2014 Audi R8 First Review: To know it is to want it
The right tool for the job. Having just driven from Italy to Germany in a variety of 2014 Audi R8s, it is a cliché whose truth I can verify.
First, some background. Audi introduced the R8 supercar for the 2007 model year. Thanks to its utterly distinct styling, audacious performance and some smart placement in the Iron Man movies, the R8 has rightly earned poster space over the beds of countless 14-year-olds. Sorry, Countach. As an established R8 fan myself, I was excited to experience the freshly revised 2014 Audi R8.
Our trip started with lapping sessions around Misano World Circuit, a MotoGP track near Italy's east coast. Frankly, the track layout was strange, with lots of long straights followed by challenging compound corners requiring late apexes and plenty of braking into the turns. I'm sure the layout makes sense to top-tier motorcycle racers but from my perspective as a track-day car-guy, the track just felt weird. But Misano's challenging layout immediately highlighted one of the R8's finest strengths: its user-friendliness. For all its power and performance the 2014 Audi R8 remains surprisingly easy to drive. Yes, the rear of the car likes to shimmy under hard braking, but during steady-state cornering the driver enjoys slight and reassuring understeer. Modulate the throttle and brake pedals and the mid-engine Audi happily adjusts its driving line, making the R8 controllable and engaging but always affable. All these traits helped me successfully lap the perplexing Misano World Circuit, along with the wet alpine roads of Austria a few days later, and have fun doing it.
For those of us familiar with the current Audi R8, the picture of agreeability painted in the preceding paragraph comes as no surprise. But while the fundamentals remain the same for the 2014 R8, there are several notable changes to be found. The front and rear fascias have been revised, sharply drawn LED headlights are now standard, and the tail lights feature a row of 30 LEDs that illuminate directionally outward when signaling, kind of like a Mustang but much cooler. A range-topping V10 Plus model has also been added to the lineup, which comes only as a coupe and utilizes its 25 horsepower advantage (totaling 550) and 110 pound lighter curb weight to ever-so-slightly outpace the already quick R8 V10 coupe with runs to 62 mph in the mid-three second range.
Likely the most significant change for 2014 is the new S Tronic 7-speed dual clutch transmission. We've always loved the R8's manual transmission, with its delightfully mechanical feel and satisfying metal gated shifter, but the R-tronic automated manual transmission always put us off. Its slow shifts and jerky engagement seemed out of step with the otherwise stellar R8. In bold contrast the 2014 model's new S Tronic dual-clutch automatic performs staggeringly quick yet smooth gear changes while simultaneously improving both acceleration and fuel economy. It works fine in automatic mode, reacts quickly in manual mode (though an audible beep of denial would be nice for premature downshift requests), and in all regards feels better suited to the spirit of Audi's supercar. Like episodes of Sesame Street, we absolutely prefer R8's brought to you by the letter S.
During our two-day jaunt from Misano, past Venice, up through the Austrian Alps, eventually arriving in Munich, Germany, we were reminded of what makes the R8 so special. That is, its adaptability. Yes, it has the power, handling and swagger that supercar buyers demand, but it is also so dang livable. Long days in the saddle didn't wear us out. My frequently achy lower back felt fine for the duration of our trip. The coupe's cabin was quiet enough for easy conversation with my co-driver. Conversation was much more strained with the top down in the R8 Spyder, due completely to the triumphant roar of our car's V10 engine and the high-velocity wind blast. A worthwhile trade off if you ask me. In fact, I'm fairly certain that the two hours or so I spent chasing another journalist at, let's say, "motivated" speeds into the mountains of Northern Italy were the most fun I've had in the past year. The speed. The sound. The supreme feeling of connectedness between driver, vehicle and environment as I closely trailed an identical red V10-powered R8 Spyder across bridges and through echoing tunnels. For those two hours I couldn't imagine being happier and I couldn't imagine a better tool for the job.
Back to reality, the 2014 Audi R8 is a lot like the current R8 but better. Definitely better. Sometimes you need a revolution. But other times evolution is more appropriate. Revised styling, a new dual-clutch transmission and the addition of a range-topping V10 Plus model help the 2014 Audi R8 remain one of the most desirable aspirational cars in existence. Pricing hasn't yet been released but we're expecting numbers from the low to mid $100,000 range, depending on model. If you have that kind of money to drop on a car, the 2014 R8 is a good way to spend it. And if you don't have that kind of money, remember: people need something to strive for. And for this 34-year-old donkey of a journalist, the 2014 Audi R8 is as enticing a carrot as ever.