It’s hard to believe that the Audi R8 is already six years old. It seems like just yesterday that the tasty Teutonic supercar that shares its skeleton with the Lamborghini Gallardo and its name with the ass-kicking-est sports racing car of the century rolled onto the scene. Even today (with a great deal of help from the additions of Spyder, V10 and GT variants) the most extreme product to emerge from quattro GmbH’s Stinktierwerke since the Sport Quattro S1 Group B rally beast is still a handsome, capable supercar.
Alas, it is a handsome and capable supercar that is showing its age, particularly in relation to relative newcomers like the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and Nissan GT-R. A totally-new second generation R8 is expected to arrive in the next couple of years, though, so Audi will just leave the current car alone (with the possible exception of a tweak or two to the color palette) until then, right? Um…no. In case you haven’t noticed, phrases like “phoning it in” and “good enough” don’t seem to be in Audi’s vocabulary. As a result, the Ingolstadt firm is treating its flagship to a significant facelift for 2013.
The front end features redesigned LED headlights and new grilles (including a switch from two horizontal bars on the outer ones on V10 cars to three). In back, the taillights are also new LED units (complete with nifty sequential turn signals), and the exhaust tips on all models are now dual circular units (The original V8s had quad round tips and the V10s dual ovals.). And as with the front grilles, the rear grilles of all versions now have three horizontal bars. Step up to the new R8 V10 plus (which will only be offered as a coupe) and you’ll get a carbon fiber reinforced plastic front splitter, rear diffuser, mirror caps, engine compartment trim and side blades inspired by the pieces found on the limited production R8 GT (which is not returning). Certainly not far-reaching changes, to be sure, but they are changes that bring the R8’s looks more in line with those of Audi’s passenger cars and crossovers, and they look damn cool (particularly the lights).
Changes to the interior are even more subdued. The cockpit-like dashboard and body-hugging leather-trimmed seats are present and accounted for, with a navigation system and sport seats standard on the V10s. The aphorism “Why fix what isn’t broken?” certainly springs to mind.
Moving to the drivetrain, though, there is something on the current R8 that, while not broken, is certainly sub-optimal. No, it’s all good with the engines: In Euopean trim, the 4.2L V8 makes a little more power (424hp), the base 5.2L V10 holds steady (517hp), and the V10 plus’ mill makes 542hp. We speak, of course, of the R-tronic transmission. This 6-speed single-clutch sequential gearbox is great for pounding around the track, but for every other occasion (i.e. street use), its herky-jerky operation gets old quickly. Well, paddle shifter devotees, Audi has answered your prayers in the form of S-tronic. Not only can you expect this 7-speed dual-clutch tranny – which will be standard on V10 R8s and optional on V8 models, which will continue to feature an old school 6-speed manual with Lambo-esque gated shifter as standard fare (The 6-speed stick will be optional on the V10.) – to divvy up exponentially smoother and quicker shifts than its predecessor, but also cuts a claimed 0.3 seconds off the 0-62 mph times.
As for the specific performance figures, 0-62 times range from 4.8 seconds for the V8 Spyder 6-speed to 3.5 seconds for the V10 plus S-tronic. Top speeds vary from 186 mph (V8 Spyder, regardless of transmission) to 198 mph (V10 plus 6-speed).
The 2013 R8s will start trickling into European Audi showrooms starting this fall, with North American sales likely to begin a few months afterward. As for when we’ll get to review one, well…your guess is as good as ours.