2014 Audi R8 Driving Impressions

The Audi R8 is fast. And for 2014, the Audi R8 (in every model) is 0.3 seconds faster from 0 to 60 mph than the outgoing machine, due to the addition of the dual clutch S-Tronic gearbox. The V10 Plus manages that sprint in just 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 197 mph. And while that is without question fast, it is not as quick as a Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 Turbo S, which eat up the same run in less than 3 seconds.

Speed isn't everything, however (not that the R8 feels in any way lacking). We have established the Audi is aesthetically magnificent with an equally delicious interior. It is an all-round car that can (with the right tires) be driven virtually all year long. Plus, the sound of the V10 in particular makes up for its slightly slower dash to 60. The noise resembles that of a minutely quieter, softer Formula One car. Even after days of driving, it never gets old to hear the crisp downshifts and acceleration up through the revs to the 8000-plus redline. While it may not sound quite as good as a Ferrari 458 Italia, it blows the doors off the Porsche 911 and Nissan GT-R.

Curb weight for the Audi R8 starts at 3,439 pounds for the V8 Coupe in a manual. The Spyder adds a couple of hundred pounds to that. The R8 V10 comes in at 3,571 lbs. with the V10 Plus a whopping 110 pounds lighter due to the carbon ceramic brakes (26-pound saving) and other carbon fiber options such as the diffuser, splitter and the lighter alloy wheels. Audi utilizes an aluminum space frame for the body making the R8's frame weight just 463 lbs. for the Coupe and 476 lbs. for the Spyder.

The new S-Tronic gearbox brings the car inline with many of the top supercars. Shifts are blazingly fast and far smoother than with the outgoing R-Tronic single-clutch transmission. The S-Tronic, with its dual plate clutch, is compact and low, measuring just 8.46 inches in diameter. This is the single most prolific change for 2014. If there was one thing lacking in the previous R8, it was the old gearbox. Audi has well and truly solved this issue.

Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system sends 80 percent of power to the rear wheels with an option of up to 30 percent going to the front wheels if need be. This allows the car to feel and drive like a rear-wheel-drive car, and not suffer the negative of the all-wheel-drive system on track. All-wheel drive can produce a lot of understeer (where the front wheels have less grip than the rear) and while the R8 does suffer a touch from this, we found that by releasing the gas pedal mid-corner, the car will rotate effortlessly like a pendulum, balancing the front of the car.

The benefit of the all-wheel-drive system is by utilizing all four wheels the driver can put the power down more aggressively, with more grip, and exit the corner faster. The R8 handles effortlessly well on the racetrack, inspiring confidence and responding to a smooth driving style. The traction control makes it almost impossible to spin the car, even for those who drive like an idiot, and the car behaves in an almost PlayStation-like fashion.

The Spyder handles almost as well. We expected the Spyder would feel more floppy and less stable with its heavier soft top and lack of torsional rigidity from the loss of the roof. But instead, we found the R8 Spyder felt smooth and under control with no cowl shake whatsoever. Genuinely, it was very hard to tell the difference in handling on the road between the Coupe and the Spyder.

The optional (standard on the V10 Plus) carbon ceramic brakes feel like driving directly into a ten-foot thick concrete wall. Even the newly designed steel waved-disc brakes, slamming on the brakes feels like hitting a five-foot thick slab of concrete. The only downside is perhaps their grabbiness when driving gently. Still, that is only a minor grievance.

Moving to the ride, the R8 excels. Few supercars can attest to being comfortable on a long haul, over various terrains and conditions. The R8 can. Part of it is due to the comfortable cabin, the other due to Audi's magnetic ride suspension. It comes standard on the V10 but (to save weight) is not available on the track-ready V10 Plus. The system allows the driver to switch between Comfort, Normal and Sport mode.

What magnetic ride effectively does is adjust suspension settings based on specific road conditions. It will match itself to the road. It is the key to the preposterously heavy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1's handling prowess, and Audi uses this system with similar success.

Having said all of that, the V10 Plus does not ride badly without the system, but no doubt, for every day use, I'd rather the customization provided by the magnetic ride.

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