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Review of the 2017 Audi R8: Improving perfection

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On: Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 1:08PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Review of the 2017 Audi R8:  Improving perfection

In the hundred-plus years that cars have been around, there has been a divergence of the car philosophy. This has come about for different reasons, a lot of which have to do with money. The income of a potential owner is obviously a big factor in producing a car.  But, after that, the general mission statements for some cars have gone is entirely different directions. For example, some cars are just cars. They are simple, basic transportation that gets us from point A to point B. Your Toyota Corolla, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Fit are all cars that do just what they're supposed to do:  Take people from one place to another more quickly than if they had attempted to walk or ride a bike. Then, on the other end of that spectrum, are insanely impractical, wholly purpose-built nigh-racecars that have been created to haul its passenger from one place to another in a stunning spectacle of lavish excess. Cars like the Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita, Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari LaFerrari, or Lamborghini Veneno are all simply the ultimate expressions of excess.

But in between those cars are other subdivision of cars. One such division are the cars that cause emotional responses in us. And, no, we aren't talking just about your mom's 1989 Hyundai Sonata that you grew up riding around in. On one end of the emotional spectrum, there are cars whose execution was so bad that they actually elicit a strong negative reaction from people who don't even own them. Cars like the Ford Edsel, Smart Car SmartForTwo, or Pontiac Aztec seem to upset people when they lay eyes on them for the first time. Sure, being stunningly ugly doesn't help cars like these, but it seems to be something more. It's not just a passing distaste we have for them, it's more of a next-level, visceral rejection. But, on the other end of that spectrum, are cars that, once we lay eyes on them, seem to call to us. They are special. They are different. To some deep-down part of us, they are more than just cars. They stir our souls by merely just existing in our view, and we can not and will not ever forget how they make us feel. Generally, cars like this are more of a personal list from person to person, but there are a few exceptions that possibly should be universally given a spot somewhere on most people's lists. Cars like this would include the 1957 Chevy Bel Air, the Shelby Cobra, and more recently, the Dodge Viper, Mercedes SLS, and the Audi R8. That last one we would like to expand upon.

The R8 roared onto the scene in 2007, captured our hearts, and has not let go of them since. It was and is a technological wonder of German engineering that is just short of mesmerizing. It was stunning in its simple, yet evocative design, and stellar in its performance on and off the track. Though it has gone through nearly a dozen special models, the official second generation of the wundercar showed up in 2015 and essentially continued through to 2016. For 2017, Audi has decided to try to improve the R8, except there is just one problem: How do you improve something that is damn near perfect?

The first changes Audi made were arguably bad ones. They decided to cut the V8 engine out of the picture, as well as drop the standard manual transmission option. The upside to the first cut is that now all R8 models will showcase the Lamborghini-derived V10. The second, however, is simply Audi going with the trend, as fewer and fewer people have wanted a true manual over the years… Sad.

But let's get back to that engine for a second. There are two options for you to choose from. The Base model will get you a slightly detuned version of the Lambo motor, which is still a beauty. In case you were wondering, it is a 5.2-liter all-aluminum V10 that now sports port and direct fuel injection and pumps out a massive 540 horsepower at a staggering 8,250 rpm and serious 398 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm. Not bad. Your other option is to go for the Plus model, which will get you that same incredible jewel of an engine, but, thanks to some nifty tweaking to its fuel mapping and some other fun software tricks, the V10 in the Plus nets a whopping 610 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque, both at the same respective RPM levels.

Beyond the engine, there isn't a whole lot of changes Audi made to the '17 R8 over the previous model. The biggest stylistic change is that the signature "side-blade" is now not a single unit. It is divided into two separate pieces. Aside from that, the front grille is a bit more on the trapezoidal side and the headlights are now LED. Inside, you can get a taste of Audi's new Virtual Cockpit, which is basically an electronic screen that you can program to show you just about whatever you want to see in terms of the car and its performance or features. You have three modes of information to choose from: Infotainment, Classic, or Sport, so whether it's the traditional speedometer and tachometer, or Google maps, or even a performance meter, you can customize your driving experience to your own information taste.

There are two buttons on the R8's steering wheel. One button gives you the choice of two modes: Dynamic or Comfort. This changes a multitude of settings that enhance the character of your R8 to suit your driving desires at that time. The other button is one that is optional on the Base model and standard on the Plus. This button gives you three more modes to choose from: Dry, Wet, or (gasp) Snow.

The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is one of the central players in the R8's ability to be a completely docile daily driver, or an all-out track star at any given moment. Thanks to some clever software, the transmission has the ability to make short simple shifts that are barely noticeable when it is told things are calm by the computer, and then a split second later it can deliver wickedly fast snap-changes at redline, and rev-match downshifts for seamless cornering and deceleration. That transmission works with the new electronically controlled clutch to transfer power to the front wheels to help maximize traction in as little as a tenth of a second. With that kind of speed, no one is going to miss the old and slower viscous coupling of the outgoing model. Although we wouldn't advise it in a near-two hundred thousand dollar car, this R8 (with the proper tires) is truly an all-season supercar.

Visually, the only real differences between the Plus and Base models are that the Plus sports a fixed carbon-fiber wing, while the Base has a pop-up version. The Plus has fixed-back shell seats, while the Base does not. The Plus model also tips the scales at 3,572 pounds, which gives it about an 80-pound advantage over the base model. Thanks to the weight savings, and, of course, the horsepower advantage, the big differences show up when it counts —out on the track.

So what can they do? 0–60 mph comes up in only 3.1/3.4 seconds for the Plus/Base respectively, 0-100 mph in 7.0/7.4 respectively, through the quarter mile in 11.3/11.7 seconds, and on to a top speed of 199/205 mph, also respectively. So the Plus has a very clear four-tenths of a second advantage in almost all acceleration tests, and a six-mph advantage on the top end, which is mostly just conjecture anyway, because we don't know anyone that has every said, "I'll race you to 200" outside of an NHRA event. So which model would you choose? Well, just know that that extra 70 horsepower will cost you about twenty grand over the Base model's $163,000 sticker price.

Whichever model you choose, either one will still be an R8, and that's a good thing. This super-Audi is not much different from when it began, because there's not much to improve. The V10 was an improvement over the V8, so Audi went with that, and while we would argue any auto being better than a true manual, admittedly, the auto is faster and has proven to be the overwhelming choice of past buyers, so in a way, we will concede (angrily) that it can be viewed as an improvement also. But, thankfully, what Audi didn't mess with is the naturally alluring character and charisma the R8 has had since day one. The 2017 Audi R8 looks and drives slightly different than previous models, but with one look, there is no doubt that this car still has an almost unexplainable appeal to create a positive and thrilling physiological response in almost all of us, and that, friends, is a good thing.

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