IT SHOULDN’T RAIN IN ITALY IN OCTOBER BUT IT DID, SO THE MISANO WORLD CIRCUIT WAS SODDEN. With a torque split sending up to 85% to the rear or up to 30% to the front, the R8 acts more like a rear-drive car on the limit, so I found it prudent to use “Normal” rather than the Sport Mode on the track.
Even one gear higher than normal in each bend, a whiff too much throttle on the exit would send the rear-end skating out. However, thanks to the R8’s balance, I was able to indulge in drifting out of all the bends.
What was evident in these conditions was the V10 Plus possessed excellent throttle response, even in Normal Mode. Once it was pointing down the straights, with the quattro fully hooked up, the primal scream of the V10 at the top end of its rev band was addictive.
The fact you no longer cringe in anticipation of an uncomfortable shunt on each full throttle upshift was very welcome, and the seamless nature of the new dual-clutch transmission added to the car’s overall appeal.
The downside was full-throttle kick-down and redline upshifting in Normal Mode, which would be locked out in Sport Mode. So although I was in Normal to avoid the hair trigger response on the slippery track, the software triggered a kick-down when I resumed full-throttle after short shifting into a higher gear. The ECU needs a third mode!
We also drove the 430hp 4.2-liter V8 S tronic, which once again was far from a poor man’s version. With 0-62mph in 4.3sec and 187mph top speed, it was rapid enough for most people, and seemed livelier than ever with the new transmission. Entry-level or not, the V8 is still great value, while the price of the V10 Plus puts it head-to-head with the SLS AMC. But either way, the R8 range is a step closer to perfection with its new transmission.
When it arrived in 2007, the Audi R8 was good enough to stand toe-to-toe with entry-level products from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche. The V10 that followed only endorsed that sentiment but Audi hasn’t rested on its laurels. Last year it introduced the R8 CT: a lighter, more powerful version of the V10 for hardcore drivers; and now its launching the facelifted R8 range with updates that include revised bumpers, LED lights and the all-new S tronic seven-speed, dual-dutch transmission.
Whether you choose the charismatic 420hp V8 motor with its thundering Nascar soundtrack, or the screaming 525hp V10, the new transmission is the major piece that completes the R8 jigsaw puzzle. As with the e-gear system in the R8’s distant cousin, the Lamborghini Gallardo, the outgoing R tronic was a compromise that delivered relatively fast shifting with a minimal weight penalty, but fell short of the refinement expected from a modern transmission.
In the way of all automated manual transmissions, R tronic was fine in normal driving if you remembered to lift the throttle slightly when upshifting, but it was nasty when parking, and kicked like a mule when asked to perform full throttle upshifts.
The alternative was the six-speed manual, whose positive action and “click, clack” sound on engagement was reminiscent of 1970s Ferraris. It would be rewarding if you lived in rural North Carolina, but the clutch would be purgatory if you tangle with LA or NYC traffic.
So the new seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch tackles all these issues, providing lightning fast and butter smooth upshifts, with near-instantaneous downshifts accompanied by a throttle blip.
While S tronic is 84 lb heavier, its short housing makes it more compact than the R tronic. In practice, it’s fast and can skip ratios, going straight from seven to two, for instance.
Complementing the new ‘box is “Auto Mode” that’s as seamless as a conventional torque converter, with no disconcerting low-speed surging or parking histrionics.
In the cabin, you can spot the new transmission by the bespoke aluminum paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but its extra weight has been mitigated by savings in other areas and a bump in power.
The V10 Plus is 110 lb lighter than a regular V10 thanks to lightweight parts such as forged wheels and alloy suspension components, as well as the sports seats, reduced soundproofing and carbon side plates from the R8 CT. Add carbon fiber composite bumpers, skirts and engine cover, and the V10 Plus is only 22 lb heavier than the R tronic-equipped CT. Although the optional ceramic brakes would remove a further 25 lb.
The power boost comes from software producing 550hp at 8000rpm and 398 Ib-ft at 6500rpm. So with Launch Control active, the VI0 Plus shaves 0.3sec off the 0-62mph time of the V10 R tronic, bringing it to 3.5sec, with 0-124mph taking just 7.8sec.
So the updates to the Audi R8 range have brought tangible improvements to what was already considered one of the best sports cars on the market, eliminating some of the original criticisms and building on the car’s strengths.