RONDA, Spain – It’s dark, wet and miserably cold at Circuito Ascari, a privately owned and intricately curved test track on the outskirts of Ronda in southern Spain. All I have to guide me around the course is the Laser Light technology fitted to the updated Audi R8; its howling V10 sports upgraded outputs of 456 kW and 580 N.m of torque, all of which is dynamically apportioned to all four of the lithe supercar’s wheels of the via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The R8 has gained a reputation of being “an easy car to drive”, but on a sodden racetrack, shrouded in darkness, it's a completely different story.
Despite being shod with the highly acclaimed Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, the revised R8 makes it immediately clear (and abundantly so) that when it traverses a perilous road surface, its handling can inflict a rather nasty bite. As the Audi builds up speed, the road ahead of me is somewhat visible thanks to headlamps’ bright beams, but I fail to spot a puddle of water right in the middle centre of the straight. In an instant, the R8’s wheels lose their connection to the road and the mid-engined machine starts fishtailing in a manner that I've never experienced in an Audi performance model.
With the aid of the car's intuitive electronic stability control, I enlist the new dynamic steering setup to centre out the R8's sudden loss of composure. With order swiftly restored, in the blink of a proverbial eye the Audi hauls into the next corner, with its naturally aspirated 5,2-litre V10 spinning merrily to 8 400 r/min. It's only 9°C in Spain, but inside the cabin things are definitely heating up.
Given its kerb weight of 1 595 kg, the R8 is quite a hefty supercar, which is most evident when you task the brakes with scrubbing off speed at a rapid rate. The eight-piston callipers clamp the 365 mm front carbon-ceramic disks with alacrity, which creates the sensation of the Audi’s nose pressing down on its axle. Despite this feeling, the stable, linear deceleration prepares me for the next high-speed corner. This is partly thanks to the fitment of a new carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer stability bar to the front axle; it works in conjunction with the car’s Magnetic Ride suspension setup.
The new dynamic steering system is optional. The electronic setup sacrifices the car's steering feel and feedback, but it's apparent that once you’ve become accustomed to it, it makes the R8 sharper, as if keener to change direction. From a driver's perspective, it's not as satisfying to use as it makes the car feel “less mechanical”, but if your main objective is speed, this system is worth considering.
As for the extra 7 kW and 20 N.m that this Performance derivative boasts over the preceding Plus version, from a driver's perspective the difference is not noticeable. On paper, this gives the R8 a 0-100 km/h time that's a tenth of a second faster (Audi’s claimed figure is 3,1). Top speed is bumped up to 331 km/h and, based on the car's impressive in-gear acceleration, it's quite a believable claim.
All of this is beside the point, however, as the R8 Performance that will be launched in South Africa late in 2019 will retain the power outputs of the current Plus (449 kW and 560 N.m of torque), but incorporate the subtle visual changes, which include the redesigned front bumper with expanded air intakes and a more angular design. It makes the supercar look lower, wider and more purposeful.
My favourite aesthetic update is the LMS race car-inspired rear diffuser replete with integrated oval exhaust ends. It contributes to a distinctive profile which, together with the optional 20-inch alloys and fixed carbon-fibre rear wing, make the R8 look a little reminiscent of its race track counterpart. Even if it’s not dramatically different in appearance to the pre-updated model, and errs on the side of understatement compared with its Italian and British rivals, Audi’s supercar is still a head turner.
Changes within the cabin are minimal. The cockpit carries over the characteristic driver-focused design with a digital dashboard and motorsport inspired steering wheel, which features the start button and driving mode selector (among other controls). What’s more, through the Audi Exclusive department, owners can create bespoke cabin executions by specifying optional insets and trims.
The facelifted Audi R8 doesn’t mark a major departure from the previous model: it remains a well-made, sophisticated machine; a respectful continuation of its lineage. During the launch event, Audi reaffirmed its commitment to the production of its supercar, which has become an iconic product of the brand. What’s will be the next step in the evolution of the R8? It’s difficult to make an educated guess, but many will be anxious to see if Audi will retain the legendary free-breathing V10 engine.