Seductive Statement

Audi’s 2020 R8, a car that has always commanded our attention, gains a few enhancements to the chassis and engine to improve handling and comfort, but it remains one seriously fast car. PHOTO: AUDI AG.

The 2020 Audi R8 never ceases to amaze me.

By Derek McNaughton

A V10 engine in a sports car today is almost a dirty word. A V10 is unconventional, old school – not likely to win over any environmentalists. Has Audi not been keeping up with trends, seeing that everyone is going gaga over Tesla and electric propulsion?

Or maybe it is precisely because Audi engineers have seen the vanishing of big engines, the ones that drivers and sports car enthusiasts have come to know and love. Maybe Audi is keeping some wonder of our times in part because not every trend is an improvement. By insisting the 5.2-litre V10 remain in the 2020 R8, Audi is making a statement about its legendary quattro AWD car.

Like the Porsche 911 GT3, which is still naturally aspirated to this day, the R8 continues to get better with age. When it first appeared in 2005, the mid-engine sports car cast a spell over so many of us with its paradoxically gorgeous silhouette and furious face. Without radically altering its identity, the R8 has always evolved more than it has revolutionized. The new, $185,000 coupe advances without relinquishing its past. It continues a path of perfecting what works and discarding what doesn’t. And it remains one of the more coveted cars of our time—still able to seduce the eyes of every pedestrian it passes.

Casual observers are not likely to recognize the changes to the 2020 R8, but the alterations are many. The chin is more angular, the grille a little wider, with corner vents that stretch up to a line in the fenders in an effort to mimic the R8 LMS GT3 race cars. The headlights reach deeper to the grille, and three small vents above the grille give nod to those on the Audi 80-based Quattro coupe from 1980. The body now looks Lamborghini-narrow with off-colour rocker trim. The rear is blessed with exhaust ovals as big as coffee cans, housed between a ribbed diffuser, which looks borrowed from Audi Racing. A full-width mesh rear fascia below the taillights improves venting and visual access to the exhaust works. New, optional 20-inch wheels remove visual heft, and new colours include a stunning Kemora Gray and Ascari Blue.

The sound, of course, remains sumptuous. In track mode, the resonance is deep, mysterious and totally divine. The smell of leather and Alcantara in the unchanged interior is sumptuous. Out on the track, the car erupts in a fury of vexatious, but utterly rapturous, V10 harmony as all 10 pistons scream at fever pitch through first, second and third as I flatten the throttle on the racetrack.

The V10 engine in this car has also improved. The base car gains 30 horsepower to 570. Torque is now 406 lb.-ft. The V10 Performance (formerly the V10 Plus) gains 10 hp to register at 620, with torque at 428 lb.-ft., allowing 100 km/h to be reached in 3.1 seconds. Engine oil is cooled by its own radiator, drawn from a dry sump, allowing the engine to sit lower in the bay. Audi says the oil pump has “multiple suction stages” to ensure everything stays well lubed—even up to 1.5 G.

On the track, I am not thinking about oil as gravitational forces pull at my brain and eyeballs. The R8 sticks to a long bend as though it has claws instead of tires, the new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s designed purposely around this car. The steering and suspension have been sharpened, too. And although this is less of a track car than a 911 GT3, for example, there is a high degree of control and accuracy, a superior level of comfort, a happy marriage of smoothness and high speed. The 7-speed S-tronic dual clutch is crisp, timely and quick. The electromechanical power steering is said to give more feedback and better precision, but I can’t recall it lacking before. The best feeling comes with an optional front sway bar made from carbon fibre, reinforced polymer (CFRP) and aluminum, elevating control to a Lamborghini-like place. The steering may not be as perfect as the GT3, but it is damn close.

In track mode, the sticky tires will break free with too much throttle in a corner, and the car will rotate all four tires in elegant four-wheel drifts until the quattro system regains traction. The stability control (that can be shut off) gives the driver a long leash. Three additional programs (dry, wet, and snow) have been added to the drive select modes. But, gosh, is this car eager to attack corners at high speed.

And, just when it seems the R8 is at its limit, pushing harder reveals more ability. Let us hope this remarkable V10—an engine that may not be in step with automotive trends—never ceases to amaze.