The laser system augments the LED high beams at speeds above about 37 mph, doubling the throw of the forward illumination over the standard system to give the driver more time to react to the road ahead. The system features forward looking cameras that monitor the area far ahead of the R8 to detect other cars and can actively adjusts the illumination pattern of the laser's throw to avoid blinding oncoming traffic.

European R8 models will be available with optional laser high beams, that cast light twice as far as the standard LEDs and automatically adjust to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. Josh Miller/CNET

Limited production e-tron model

The V10 is the only engine available in the 2017 R8, but a limited number of drivers will be able to purchase an R8 without an internal combustion engine. The new R8 e-tron is a fully electric version of the new R8 that uses even more lightweight CFRP in its construction and an even more aerodynamic design.

Audi states about 456 horsepower and 679 pound-feet of torque for the electric R8. Zero to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and a top speed limited to either 130 or 155 mph depending on options is even more impressive.

However, the most impressive numbers you'll hear spoken about the e-tron is the cruising range of about 280 miles with a charging time of under two hours. The range improvement is due to a new, more power dense 92 kWh battery pack. Running down the spine of the e-coupe, sending power to the electric motors. The fast charging time is thanks to Audi's use of a Combined Charging System that double-teams the battery with a combination of direct and alternating current.

According to Audi, sales of the new Audi R8 start in summer 2015. Prices are €165,000 for the R8 V10 and €187,400 for the top-of-the-range version R8 V10 plus. (US pricing hasn't been announced, but that converts to about $184,550 to $209,600.) The e-tron model will be available "upon customer request" and in limited quantities.

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