Don’t let the all-new 2017 Audi R8’s dapper suit fool you. There’s a raging bull inside that’s just dying to get out. The long-awaited follow-up act to the car many Americans first saw when it was piloted by Robert Downey Jr. in 2008’s Iron Man may not look much different from the eminently civilized first-generation model, but one press of the red engine start/stop button located beneath the three-o’clock spoke of the flat-bottom steering wheel is all I needed to understand that the new R8 is indeed a changed beast, a decidedly meaner one, a huffing, puffing bull stirring in its pen.
The raging bull metaphor is not chosen at random; a little-known fact among non-gearheads is that Audi owns Lamborghini and Lamborghini’s mascot is — you guessed it — a raging bull. And one of the innumerable benefits of owning a company that engineers and builds the world’s most extreme supercars, of course, is the ability to rifle through its parts bins and find new and interesting uses for highly engineered detritus. When creating the first R8, Audi borrowed the basic structure of the Lamborghini Gallardo, including its carbon fiber–heavy passenger “tub,” the aluminum structures that anchor the wheels and engine. In the case of the new R8, the donor car is the spectacular Lamborghini Huracán. And this time, Audi also snagged the Lambo’s 610-horsepower V10 engine.
Before we talk speed, let’s talk style. Among supercars, the R8 is actually rather subtle. Like the Huracán on which it is based, the R8 takes a low-slung stance, with distinct proportions dictated by the placement of the engine behind the passengers and in front of the rear wheels. But whereas the wedge-shaped Huracán’s styling is dominated by straight lines and acute angles, the R8’s shape is more sinewy and less aggressive. The new model’s defining features, including the headlamps, tail lamps, window openings, and grille, remain close to those of the previous R8, though each has been sharpened at the edge for a more tailored look.
These wheels will take you to 60 mph in less than three seconds.
The original R8’s signature vertical side-blade panels behind the doors have been bisected into upper and lower elements this time around, a trick that allows the shoulder line to continue unbroken from the headlamps to the tail lamps, thus accentuating the R8’s sleekness and length. These contrasting elements are painted silver on standard R8 models, while R8 Plus models utilize sexy carbon fiber for those panels as well as the exterior mirrors, front splitter, and stand-up rear spoiler. All R8 coupes, however, feature a large glass panel over the rear deck that provides a literal window to the car’s soul.
That soul is a 5.2-liter V10 engine that now comes standard on all R8s, bestowing the base R8 with a formidable 540 horsepower and 398 foot-pounds of torque and the R8 V10 Plus the same 610-horsepower, 413-foot-pound output as the Lamborghini. All utilize a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and fully variable all-wheel drive, which help make the car both easy to drive and easy to control. Since they’re not turbocharged, both engines need to be revved quite high to access peak power, something you may find yourself doing anyway just to hear the spectacular sounds they make as the tachometer nears its 8,500-rpm redline.
The R8 has a nose for high speeds. The interior features 18-way seat adjustability.
Thus equipped, the standard R8 coupe can charge from a standstill to 60 mph in the mid-three-second range; V10 Plus coupes don’t even need three seconds to get there. Particularly in the V10 Plus’ case, that is seriously, utterly mind-bendingly quick — the sort of force that silences all chatter between passengers as their bodies are pressed into the seatbacks, forcing the air out of their lungs.
The kind of thrust that fuses any unsecured items like briefcases, gym bags, purses, phones, or teacup poodles into the surfaces immediately behind them. The kind of power that induces involuntary grins, if only because inertia has pulled the corners of your mouth to your ears.
When not driven at full tilt, the R8 is as docile as one of Audi’s lovely sport sedans, especially with the customizable “Drive Select” system in its “comfort” setting, which effectively mellows out the powertrain, softens the suspension, and adds considerable assistance to the steering. In this state, the R8 is a smooth operator, with a calm ride and lower exhaust note allowing the car’s occupants to better appreciate the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system. Another R8 option is sport seats upholstered in glove-soft leather with a gorgeous diamond-stitch pattern. Also included in this $5,000 upholstery package is a sexy faux-suede headliner, additional swaths of leather on the dash, doors, and center console, and 18-way seat adjustability that allows you to tighten the seat’s hold on you during high-speed high jinks on racetracks or steep, winding roads, or to relax the side bolsters and adjust the lumbar-region support on a long road trip.
A road trip, in a supercar? Yes, a weekend jaunt to a national park or a beach resort is eminently possible in the R8, thanks to a reasonably generous “frunk” concealed under the clamshell hood that is supplemented on coupe models by a shelf behind the passengers. Palm Springs residents may also be happy to learn that said shelf can accommodate a set of golf clubs.
The 2017 Audi R8 models are available now, with prices starting at $163,475 for the base R8 coupe, $176,350 for the R8 Spyder, and $191,150 for the R8 V10 Plus. Those numbers may seem ambitious for an Audi, but considering how much more the R8s have in common with Lamborghinis than A4s, to say nothing of all the free facelifts you can get each time you step on the gas, those prices no longer seem quite so lofty.
2017 Audi R8
$163,475 (R8), $191,150 (R8 V10 Plus)
2-door, 2-passenger coupe
540-hp or 610-hp 5.2-liter V10
7-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Fuel Economy (city/highway)