The Audi R8 has always been a starter supercar, a toe into the high-g waters. It doesn’t wear an exotic badge, and it won’t trigger too many adverse assumptions about your manhood. Other supercars are riskier, wilder, more dangerous, less defensible. They test you by draining their batteries while at rest in the garage. They demand that you regularly remove the engines for new spark plugs. Just how invested are you in the whole supercar lifestyle, anyway? Do you even own an Ed Hardy shirt?
2014 Audi R8 Starts at $119,150; Spyder Starts at $132,650
Indeed, most supercar owners are more like zookeepers than drivers. Actually driving one is the rare reward for all the feeding, protecting, and preening. The R8 isn’t like that, though. For all of its lofty performance and aluminum construction, it behaves pretty much like a normal Audi. Lovers of Italian metal often find the R8’s restraint a shortcoming. We don’t.
For 2014, the R8 V-10 gains a new Plus model. Not to be confused with the ladies in a Lane Bryant ad, Plus here refers to the extra 25 horsepower that Audi coaxed from the 5.2-liter V-10. Basically, it’s the Lamborghini-grade unit found in the Gallardo LP560-4. Firmer springs and dampers, inspired by the rarely-seen-outside-captivity R8 GT, are seriously stiff, bordering on annoyingly bouncy. We’d much rather live with the standard R8’s supple magnetic shocks.
But the biggest change is the newly available seven-speed dual-clutch automatic called S tronic. A $7800 option on all R8s, it replaces the clunky automated-manual transmission known as the R tronic. With the S, part-throttle upshifts are free of any twitchiness, giving the auto R8 the manners to live in traffic. For maximum acceleration, the S tronic offers launch control that holds the engine at 4500 rpm before engaging the first-gear clutch. The R8’s owner’s manual suggests finding a clear, empty road before using launch control, as it might cause unwanted attention. Good advice. Accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds with the quarter-mile passing in 11.4 seconds at 126 mph certainly got our attention. That’s two-tenths quicker to 60 and in the quarter than the
The Plus versions also get standard carbon-ceramic brakes. A bit grabby at first, the brakes felt considerably better after a few 148-foot stops from 70 mph. Audi claims that all the Plus’s neat-looking carbon-fiber trim inside and out isn’t just there for peacocking; it actually saves weight. On the scales, our dual-clutch example weighed in at 3689 pounds, 66 less than that last automated-manual R8 V-10.
Other changes for 2014 include front and rear LED lights, a revised grille design, and round exhaust tips. Our Plus arrived with the $5000 full-cowhide interior and cross-stitched seats. Aside from the harsh ride, the Plus has a thick veneer of luxury that is commensurate with its $174,795 base price. Choosing the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic Plus model will set you back at least $182,595; a regular-issue V-10 starts at $155,450.
As the rational supercar, the R8 provokes rational thoughts. Thoughts such as: Are Plus models really worth the extra $19,345? Extra horsepower is good, and so is reduced mass, but the ride is tiring. Hmm. A 525-hp R8 is still seriously quick. When you nail it, discerning a Plus from a non-Plus will be like trying to tell if you’ve been smacked in the head with a 3-iron or a 4-iron.
While we dearly love this aluminum bolide, the Plus version strikes us as the least logical version of the world’s most logical supercar.