Like superheroes, supercars don’t have a typical life cycle. The Audi R8 might be showing a hint of gray around the edges—but it’s still a looker. Launched initially with a 4.2-liter V-8, a V-10 was added, then a spyder, and, finally, the lightweight, limited-production, and loud R8 GT. Audi has toyed with the idea of an R8 V-12 TDI, and several prototypes of a fully electric R8 e-tron were built.
Now the mid-engined supercar has been face-lifted for the first time, and a new top model—the R8 Plus—is scheduled to come to the U.S. in the first quarter of 2013. The lineup now consists of the 4.2 FSI with a 430-hp V-8, the 5.2 FSI powered by a 525-hp V-10, and the R8 5.2 FSI Plus sporting a 550-hp V-10. Compared with the regular V-10, the Plus version gets extra power and torque—it makes 398 lb-ft instead of 391—thanks to modified engine management. No hardware is changed. The additional power helps to make the R8 a bit quicker.More important than the power boost, however, is the weight saving in the Plus model. Compared with the regular V-10, almost 35 pounds of sound insulation are expunged. Racing-style seats mean 45 fewer pounds, ceramic brakes—optional in the lesser versions—shed another 25 pounds, and switching from magnetic ride to conventional suspension damping tosses about 15 additional pounds. What’s more, the R8 Plus is loud; the combination of intake and exhaust sound will send shivers of joy down your spine. Aurally, this is pure Lamborghini territory, which isn’t much of a surprise, since the R8 shares not only its structural components but also its V-10 engine with the Gallardo. With the manual box, 0 to 60 mph takes an estimated 3.5 seconds, and top speed is an ungoverned 198 mph. Audi means business with the R8 Plus, and the fact that you can’t presently get its goods fitted to the 200-pound-heavier R8 Spyder proves it.We are thrilled to report that you can still get the R8—and this includes every engine and body variation—with a six-speed manual transmission operated via a gated shifter. Internally called the ML600, the box is a marvel of precision and aesthetics. Customers here in the U.S. should congratulate themselves; we and the U.K. have the highest manual take rates.
More big news comes in the form of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, internally called the DL800. This box—marketing calls it the S tronic—weighs about 45 more pounds than the manual transmission but provides lightning-quick shifts. It blips the throttle artfully, rarely finds itself out of step, and is objectively fast. In the R8 Plus, it trims the quoted 0-to-60-mph time from 3.6 to 3.3 seconds. Top speed is lower by a fairly insignificant 1 mph.The DL800 entirely replaces the previously offered SL600 (R tronic in Audi-speak), a six-speed automated manual that weighed a mere 10 more pounds than the ML600 but was known for its jerky shifts. Interestingly, Lamborghini keeps the SL600 in its face-lifted Gallardo.