You might think that when the snow begins to fall, the roads ice over and German rural volk dust off their bobble hats, that an Audi R8 supercar might not be the preferred choice of winter driving. Audi would disagree. With nothing more than all-weather tires, we embarked on a 620-mile voyage deep into the Alps, in an attempt to discover whether the 2014 Audi R8 is as ambidextrous as Audi claimsit to be.
The 2014 Audi R8 is a subtle evolution from the previous model. Aesthetically, you are challenged to notice any significant differences. And that's OK, because change can be overrated. Take the Porsche 911, or Jocelyn Wildenstein. The most noticeable difference comes in the form of the new LED headlights and rear turn signal - containing 30 LEDs that swipe from one side to another with a Mustang-esque resemblance.
Under the hood, the traditional V-8 and V-10 engines remain, with the 4.2-liter V-8 producing 430 hp and the 5.2-liter V-10 amassing 525 hp. But if all that power isn't enough, fear not, because a new kid is in town — the V-10 Plus. The same 5.2-liter engine is utilized, only massaged to produce 550 hp and 398 lb.-ft. of torque. Additionally, the Plus model weighs 110 lbs. less due to an abundance of carbon-fiber gidgets and gadgets. The Plus launches to 60 mph from a standstill in 3.5 seconds — 0.3 seconds faster than the 2012 V-10.
Perhaps the most prolific update for 2014 is the new 7-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission. The outgoing R-Tronic transmission was a little rough around the edges, providing neck-snapping and violent shifts. The new gearbox is silky smooth and shifting --thanks to the dual clutch -- is blazingly fast. The 6-speed manual is still available, and despite my love for creating the perfect manual shift, the S-Tronic is so transcendent that picking between the two could end up becoming a real head scratcher.
Sliding behind the wheel, the R8 is chocker-block with luxurious leather, embedded with diamond cut stitching. The V10 Plus boasts additional carbon fiber trimming and Alcantara lining. All models feel modern and classy, yet pleasingly unpretentious. Cabin space is ample and seats boast a surprising amount of comfort, although it took some time to develop the optimal driving position.
Our first activity in the R8 was to power around the Misano racetrack in Rimini, Italy, in the V-10 Plus. In true R8 fashion the car (with its 43/57 front/rear weight distribution) performed extremely well. Braking with the optional carbon ceramic discs (standard on the Plus) is like crashing headfirst into a large sequoia. The new for 2014, Audi's "wave design" steel brakes stopped magnificently, too. On the road, however, the carbon discs are perhaps a fraction too grabby.
Holding the steering wheel connects you to the road in a precise and engaging manner. Understeer was the limiting factor -- unsurprising for an all-wheel-drive machine -- but just a slight release of the gas pedal and the rear would rotate as smoothly as an office pendulum. This allowed for a consistent and aggressive power application, amid a bountiful amount of grip. The optional Audi magnetic-ride suspension is clearly a large factor in making the journey so un-supercar-like. Turning the damper setting to normal meant even bumpy, cobbled roads left our spine surgically intact.
The R8 performing well on track is hardly a surprise, but the untold story with the R8 is how well it performs in adverse conditions. The winding, mountainous route to the alpine town of Bozen unleashed snow-lined roads and pouring rain, made worse by the setting sun. Yet the R8 blitzed through the challenging conditions with ease.
The extra power from the V-10 Plus is evident over the standard V-10, and the noise fashioned from both is simply magnificent. Imagine a Formula One car with a muffler. Drive through a tunnel in the V-10 Spyder with the top down (the V-10 Plus is only available as a coupe) and it's like the muffler has been ripped clean in a teleportation to Monza aboard a 750-hp F1 missile.
The V-8 sounds distinctly more American. It has a vague, quieter rumble to it and noticeably less power. But it doesn't feel like a compromise driving the V-8. In fact, other than the exhaust note being slightly less evocative, saving the cash and adopting a V-8 could be quite the shrewd maneuver.
If there is a negative with the R8 it would be its navigation system. It's visually confusing, making missing a turn, or driving the wrong way down a one-way street (yes this happened more than once) quite easy. Still, it felt like a small grievance given the beauty exuded by the R8 in every other aspect. This is not just a weekend supercar. It's an everyday machine that handled a long, challenging exploration masterfully. The changes for the 2014 R8 may be subtle, but small changes can make good things great.