2014 Audi R8 First Drive: Introduction
Any luxury brand that wants to be taken seriously by people with money needs to sell both a flagship sedan and a world-class sports car. Without these two components, A-list status is elusive, though not impossible, as Lexus has proven for many years. Audi, a relative newcomer to the A-list, has long sold its A8 sedan, fulfilling the first requirement. More recently, the automaker unleashed its R8 sports car for the 2009 model year, a mid-engine performance machine that serves as an alternative choice for well-heeled iconoclasts disinterested in the usual Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche models favored by the nouveau riche.
My first time driving the Audi R8 was on a racetrack, which is as it should have been, given its storied namesake. Five years later, I’m sitting in a big house on a big hill overlooking a big ocean, ready to accept the keys to a new 2014 Audi R8. I’ve got two hours with the car. I know well the local mountain roads. The next 120 minutes are going to be fun.
2014 Audi R8 First Drive: About Our Test Cars
Audi has given the 2014 R8 a mid-life refresh, which is why the automaker invited us to Malibu, Calif., to sample the latest iteration of the car. The 2014 Audi R8 lineup includes the R8 V8 ($114,900), the R8 V10 ($151,200), and the new-for-2014 R8 V10 Plus ($170,545). The R8 Spyder’s convertible top commands a premium of $13,500, and is offered only for V8 and V10 models. The R8 V10 Plus is sold only as a coupe, and this is the car I drove for this story, one painted red and one painted blue.
Each model is equipped with a standard gated 6-speed manual gearbox. A new 7-speed S-tronic automated double-clutch manual transmission is optional ($9,100), and all 2014 Audi R8 models are subject to a gas-guzzler charge of $3,000. Both of my examples of the R8 V10 Plus were equipped with the new S-tronic transmission.
To create the R8 V10 Plus model, Audi shaves 130 pounds off the standard V10 Coupe, massages the engine to make an additional 25 horsepower and 7 lb.-ft. of torque, installs Titanium Gray trim in place of Gloss Black accents, bolts on a set of unique Titanium Gray or Silver wheels, and slathers on a bunch of bespoke carbon fiber trim inside and out. In order to achieve the goals set forth by the car’s weight loss program, the V10 Plus sheds the V10 Coupe’s standard magnetic-ride suspension, power adjustable front seats, Bang & Olufsen audio components, and some of the sound deadening material from the engine bay. Audi also swaps the standard brakes out for carbon ceramic discs, shrinks the fuel tank, and wraps the seats in lighter Alcantara suede to hit its 130-lb. weight loss target.
The results, according to Audi, are slight improvements in acceleration and top speed, with the V10 Plus Coupe rushing to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and topping out at 196 mph. Certainly, the lighter V10 Plus also feels a little more limber at the limits. And while I cannot attest to the accuracy of that top speed claim, the acceleration figure sounds about right, especially with someone far more talented than I at the car’s helm.
2014 Audi R8 First Drive: Styling and Design
Neither classically sensual nor mortifyingly misshapen, the Audi R8 is an unmistakably distinctive automobile that grabs attention and turns heads, even in a place like Los Angeles, where the closer to the coast you get, the more expensive the automotive machinery that clogs the roads. In L.A., you are what you drive, and an R8 reflects a level of self-confidence and a penchant for original thinking that, say, a silver Porsche 911 does not.
For 2014, Audi has updated the R8’s styling, adding a new grille, standard LED headlights, restyled side mirrors, new wheel designs, and a revised rear end with freshened taillights and a lower fascia punctuated by round exhaust outlets. But it isn’t these changes that had necks twisting all over Malibu. Spotting an Audi R8 is a rarity, especially one that belches and bellows like the V10 Plus at wide-open throttle.
As modern and technical as the R8 looks on the outside, and as loud as it sounds if you’re behind one when the driver gets hard on the gas pedal, this sports car is elegantly appointed on the inside. My loaded-up test car had all the upgrades, including an extended leather treatment, diamond-stitched leather seats, and an Alcantara suede headliner, all rendered in black. Generous aluminum detailing, combined with the tasteful contrasting textures of the rich cabin materials, kept the R8 from feeling too dark inside. And for the most part, the cabin’s quality is aligned with the car’s price tag.
2014 Audi R8 First Drive: Comfort and Controls
In addition to providing an appealing and high-quality cabin from which to conduct the business of driving, the Audi R8 is quite comfortable for two adults. The sport seats provide excellent comfort and support, never confining their occupants yet holding them firmly in place when the driver exercises the car. As a result, the R8’s seating is equally agreeable when cruising down a coastal highway and when sluicing down a favorite mountain road.
An exceptional driving tool, the 3-spoke, thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel is wrapped in smooth, quality leather, making it easy to grip and guide or relax and slide, proving the perfect partner for shuffle steering through S-turns. This year, the car’s shifter paddles are larger than before, and they’re gratifying to use in combination with an engine that revs to 8,000 rpm and beyond.
Controls are arrayed around the driver, with design taking precedence over ergonomics. It is occasionally hard to find, use, or even decipher certain functions and features, but owners are sure to quickly acclimate to the R8’s idiosyncrasies. To be fair to Audi, compared to other mega-buck sports cars, the R8 is an ergonomic tour-de-force, even if the car is showing its age in some respects, especially when it comes to the Audi Multi-Media Information (MMI) display screen and its various buttons.
Perhaps in keeping with its minimalist mission, the R8 V10 Plus is offered with few options. They include an Audi Music Interface, Fine Nappa leather for the seats, Fine Nappa leather for the dashboard and door panels, Fine Nappa leather with a diamond-stitch pattern and contrast stitching, an Alcantara headliner, and a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system. My test sample included all of them, and they make driving this machine even better.
If I’ve got anything to complain about, it’s that despite the removal of some sound deadening material from the R8 V10 Plus’s engine compartment, I nevertheless feel like the cabin is too isolated from the mechanical symphony occurring right behind the passengers. This car sounds terrific on the outside. When sitting inside, you might as well be wearing noise-cancelling headphones. I also found that when I braced my left leg against the door panel to take hard right-hand turns, the unyielding carbon fiber trim caused knee pain.
2014 Audi R8 First Drive: Engines and Performance
Mounted behind the seats and in front of the rear wheels, one of three engines is installed in the 2014 Audi R8. The standard V8 models get a 4.2-liter V-8 engine making 430 horsepower at 7,900 rpm and 317 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. Audi says the R8 V8 accelerates to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds with the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, and that it will return 11 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.
Choose the R8 V10, and the car is powered by a 5.2-liter V-10 engine producing 525 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 391 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,500 rpm. Given the increase in power, it’s not surprising that this version of the car is faster than the already quick R8 V8. By Audi’s stopwatch, the R8 V10 accelerates to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds with the standard manual gearbox. Fuel economy is a wash, with the V10 returning 12 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.
My test car, the R8 V10 Plus, is modified to generate 550 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 398 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,500 rpm, dropping the zero-to-60 acceleration time to 3.7 seconds with the gated manual transmission.
Each engine can be optioned with a new 7-speed double-clutch S-tronic transmission, an automated manual gearbox with an automatic mode and manual shifting using the gear selector or paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel. Though S-tronic is a pricey upgrade, and while it might not prove satisfying to enthusiast drivers who prefer a clutch pedal, there’s no arguing the positive effect this piece of engineering has on performance.
Installed in the R8 V8, the S-tronic transmission cuts acceleration to 60 mph down to 4.2 seconds while adding an extra 3 mpg to both the city and highway fuel economy estimates. The impact on performance is greater for the R8 V10 and V10 Plus models, each of which accelerates to 60 mph nearly half a second faster with S-tronic while achieving far better highway fuel economy. With S-tronic, the R8 V10 gets to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, while the R8 V10 Plus is a tick quicker at 3.3 seconds. Both V10 models return 13 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway when equipped with this transmission.
Never thought I’d admit it, but modern automated manual transmissions like S-tronic make it clear that the clutch pedal’s days are numbered.
2014 Audi R8 First Drive: Driving Impressions
I drove two different 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus models over the course of two hours. Using the blue car pictured here, I drove up and down the Pacific Coast Highway to see how well the R8 might fare as a road tripping cruiser. Using the red car in the accompanying photos, I enjoyed one of the most memorable rides down one of my favorite roads in California. Needless to say, it was a great day.
Velocity is nearly instantaneous, and with aggressive throttle application, the powerful V10 engine braaaps! with each satisfyingly crisp upshift. The S-tronic transmission rapidly acclimates to changes in driving behavior, responding with unyielding authority the moment the driver demands greater response, and then reverting to a more relaxed shift program in order to maximize fuel economy when the R8 is driven with greater restraint.
With holiday weekend travelers, surfers, and beachgoers starting to clog the Pacific Coast Highway, it was pointless to try and explore any of the car’s capabilities, aside from straight-line acceleration. So we loafed along at little more than the speed limit with the windows rolled down, invisible to beefed-up California Highway Patrol sorties, getting an indicated 22.3 mpg despite a couple of full-throttle runs to 60 mph.
Swapping out for the red car, I headed toward Santa Monica on PCH, threading occasional stop-and-go traffic to make my way to a tributary street leading to my favorite stretch of writhing 2-lane road in California. Here, I began using the car’s paddle shifters, but with an 8,000 rpm power peak, I never needed anything more than second or third gears while climbing nearly 2,000 feet in elevation in mere minutes. At the peak of the mountain range, I hooked a right, and with the ocean far down to my left and the canyons of Malibu far down to my right, began a thrilling 20-minute descent. There was no traffic. There were no cyclists. And the CHP was busy patrolling the beach.
Here, the R8 V10 Plus model’s carbon ceramic brakes proved their worth, both in terms of their efficacy and a reduction of unsprung weight. Their flawless performance, combined with the centralization of rotational mass into the middle of the car, the V10 Plus’s sticky P235/35R19 front and P305/30R19 rear summer performance tires, the telepathic hydraulic steering, and accomplished aluminum double-wishbone suspension components front and rear, the R8 proved absolutely unflappable as I dove into corner after corner. The cost for this behavior, aside from a potentially bankrupting ticket? Fuel economy dropped into the low-12s.
Despite its advancing age, the Audi A8 is a brilliantly capable driving machine when used as a road tripper and a canyon carver, and though I was unable to achieve the same triple-digit speeds that I did on a racetrack half a decade ago behind the wheel of the original R8, I enjoyed this blast across the Santa Monica Mountains far more.
In the cut-and-thrust of traffic, however, the unique traits common of automated manual transmissions, combined with a grabby brake pedal, can make for a herky-jerky commute. Skip the V10 Plus model and its ceramic brake discs to resolve the brake pedal issue. The transmission complaint vanishes by sticking with the standard manual gearbox. But I think it’s wiser to opt for S-tronic and to adapt to its shift characteristics.
2014 Audi R8 First Drive: Final Thoughts
As accomplished a performance machine as the Audi R8 is, and as utterly unflappable as it proves when driven hard and fast, it doesn’t provide as immersive and visceral a driving experience as other high-dollar sports cars. The cabin is quiet, the seats are comfortable, the Bang & Olufsen audio components are outstanding, and the suspension filters much of the discomfort produced by indifferently maintained road surfaces while communicating critical details important to the task of driving. The R8 delivers a thrilling driving experience, yes, but this Audi’s driving dynamics are refined rather than raw, just the way I like ‘em.
Audi invited Autobytel to participate in a driving event for members of the media in order to facilitate this article
2014 Audi R8 photos by Christian Wardlaw