Audi’s on a bit of a roll at the moment, as the excellent new TT, Q7 and A4 prove. However, we still think the old R8 was a joyous thing to drive, so can this all-new R8 be that much better; and if so, by enough of a margin to justify a £5000 price hike?
The previous R8's V8 engine has bitten the bullet, as has the manual gearbox option – most people went for the V10 engine with a paddle-operated automatic S tronic ’box. The R8’s gained extra power, though, coming with 533bhp in standard guise, or 602bhp in this range-topping Plus version we’re testing.
That immense power - and the 413lb ft of torque that goes with it - is still channelled through a quattro four-wheel-drive system, capable of varying the load sent to each wheel independently depending on the grip available.
There’s new technology too, such as the Virtual Cockpit; this combines the normal dials and infotainment screen into a 12.3in configurable display right in front of the driver. Also, cylinder-on-demand technology means the engine can switch from 10- to five-cylinders to save fuel while optional laser main-beams add extra range to the standard LED headlights.
What’s the Audi R8 Plus like to drive?
A key feature of the old R8 was how usable it was as an everyday sports car; the new R8 is just the same, although sat behind the button-laden F1-style steering wheel, you might not think so.
It controls everything from changing the driving modes, allowing you to soften or sharpen the car’s responses, altering the engine’s note via the switchable sports exhaust, to navigating the many on-screen menus. There’s also a bright red starter button that ignites the savage-sounding engine.
However, select drive from the standard-looking Audi gear selector, dab the accelerator, and there’s nothing savage about its response: the R8 gets away smoothly and pulls effortlessly from just 1000rpm. Whether you use the automatic mode or manually flick the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the gear changes are also near imperceptible.
It’s relatively easy to see out of as well, other than through the fairly small rear window, but then you do get standard parking sensors to make life easier when reversing while a rear camera is optional. The laser lights, which work at speeds above 37mph, are phenomenally bright, too.
Even the R8's ride over our rough and tumble UK roads on the optional adaptive dampers is unbelievably refined in its Comfort setting. Large bumps are well absorbed and the R8 remains decently stable over stretches of broken road. Switching to Dynamic brings a sharper edge to the ride, but it's still nowhere near uncomfortable.
Furthermore, the adaptive steering that was also fitted to our test car is light and quick when making sharp turns, meaning around town, the R8 is no more demanding to drive than a Porsche 911 Turbo.
However, before you get the idea that the R8 is sanitised and humdrum, rest assured that when you switch it to Dynamic mode and put your foot down, the response is immediate and the acceleration relentless. Gear changes also become eye-blinkingly fast, and with each one comes a glorious deepening wail as the engine surges towards the stratospherically high 8700rpm rev limiter.
Corners come up with surprising rapidity but the carbon-ceramic brakes are immense and amazing at shedding speed. As you flick the R8 Plus into a bend, the steering feels beautifully weighted, although its urgency does take a few corners to get used to.
Even in the wet the traction from the four-wheel drive system is excellent and through corners the R8 grips tenaciously. However, you can also enjoy what turns out to be a wonderful adjustable chassis - one that perhaps feels even more engaging than a 911 Turbo's.
What’s the 2015 Audi R8 Plus like inside?
With Audi’s name seemingly wedded to quality these days, it’s no surprise its halo model feels rather special inside. There are numerous ways you can personalise the cabin – ours had extended Nappa leather on the dashboard and a diamond-stitched Alcantara headlining – but left standard it's still exquisite.
The Plus version comes with heavily bolstered bucket seats with a fixed backrest, but that doesn’t stop them feeling comfortable. They do adjust for height so there’s plenty of head room, while leg room is generous, too. The steering wheel is also fully adjustable, and it’s a combination that means tall or short drivers will feel at home.
The elegant dashboard envelops you, and as most functions are controlled from the steering wheel or the MMI infotainment system’s rotary controller on the centre console, it’s remarkably easy to use as well.
In the front compartment, there’s a small boot capable of swallowing a couple of overnight bags, and a shelf behind the seats that you might just squeeze your golf clubs on to. There’s also a fair amount of cabin storage, including two cup holders.
Should I buy one?
The R8 Plus is simply stunning to drive when you want to have fun and effortless to drive when you don’t. The Porsche 911 Turbo S, not to mention the new McLaren 570S, are fabulous rivals. However, because they cost around £10k more and are actually slower – all three will do around 200mph, so this counts only for bragging rights – that’s a big tick in the box for the Audi.
Having said that, the standard R8 should be very nearly as good as the Plus but will cost £15k less, and may well be the one to go for. We’ll let you know when we’ve driven it.
What Car? says...
Audi R8 Plus
Engine size 5.2-litre petrol
Price from £134,500
Torque 413lb ft
0-62mph 3.2 seconds
Top speed 205mph
Fuel economy 23.0mpg