It’s fair to say the world was blind-sided by the Audi R8 when it was launched in 2007. We knew it would be fast, we knew it would look good. But no-one expected it to handle as well as it did.
You see, the combination of a mid-engined layout and four-wheel-drive doesn’t necessarily lend itself to playfulness, especially when the company building it has no experience with such a car. But by using elements of the Lamborghini Gallardo’s chassis and sending most of the power to rear wheels, Audi created a masterpiece.
The car you see here, brand-spanking-new from the ground up, is the difficult second album.
Let’s start with the styling. It’s still recognisably an R8, but in translating Audi’s current design language to the mid-engined, cab-forward shape, the new car has lost the curvaceousness that made the original so delectable. The flat surfaces exaggerate the slightly bulbous roofline, as well.
Make no mistake, this still a very good looking car. It just lacks a certain cohesiveness. The interior, though, is gorgeous. Typically minimalist, it features the trio of circular air vents with touch controls in the centre first seen on the TT. Traditional instruments are superceded by a high-tech configurable TFT display.
Under the skin is a multi-material spaceframe chassis, shared with the Lamborghini Huracan, made with a high proportion of aluminium and carbonfibre reinforced plastic. It’s both stronger and lighter, the R8 weighing up to 50kg less than before. The whole chassis only weighs 200kg.
The old V8 engine has been dropped from the line-up, leaving the 5.2-litre V10 motor. Two states of tune will be available: the standard 533bhp version, or the 602bhp V10 plus. The plus sprints from 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds (3.5s standard) and runs on to 205mph (201mph standard).
Dry sump lubrication means it can withstand committed cornering, while cylinder deactivation helps return acceptable fuel economy, recording best numbers of 23.9mpg and 275g/km of Co2.
Power goes to quattro four-wheel-drive via a seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox – there’s no manual option. Up to 100 per cent of the power can be sent to the back wheels and there’s a mechanical limited-slip differential.
An all-electric R8 e-tron will follow later. Power comes from a pair of electric motors on the rear axle, producing 456bhp and 679lb/ft of torque. 0-62mph takes 3.9 seconds, with top speed limited to 155mph. Audi claims the lithium-ion batteries hold enough charge for a range of 276 miles.
Carbon ceramic brakes comes as standard on the plus, optional on the standard car. Adaptive magnetic dampers and variable-ratio steering is optional on both.
UK pricing has yet to be announced – prices start at €165,000 in Europe. The 2016 Audi R8 makes its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show next week.