2017 Audi R8 first drive review

“The R8 is born at Le Mans.” So said “Mr. Le Mans,” now-retired race driver and nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen in a promotional video that Audi showed at the press drive for the 2017 R8 supercar. Even though the video felt like a combination of a Folgers commercial and an online dating profile, Kristensen is right. Starting in 2000 Audi competed at and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the R8 Prototype racer, taking the checkered flag at that prestigious race five times in its first six tries.

The R8 production car followed in 2008 as Audi’s first supercar, and it, too, had a racing pedigree. It was developed alongside the R8 LMS race car that competed in the FIA’s GT3 series, bringing the fruits of Audi’s racing heritage to the street. 

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The 2017 R8, which goes on sale in the United States next spring, takes a similar approach. Engineering teams working in tandem developed it alongside the R8 LMS race car that made its debut in May with a victory at the Nürburgring 24 Hours. The road car and the race car share 50 percent of their parts, giving customer cars a basis in some pretty advanced engineering.

The second-generation R8 is built on the Modular Sportscar System (MSS) aluminum spaceframe that also underpins the Huracán from corporate partner Lamborghini. Made up of more than 80 percent aluminum, MSS also uses carbon fiber to provide extra rigidity to the firewall and central tunnel. The structure is about 70 pounds lighter than that of the outgoing R8, contributing to an overall weight loss of roughly 110 pounds. It also boasts 40 percent more torsional stiffness, thanks in part to a pair of X braces, one on top of the midship-mounted engine and one behind it.

Audi engineers also improved the power of the 5.2-liter V-10 engine while increasing fuel economy by 13 percent. They added port injection to go with the already existing direct injection. This provides better emissions at startup and allows the computer to choose which type of injection works best for the throttle demands.

2017 Audi R8

2017 Audi R8

2017 Audi R8

2017 Audi R8

New Audi R8 LMS race car wins 2015 ADAC Zurich Nürburgring 24 Hours

New Audi R8 LMS race car wins 2015 ADAC Zurich Nürburgring 24 Hours

Cylinder deactivation is the main reason for the fuel savings. It makes the V-10 capable of running as a five-cylinder under light engine loads. This unique system can use either cylinder bank to power the car, and when the deactivated bank dips below optimal operating temperature, the system can switch banks. In addition, a new sailing feature eliminates engine braking during low-speed cruising when the Audi Drive Select system is in Comfort mode.

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New software tuning and a bump in compression from 12.5:1 to 12.7:1 help to increase horsepower from 525 to 540 and torque from 391 to 398 pound-feet in the base V10 model. In the V10 Plus, horsepower and torque jump from 550 and 398 to 610 and 413, respectively. At launch, the V-10 will be the only engine. The 4.2-liter V-8 is gone. We suspect it will be replaced by either Audi’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 or by an even smaller force-fed engine later in the life cycle.

Motor Authority had the opportunity to test the 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao, Portugal, to judge for ourselves the results of the improvements Audi has made to its race-bred second-generation R8. Suffice it to say, the changes were for the better, well most of them, anyway.

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