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2017 Audi R8 First Drive Review

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/16/2015 Angus MacKenzie
2017 Audi R8 First Drive Review

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. The 2017 Audi R8 looks like a sharper version of Ingolstadt's mid-engine supercar, now in its eighth year of production. And after one brief, frenetic lap of the legendary 8.46-mile Le Mans circuit, just minutes before 55 of the world's fastest and most exotic racing sports cars streamed out for an evening qualifying session for this year's 24 Hour race, we can confirm that's exactly how the new R8 feels. Sharper. Better. More accomplished.

Accelerating hard through the gears along pit straight, the seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic transmission seems noticeably smoother and faster, delivering near-seamless shifts from one ratio to the next. In the tricky Dunlop Curves, a deceptive mix of direction, camber and elevation changes that constantly fight the car, the new R8's electric power steering delivers crisper initial turn-in response. And as the Mulsanne Straight opens up ahead, the naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V-10 responds instantly to the throttle with a lusty snarl and thrilling shove between the shoulder blades.

Related Link: Research Audi's Latest Models

2017 Audi R8 Driven By Angus Mackenzie 02© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Audi R8 Driven By Angus Mackenzie 02

We only hit 176 mph on Mulsanne Straight, slowed first by corner workers repairing the guardrail at the first chicane, and then when we caught another driver in an R8 who seemed content to cruise around one of the world's most iconic race tracks in third gear. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest, which has staged the 24 Hour race since 1923, had forbidden any passing on our lap, so we were unable to verify the new R8's claimed 198-mph top speed. Needless to say, the car felt utterly stable and composed at triple-digit speeds -- Audi claims the new R8's aero tuning simultaneously delivers more downforce and less drag.

After dawdling through Mulsanne corner behind Mr. Slowcoach, we slowed right down and hung back to get a quick run through Indianapolis corner, a looping left-hander so named because of its slight banking, before braking hard for the abrupt 90-degree right-hander Arnage, the slowest corner of the track, and powering out to tackle the epic sweeps of the Porsche Curve. Again, the new R8 felt more alert on initial turn-in than the old car, but the steering, while accurate and consistent, didn't provide a ton of feel.

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2017 Audi R8 V10© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Audi R8 V10

You still have to be patient with the all-wheel drive R8; get on the gas too early and the front end will start to push wide. But the new electronically controlled center differential, which replaces the viscous coupling used in the old car, combined with a 1.2-inch increase in the wheelbase courtesy of the new platform the R8 shares with the Lamborghini Huracan, delivers more consistent behavior mid-turn, with a smoother transition to oversteer if you need more rotation from the chassis, and better traction on the way out.

2017 Audi R8 Driven By Angus Mackenzie 03© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Audi R8 Driven By Angus Mackenzie 03

The basic architecture of the car hasn't changed, but the new aluminum and carbon fiber structure is 40 percent stiffer and 110 pounds lighter. The charismatic 5.2-liter V-10 features a new direct and port injection system to help improve drivability and reduce emissions, and now delivers 532 hp at 8,250 rpm, and 398 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm. The hotter Plus version of the engine revs 600 rpm harder and delivers 601 hp, 413 lb-ft of torque, a 205-mph top speed, and should shave three-tenths of a second off the 0-60-mph time.

Buy a new R8, and you're buying a good chunk of Audi's next-gen R8 GT3 racer -- the company says 50 percent of the parts in both road car and race car are common. In terms of mechanical hardware, the engine is identical to the GT3 race engine, apart from a different flange for the race-spec dual-clutch transmission. The extra power for the race engine is extracted via a remapped ECU, and Audi says it will do 20,000 hard racing miles before needing a rebuild to check seals and gaskets. That suggests the road car engine should be plenty durable.

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2017 Audi R8 Driven By Angus Mackenzie 06© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Audi R8 Driven By Angus Mackenzie 06

The standard brake setup features vented steel rotors all round with eight-piston calipers at the front and four-piston units at the rear. Carbon-ceramic rotors with six-piston calipers up front will be available as an option. MagneRide shocks will also be available as an option, but U.S.-spec R8s, which will go on sale next spring, will not be offered with the optional variable ratio version of the new electric power steering system.

2017 Audi R8 V10© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Audi R8 V10

The redesigned interior is finished to Audi's trademark levels of quality, with plenty of double-stitched leather and beautifully finished soft-sheen aluminum highlights. A new steering wheel features the usual Audi controls in the horizontal spokes, plus two prominently mounted buttons down either side of the vertical spoke. Top right is the start button, and under it a button that unmuzzles the mighty V-10's booming exhaust. Top left is the Drive Select button, which allows you to choose from Comfort, Auto, Individual and Dynamic settings for throttle response, transmission shift, stability control, and torque split. Beneath that is a performance button that enables you to choose between dry, wet, and snowy conditions, and optimizes the R8's dynamic setup accordingly.

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2017 Audi R8 V10© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Audi R8 V10

The instrument pack is a show-stopper thanks to Audi's new 12.3-inch configurable TFT screen. Display options include a large tach front and center with a digital speed readout, or the ability to have functions like the map from the nav system take up most of the screen with small diameter - one inch or so - tach and speedo to the left and right respectively. With the map front and center and zoomed right in, it's almost like having digital pace notes in front of you, as you can tell at a glance where the road goes around blind corners and over crests.

Our lap of Le Mans ended all too soon, and it wasn't nearly enough to get to know the new R8 intimately. (Be sure to log in to motortrend.com for a more extensive drive report from the car's world launch in Spain next month.) But even after little more than eight miles at the wheel we know this: The original Audi R8 was perhaps the only supercar to seriously rival the Porsche 911's reputation for everyday usability and drivability, and the 2017 Audi R8 is more of the same -- a 24/7 supercar that's sharper, better, and more accomplished than ever.

2017 Audi R8 driven by Angus Mackenzie© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Audi R8 driven by Angus Mackenzie

Related Link: Research Audi's Latest Models

2017 Audi R8
BASE PRICE$130,000-$150,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUTMid-engine, 4WD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE5.2L/532-601-hp/398-413-lb-ft DOHC 40-valve V-10
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT3,550-3,600 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE104.3 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT174.2 in x 76.4 in x 48.8 in
0-60 MPH3.0-3.3 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECONNot yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S.March-April, 2016

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