When the Audi R8 burst on to the scene in 2006, it instantly became the ‘must have’ sports car of the moment. All too often, models that arrive in a blaze of publicity fizzle out of fashion just as quickly – but that hasn’t been the case with the Audi.
Its sleek looks and wonderful detailing still turn heads, and it’s just as desirable today as it was seven years ago. So it’s no surprise Audi has waited until now before updating its flagship performance car. And even then, you’ll struggle to pick out the differences.
The most obvious changes are the new all-LED headlights and rear indicators that sweep in the direction of turn, but tweaks to the grille and wing mirrors are harder to spot.
You can’t blame Audi for leaving the styling alone, as the R8 is stunning – but it’s not so easy to forgive the limited changes inside. While the beautifully crafted cabin gives away nothing in quality to the Porsche, the standard navigation is old tech that’s put to shame by the system you’d get in an Audi A3. The driving position is decent, but there’s a fraction less space than in the Porsche 911, and overall the R8 is left looking a little dated inside by its more modern rival.
Still, anyone upgrading from the current car will be excited by the technical updates – not least the option of a dual-clutch box for the first time. But while it’s an improvement on the old R tronic set-up, the S tronic seven-speed transmission isn’t perfect. At low speed, the downshifts are occasionally jerky, while kickdown is too aggressive – it often jumps several ratios when one would do.
On the plus side, when you drive in manual mode with the Sport button pressed, kickdown is deactivated, unlike in the Porsche. As before, the quattro all-wheel drive distributes power seamlessly across the axles, yet the R8 feels like a rear-driven car, with all the agility you’d expect.
The steering isn’t quite as fast as the 911’s, but the weighting and feedback are natural, while the Audi’s low centre of gravity ensures body control is superb. And although the V8 engine isn’t as intense as the Porsche’s flat-six, performance is very closely matched.
The sense of occasion you get from driving the R8 ranks right up there with the new Carrera 4S. Audi has upped the standard kit tally to include heated seats and Bluetooth, but on V8 models the excellent Magnetic Ride dampers are optional – and without them the ride has a bit of a hard edge.
Even so, the Audi remains a superb sports car that’s still extremely desirable.