You may already know that Audi originally built the beautiful midengine R8 supercar to go after the Porsche 911.
But that was way back in 2007. Now Porsche is part of the extended Volkswagen family, along with Audi and Lamborghini, among others. With that in mind you would think Audi might back off from its original goal.
Audi didn't see it that way, though, and now the 2013 Audi R8's entry-level package finds itself sliding through gears with a new dual-clutch, seven-speed transmission, a little more power and a little more economy. It's an evolution, for sure, but one that comes with enough gadgets to make it every bit as interesting as the latest 911.
A Touch More Engine
The core of the base 4.2-liter V8 is essentially the same as it is in the 2012 model, with only mapping and software tweaks lifting it to 430 horsepower at the exact same 7,900 rpm power peak as before. The torque rating remains the same at 317 pound-feet between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm.
So, all in all, not much to see here.
That said, it's a lovely, dry-sump motor that does a brilliant job of belying its long-stroke layout to spin happily and freely out to the limiter at 8,250 rpm.
It's full of lovely stuff, too, with things like a forged crankshaft, forged con rods and forged aluminum pistons. It rests in an ultra-lightweight magnesium engine frame that is a stressed part of the chassis, and all of its oil, power steering and alternator drives run off the back of the engine.
A V10 engine remains an option as well. The standard tune delivers 525 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque and can be ordered with the new S tronic transmission or a manual in either coupe or spyder bodystyle. A new V10 Plus model has been added to the lineup as well. It comes only as a coupe and delivers 550 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque. It's lighter, too, by some 110 pounds thanks to standard ceramic brake discs, lighter carpet and various carbon-fiber parts like the front air dam, rear diffuser and even the side blades.
Finally, a Proper Automatic
While it will keep offering a six-speed manual for the die-hards, the seven-speed S tronic is not only smoother, but faster and more economical as well. And more expensive.
The seven-speeder is only 23.6 inches long (6 inches shorter than the old robotized manual) and hangs out the back of the engine (so it's almost the first thing destroyed if someone hits you from behind).
It's a dual-clutch setup, with gears 1, 3, 5 and 7 on one clutch and the rest on the other. Gears on both shafts are constantly hooked up and spinning, but only one clutch at a time is engaged. Seventh gear is the fuel economy cog, so the S tronic R8 actually hit its top speed in 6th gear.
It's a costlier thing to produce than the manual (no surprises there), so it will cost more. But it has launch control, which helps it to cut 0.3 second off the 0-62-mph sprint and the gearbox saves fuel, too, even though it's 55 pounds heavier than the three-pedal R8 V8.
The transmission is only half the battle, of course. Audi hasn't given the rest of the powertrain any significant alterations, so it keeps its viscous-coupling center diff for the all-wheel-drive system. When it's cruising or just pottering around, it feeds only 15 percent of the drive to the front wheels, but it can crank that up to 30 percent on demand. There is a mechanical limited-slip diff at the back, too, just in case all-wheel drive isn't enough traction.
There are double-wishbones all around and Audi has yet to bother the R8 with the electric power steering systems that soaked up so much of Porsche's engineering resources in the new 911's development. Instead, it stuck with power-assisted rack-and-pinion technology, complete with a 16.3:1 ratio.
The V8 rides on 18-inch wheels, with 235/45R18s up front and 285/35R18s at the back. Tire-pressure monitoring is standard, as is an ESP that can be on, flicked up a level for Sport and off altogether for track work. The up-and-down work is handled by fixed-rate dampers, though our test car had the optional magnetic adaptive dampers that are standard on the V10.
The brakes are truly impressive, with Audi adopting the layout of the RS 5's wave-cut discs for the V8. These started life in motorcycles and save about 4.4 pounds. The R8 clamps them with eight-piston calipers up front and four-piston units at the back. Carbon ceramics are optional, but it's a very expensive option, even if they chop out about 26 pounds and switch out the big caliper for a stiffer six-piston front caliper.
Still Easy To Tame
Fifty-seven percent of the 2013 Audi R8's weight hovers over the rear axle. What that weight distribution delivers to the R8 driver is sheer, unbridled agility. And you can't help smiling about it.
For all that, it's so civilized and so brilliantly organized that you'd have to be doing something extremely absurd to crash one. It is a forgiving car for the ham-fisted, but that doesn't compromise its ability to challenge the skilled to push it ever harder.
Its magnetic adaptive damping helps and it's something we'd heavily recommend. It comes with two suspension modes (Normal and Sport; Comfort is conspicuous by its absence) and is disconnected from the R8's "other" Sport button that tightens up the gearshift times, the throttle response and the ESP setup while punching out more decibels from the exhaust. So, on a bumpy road, you can still drive quickly in powertrain Sport while you're wafting along in Normal suspension modes. That's clever thinking.
The V8 won't rattle your windows on start-up either, and the standard mode is designed to give you some access to the wonderfully smooth and rich warble without it becoming a drone when you're cruising on highways. It's an engine so flexible that it's at home being dawdled in traffic or being flogged in the mountains. It's comfortable and strong at 2,000 rpm, and it's urgent and indulgent at 8,000 rpm.
The thing you don't notice is the S tronic seven-speeder. It's so utterly effective that it becomes invisible, especially when you're driving it around town. You don't feel new gears engage; you just hear a change in the engine note. It's better and smoother than most torque-converter automatics.
It flits through gears easily and without interruption and, in Sport mode, it adds a big, ribald throttle blip on the downshifts, too. The only quirk we could find was that, when we were in Manual mode trying to punch out of a corner on the engine's torque curve, it occasionally flared down to a gear we didn't ask for. Audi says it's working on it.
A Genuine Sports Car
Above all else, the 2013 Audi R8 is supposed to be a sports car. And it still is. Even though sports cars aren't supposed to ride beautifully, the R8 does, but it doesn't compromise that stuff it's supposed to do at its core.
It can be hurled deep into corners but the brakes, with their oddball wave pattern around the outer edge of the disc, are more than enough to smash its nose down toward the tarmac. It's not just the power of the brakes, but the stability of the chassis under extreme braking that's every bit as impressive.
The steering, on the other hand, is a slight disappointment. They might have targeted the 911, but the front end's feel coming into a corner as it nibbles away toward the apex or chomps its way out the other side is nothing like the Porsche can offer.
We can live with the shortfall in tactile feedback, but the bigger issue is just how slow the steering is in slow corners. It isn't by accident, because Audi knows these things punch down the Autobahn regularly and slow steering equals easy high-speed stability, but it's a compromise that will bite everywhere else in the world.
You regularly arrive at slow bends in the mountains and turn the wheel. Then turn it a little more. Then turn it even more again. Everything else about the car handles intuitively and instinctively — except the steering, and that slightly mars a brilliant chassis package. It doesn't slow it down; it's just a speck of mud on a diamond.
Nearly a Grand Tourer, Too
You don't buy an R8 so you can spread out in acres of leather, but there's a surprising amount of space inside the curvy, low-roofed cabin. The legroom isn't bad, even for the tall, and there's no shortage of headroom.
The biggest surprise is how comfortable the R8 has become. There's a pair of cupholders behind your gear-shifting elbow and the diamond-quilted stitching on the electrically operated leather seats looks as fabulous as it does on the roof and the doors. With the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the flawless stitching of the leather dashboard and the deep carpet, the 2013 Audi R8 is suddenly as much a grand tourer as it is a sports car.
Sure, its 3.5 cubic feet of luggage capacity is hardly cavernous, but that's hardly the point. It's good enough to stuff the largest acceptable carry-on bag, a computer bag and a couple of jackets inside it, which is more than enough for this kind of car. Besides, there's another 3.2 cubic feet behind the seats, if you can be bothered moving them forward and sliding your golf clubs past the door frames.
A Solid Second Effort
Like the original version, the revised 2013 Audi R8 works on many levels. In its normal mode, it's quiet enough to drive every day, and for a long way every day. Drive it calmly and it will respond with an equally calm cabin, ride and personality.
When you need to turn up the wick, however, this R8 responds better than ever. The combination of the new transmission, adaptive suspension and always usable power add up to a sweetie of a sports car. But don't tell Audi that. It was out to create a 911-eating bad boy. Hard to tell just yet if it has succeeded.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.