Review and road test of the Audi R8 Coupe (2015 - 2018)
OPEN WIDE & SAY R
By Jonathan Crouch
In MK2 model 'Type 4S' form, Audi's R8 got sharper, smarter and faster. Turning away from the tide towards turbocharging, it uses an aurally magnificent normally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 and promises race-bred but road-ready four wheel drive performance able to justify its new-found junior supercar status. Buyers in search of this kind of car must take this one very seriously indeed. Let's check out the pre-facelift version as a used buy.
2dr Coupe (5.2 V10 - 540PS/610PS])
They say that success breeds success, but the reality is that it breeds expectation. Such was Audi's problem with the this car. Back in 2006, the brand commemorated victory in the Le Mans 24-hours race by launching its very first supercar, the R8, and it surpassed almost everybody's expectations. This second generation version, launched in the middle of 2015, had to build on that car's legacy.
Quite a task. The original R8, you see, succeeded in nailing the super-sportscar brief first time out. It was the first contender in years to properly scare the benchmark player in this segment, Porsche's 911, something that models from BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Aston Martin had been trying to do for decades. With this second generation version though, the brief was rather different, even though in terms of exterior execution it may appear much the same. Where the original R8 aspired to supercar status, this MK2 model's power and pricing boldly claimed to have attained it.
Why the change? Well for one thing, Audi realised by 2015 that buyers would pay exalted prices for an R8 - successful run-out limited edition versions of the original model proved that. In addition, with the Porsche 911 by then a Volkswagen Group product, it was no longer necessary for the R8 to compete with volume versions of that car, so in second generation form, its focus shifted instead to more exotic fare, contenders like McLaren's 540C and the Mercedes-AMG GT - maybe also the Honda NSX. With the R8 though, there was one crucial difference. All these brands, like Porsche and Ferrari, believed that a modern supercar must have a hi-tech turbocharged engine. Audi didn't.
We'll understand if you think that doesn't sound very 'Vorsprung durch Technic', though to be fair, the normally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 on offer here has its share of cleverness. Ingolstadt didn't care. They had a 4.0-litre turbo V8 that could easily have been inserted into this car, but they chose not to use it, deciding instead that a proper supercar should sound and feel like one. In that regard, there's no substitute for the kind of high-revving cubic capacity that rivals disregarded in their stampede towards efficiency. As before, it's a formula shared with Lamborghini - and with the R8 LMS GT3 race car that rolled down the same Quattro GmbH production line as this road version. At launch, this 'Type 4S' MK2 model R8 claimed to be the fastest and most powerful Audi ever made and was offered in base 540PS and 'V10 plus' 610PS guises. In 2018, a rear wheel drive version was briefly sold. The car was facelifted in 2019; it's the pre-facelift cars we look at here.
What You Get
Visually, the second generation 'Type 4S' R8 remains much like the original, a distinctive cocktail of low-slung curves and delightful design extravagance, though the influential shape of the previous model is here expressed in a tauter, more technically precise way. As before, we're talking Ferrari, but with a German twist. Of course, as ever what really matters is the stuff you can't see. Like its 'Type 42'-series predecessor, this second generation R8 uses lightweight 'ASF' 'Audi Space Frame' construction, shared (as before) with an equivalent model from the Volkswagen Group's Lamborghini brand, in this case the Huracan. With this 'Type 4S' car though, the ASF structure is fashioned not only from aluminium but also from an even more advanced material - carbonfibre reinforced polymer. That not only helped make this MK2 model 32kgs lighter but also contributed to a 40% improvement in torsional rigidity.
Getting in is something it's possible to manage in a more graceful manner than is the case with most models of this kind and once inside, you're introduced to what Audi calls a 'luxury-level racing atmosphere' and an interior that remains an object lesson in how to package a two seat sportscar. As before, one of the cockpit's key distinguishing features is what the stylists call the 'monoposto', a stylised large arc that encircles the driver's area of the cockpit, starting in the door and ending at the centre tunnel. But if that's familiar, there's also plenty that'll be different too if you're used to the previous 'Type 42'-series car, the changes beginning with the grippy, flat-bottomed R8 performance steering wheel. Extra round satellite buttons have been added to control engine start-up, exhaust sound and driving dynamics, with an end result that's both pleasing and effective.
As for all the infotainment functionality, well, as with Ingolstadt's humbler TT sportscar, that's all been relocated to what we're supposed to call the 'Audi Virtual Cockpit', a 12.3-inch high resolution instrument binnacle display that completely replaces the usual set of conventional dials.
As for practicalities, well there's more than you might expect in terms of cabin storage, with a big glovebox compensating to some extent for the tiny door pockets. The cupholders you'd have to do without in this car's Lamborghini cousin are here present and correct in a lidded compartment between the seats. Plus there's a coin slot to the left of the lovely aircraft-style gearstick and storage space ahead of it that includes USB connections, an aux-in point and a 12v socket. And beyond that? Well, were we to be graduating into this car from a 911, we'd miss the little rear seats that Porsche give you there, so useful for chucking a jacket or a designer shopping bag on to. Audi tried to compensate by providing a space behind the seats that it claims is large enough to accommodate a golf bag. Hmm. It'd have to be a fairly small one.
You're certainly not going to fit anything of that sort in the boot. Given that huge engine display cabinet out-back, the luggage bay, as in a 911, is in the front. At 112-litres in size, it isn't very big at all, with further precious cubic inches occupied by a bag for the tyre repair kit that Audi provides in lieu of a spare wheel. To be fair, the boot beneath the bonnet of a 911 Turbo is about the same size, but it's also true that a comparable McLaren model gives you about 30% more space, while cars like the Mercedes-AMG GT are vastly more practical.
What to Look For
Most owners in our survey seemed happy. Make sure the car is in perfect condition. There's no reason why it shouldn't be but any dents, scratches or interior damage will knock values hard. It's a buyers' market right now. Check for crash damage at the front and inspect the tyres for signs of uneven wear. The majority of cars that crop up on the used market will have been equipped to well above standard spec. Typically, there will be around £10,000 worth of extras fitted and demand for the R8 is such that sellers will be able to reflect this outlay in the asking price.
As for future residuals, well avoid outlandish colour combinations and this Audi should be a sound bet by supercar standards. The running gear is tried and tested and shouldn't throw up too many problems. Otherwise insist on a full service record. You can expect a clutch to last a minimum of 20,000 miles, and you should budget about £3,500 for a new one. Lower rear wishbones could also fail, requiring a new unit and hub - this could cost about £3,000 in parts alone. Magnetic dampers have been known to sometimes fail, too, at a cost of around £800 each.
(approx based on a 2017 R8 Coupe 540PS - Ex Vat) An oil filter costs in the £18 to £26 bracket. Spark plugs are around £22. An ABS sensor sits in the £58-£75 bracket. A rear brake pad set costs around £102. And the bespoke tyres are fearsomely expensive to replace; bear that in mind before you go track day showboating.
On the Road
That glorious V10 engine comes mated to 7-speed S tronic auto transmission and is offered in two states of tune. There's 540PS in standard form, or 610PS if you go for the 'V10 plus' variant, a car capable of 62mph from rest in just 3.2s en route to 205mph. On most models, that torque travels to the tarmac via an updated quattro set-up able to flash 100% of power to either axle instantly on demand and as a result, traction levels are astonishingly high. A rear wheel steer version of the 540PS model was sold between 2017 and 2019, but is vanishingly rare. Either way, the car feels agile, though a slight vagueness in the steering masks some of the improvements made to this 'Type 4S' model. These are down to lighter weight and extra torsional rigidity, plus the car in this form benefits from a torque vectoring system that deals with tight turns at speed by dialling out understeer and channelling power to the wheels that can best use it.
As usual with Audi, there's a 'Drive Select' driving dynamics system so that you can tweak throttle response, steering, stability control thresholds and gearshift timings to suit the kind of progress you want to make. It includes a special 'Performance' mode on the top version, with graphics delivered via the customisable screen of the brilliant 'Audi Virtual Cockpit' display that replaced the previous conventional instrument dials. The 'Drive Select' set-up can control the suspension too if, as we'd suggest, you find a car whose original owner paid the extra for the 'Audi Magnetic Ride' system. Find an original owner who ticked the box for the Sport exhaust option too so you can better enjoy that melodic 5.2-litre V10 out back before you have to pay for its pleasures - combined fuel economy sees this 'V10 plus' version deliver just 23mpg on the combined cycle and put out 287g/km of CO2.
With the original R8, Audi set out to prove that it could build a junior supercar. With the MK2 'Type 4S' model, it did. The aim here was twofold: to perfect the original package and then prove it capable of edging towards the more exclusive territory occupied by Lamborghini, McLaren and Ferrari. A step too far?
No. The four rings don't give this car the rarefied appeal of a Huracan or a 488 GTB, but in most meaningful respects, this MK2 model can match them car-for-car. Unlike its Italian rivals, it feels bullet-proof. And unlike a Porsche 911 Turbo, it makes a six-figure statement. Audi has clearly benchmarked both approaches and here blended Latin exclusivity with Teutonic day-to-day usability, creating a finished product that's difficult to beat if you want a car of this kind you could drive every day. But does this second generation R8 have quite the charm of the original? Maybe not, but then to some extent, that's the price of progress - quite a hefty price in this case.
Ultimately though, we'll take this R8 as it is, loving its looks, its classic configuration and its determination to stick with melodic normally aspirated power. It's a very Audi supercar. And there's nothing quite like it.
Audi R8 Coupe (2015 - 2018) review by Jonathan Crouch