We’ve had many a kind word for the Audi R8, which has dazzled us with accessible performance and showstopping looks. We even went so far as to name the supercar our Best Handling Car (now Best Driver’s Car) a few years back. Underlying all that praise, though, was an angry caveat: The R-Tronic single-clutch automatic transmission was slow, clunky, and unworthy of the car.
That is, with the exception of the gadgets. While the refresh does net you an awesome new transmission, some minor styling tweaks and really-freakin’-cool-looking scalloped brake rotors (which helped knock 11 feet of the 60 mph-to-0 braking test), it’s otherwise limited in its scope. Inside, you’re still playing with Audi Navigation Plus, the downmarket cousin of the fantastic MMI system. It seems a silly thing to complain about in a supercar, but when the new A3’s MMI blows it out of the water at less than a quarter of the price, something’s wrong. No Bluetooth streaming audio is something customers are going to notice in 2013. Also making the interior feel out of date is the Jetta-tastic, pixilated, non-configurable, white-on-black screen in the center of the gauges. In a world where Dodge Darts have huge, hi-res, full-color, configurable screens, this thing looks incredibly cheap. The real disappointment is that if these things didn’t get changed with this refresh, it’s likely they’ll be around for several more years until a new model comes out.
Less alluring is the actual driving experience. While your author can easily remember what it felt like to be the guy in the “Iron Man” car, I’m having trouble recalling exactly what it was like to actually drive. It’s certainly quick, but so are a lot of cars. The brakes are great. It’s got a ton of grip, though not as much as that 911 I was chasing. It seemed like it was going to understeer if I pushed it any harder in the corners, but it was hard to tell because the steering wheel wasn’t saying much.
That last bit I’ve struggled with. In the past, we lauded the R8 for being fun to drive and having great steering. As mentioned, we gave it a big award in part for that. Am I missing something here? What seems to have happened is what inevitably happens in this industry: The competition got better. In 2008, the R8 really was a standout. Five years later, though, we’re experiencing a renaissance in sports cars and supercars, and while the R8 was at the forefront, it hasn’t quite kept up. Its competitors have gotten so much better over the years that the R8 now feels a bit dull in comparison. It goes very fast and it handles very well, but there isn’t anything unique or unforgettable about the way it carves a canyon. It’s not the first supercar to suffer this ailment, and given the rate at which technology and computers are invading the high-performance driving experience and the difficulty in maintaining driving pleasure in their wake, it won’t be the last.
In that way, it may be the perfect movie star car (read that “movie star” car or movie “star car;” both are true). It looks and sounds fantastic, so you’re sure to get noticed. The valet will park it right in front and everyone will want to know who’s driving it. At the same time, it’s also comfortable and docile to drive when you’re sitting in west L.A.’s horrendous traffic. Once you finally make it to Mulholland Drive, you’ll be able to have some safe, controlled fun on the way to your gated community. What more could you want? Besides being able to listen to your tunes without plugging in your designer-cased iPhone.
|2014 Audi R8 4.2|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$155,050|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||4.2L/430-hp/317-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3907 lb (42/58%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||174.8 x 76.0 x 49.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.5 sec @ 110.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||101 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.97 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.0 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||14/23 mpg|
|MT FUEL ECONOMY||17.9 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||241/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.14 lb/mile|