In the motoring world, it seems that anomalies are in. Car enthusiasts in particular aren’t necessarily looking for perfection, but instead seek out vehicles that are interesting. Oh sure, performance stats matter, too, but let’s face it: no modern sports car is what you’d call ‘not fast enough’. Instead, we’re seeking out personality. As the automotive world has moved en masse to turbocharging, the Audi R8 has become a distinct anomaly thanks to its sensational naturally aspirated V10 engine. And thankfully, that hasn’t changed as part of the 2019 model year updates.
As before, there are two body styles and two distinct models to choose from – coupe and open-topped Spyder. New wheels, colours and exterior styling packs enhance the visual makeover, which requires remarkably few new parts, but gives the R8 an even more aggressive appearance, without erasing the characteristic R8 look. All versions are powered by the 5.2-litre V10. In order to conform to the latest worldwide emissions legislation, this now gets a particulate filter, though Audi Sport’s engineers took the opportunity to recalibrate it and release even more performance. That was also made possible by a reduction in weight in the valvetrain. So, the entry-level R8 gains 30bhp and 10Nm of torque (for maximums of 562bhp and 550Nm), while the range-topper, now called the R8 Performance, not the R8 Plus as it was, puts out 611bhp and 580Nm – increases of 10bhp and 20Nm. Nothing drastic there, even if the changes have helped drop a tenth of a second from the 0-100kph times across the board.
Of far more importance, the R8’s V10 still sounds sensational. Off the line, there’s the merest hint of a delay as the engine breathes in when you floor the throttle and the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic sends power through the quattro four-wheel drive. But that delay is more than compensated for when on the move, as there’s razor-sharp throttle response, allowing you adjust the car’s attitude with minute movements of your right foot. Sure, there’s distinctly less torque on tap at low to medium revs than in most of the R8’s contemporary rivals, but you won’t care when your ears are greeted to the mellifluous mid-range sound this V10 emits.
And you’ll forget all about anything else when this engine really hits its stride at about 6,000rpm, accompanied by a rising mechanical shriek that deserves comparison with serious motorsport machines. Then you realise there’s still another 2,000rpm or so to use before the rev limiter comes into play. There are lots of really good turbocharged engines on the market today, but five minutes at the wheel of the R8 will have many lamenting the death of natural aspiration.
We don’t have time to get teary today, though, as we’re testing the R8 on the sublime Ascari circuit in Spain and accelerating out of the pits towards turn one, the digital dials (Audi’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’ is standard – and unchanged for 2019 in the R8) light up as the engine homes in on 8,000rpm in third gear. Time to squeeze the brake pedal hard to bring the pace back down if we have a hope of clipping the apex on the left. On optional carbon ceramic discs, the R8 is utterly stable and unflappable under braking, even after several hard laps of the track. The discs do grumble a bit at low speeds after all this, but their stopping power is never in doubt.
Taking manual control of the gearbox is a must to get the maximum enjoyment from the R8, though we do wish Audi would fit metal or carbon fibre gearchange paddles in place of the flimsy plastic items that you’ll find behind the steering wheel. Thankfully, response to these is suitably rapid, especially if you’ve selected the Dynamic driving mode. Indeed, exiting the slowest corner on the track in second gear, then accelerating flat-out up through the gears along the straight, the R8 manages to break traction for a split second as the transmission bangs in the next ratio with such force. The steering wheel itself is, as before, a flat-bottomed affair, with a big red engine start/stop button under the right-hand spoke and a black button mirroring it for the Drive Select system. You choose from Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual settings, and Audi claims there’s a more noticeable difference between them. I must confess that, as our time was limited to fast laps, we chose Dynamic and left it at that.
The Performance model gets an extra control below that. Press the middle once, then turn the outside of the dial to choose dry, wet or snow settings, which optimises the R8’s electronic systems for maximum performance in those conditions. And those that expect the car to use its quattro system and updated ESC stability control to keep things neat and tidy, with the driver hardly needed, are in for a big surprise. In the dry mode, the R8 is incredibly playful, obviously sending most of the engine’s output to the rear wheels, allowing quite a lot of sideways slip in the process before eventually the electronics step in to keep you on the track.
Audi Sport has tweaked the power steering and the ESC for sharper responses (and shorter braking distances), while adapting it all to the latest Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, and the R8 feels sharper than ever, more willing to play at and over the limits of grip. Tempting options include the Audi magnetic ride damping and a new carbon fibre front anti-roll bar, which saves 2kg in weight. Nonetheless, we reckon that there’s no need to invest in the dynamic steering option (an active variable ratio system), as it makes the R8 almost too ‘pointy’ and responsive on track, something very few people have ever said about a car with the four-ringed Audi badge on its nose. As mentioned, we like anomalies, and we love the updated Audi R8.