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Final Drive: One Last Lap in the Audi R8

The sun is about to set on Audi's outstanding supercar

2023 Audi R8 at Laguna Seca front
  • Final editions of the Audi R8 supercar are all but sold-out.
  • Two generations were produced across a 17-year lifespan.
  • Any future Audi supercar will boast electric power.

In automotive terms, the 2020s will be the decade of the eulogy. As the death knell sounds for the internal combustion engine, we’ll be lamenting the demise of some truly great cars. This includes, sadly, the Audi R8 supercar. In partnership with the TT sport coupe, the R8 was the car that helped revolutionize perceptions of the Audi brand across the world. While Audi had made strides to be seen as more than just a maker of fancy Volkswagens, the TT and R8 morphed it into a global luxury leader. 

The R8 originally debuted as a concept car in 2003, went into production in 2006 and, through two generations, has survived to this day. But by the end of this year it will be no more, and to mourn its passing, Audi organized a last hurrah at the Laguna Seca racetrack during Monterey Car Week. The premise was simple: Complete two laps behind Tom Kristensen, the racer who won the Le Mans 24 hours race nine times, mostly in an Audi. To keep things fair, Kristensen would be driving an Audi e-tron GT, a speedy car, but not quite an R8.

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2023 Audi R8 and e-tron GT at Laguna Seca front

The original Audi R8 shared many of its parts with the Lamborghini Gallardo and was offered with either a V8 or a V10 engine mounted behind the cockpit. Apparently the designer’s brief was to create a German supercar and with its unique “side blades” and organic curves, the original was distinctive. The second-generation car, which arrived for the 2017 model year in the U.S., was more angular and arguably less interesting. As time has gone on, the R8 has also grown more aerodynamic additions, detracting from the purity of the original concept. 

If the exterior grew more complex, the cabin remains a haven of elegant simplicity. There’s a dearth of gadgetry and the only screen is in front of the driver, handling the primary information. If you want to watch YouTube in an R8, pull out your phone. 

There are two R8s here, an all-wheel-drive V10 Performance Quattro with 602 horsepower and a rear-wheel-drive car with a mere 562 hp, which is what I’ve been assigned. Sadly, the tremendous stick shift — which featured a Ferrari-style aluminum gate — was discontinued for the second-generation R8, so all models have a seven-speed dual-clutch auto with paddle shifts. 

Maybe that’s a good thing today, because although I’ve driven plenty of R8s, I’ve only raced at Laguna Seca in my dreams. Kristensen is supposed to be taking it relatively easy, but he’s still a pro racing driver. He’s also supposed to be barking instructions through the radio, but I can’t hear anything beyond the howl of the R8’s V10. It’s becoming a cliché to say it, but no electric car will ever come close to matching the emotive appeal of a supercar engine, at least for members of my generation.

2023 Audi R8 at Laguna Seca rear

By any standards, this remains a ferociously rapid car — we recorded 0-60 mph in 3 seconds flat at our test track. It’s also one of the sweetest-handling. The rear-wheel-drive car was engineered to be more playful than the Quattro (and $50K cheaper) but it’s still not intimidating to drive. In other words, it remains a genuine Audi, playing the everyday supercar in the manner of the original Acura NSX. Laguna Seca's famous Corkscrew is safely dispatched and I’m summoned back to the paddock almost as quickly as I’ve begun. 

As a final fling, it’s been quick but hugely enjoyable. The R8 will be missed and the more collectible versions are likely to appreciate in value as the years tick by. In the future there’ll likely be another Audi supercar to complement the company’s upcoming participation in Formula 1 racing. It may prove to be brilliant, but it won’t be an R8. 

2023 Audi R8 at Laguna Seca front

Edmunds says

The supercar that helped propel Audi to a new level of success will be much missed. If you want one, move fast because they’re all but sold-out.