For under $100,000 the Audi R8 arguably offers the best true exotic car ownership experience. Prices for the Audi R8 have steadily dropped since its debut in 2008 and has allowed many enthusiasts to become first time exotic car owners. While you may be able to find a Ferrari 360 Modena or Lamborghini Gallardo under that price range as well, neither will have the technology, comfort, ease of use, and reliability that can be found in the Audi R8.
Why Choose the Audi R8
When first introduced backed in 2008, many of us wondered why Audi would release a mid-engine exotic car that would easily cut into the market share of its big brother Lamborghini Gallardo. This is even more confusing when Audi decided to release a V10 version in 2010 that had its engine directly derived from the LP560.
But truth be told, while both cars share chassis and other components, they could not be further from each other.
Lamborghinis are built to be raw, loud, and unforgiving. Every drive is meant to be a showcase of authority and dominating presence. Looks, noise, and power are perhaps the main focus of the Gallardo.
The R8, on the other hand, is all about comfort, technology, and functionality. Again, similar platforms but different results. There is no doubt that the Audi R8 is a better all-around car but there is no substitution for the sex appeal you get from Lamborghini.
Audi R8 Changes Over the Years
2008 – 2013
In 2008, Audi stunned the world when it released the R8 to the public. Keep in mind there was a gap in the market for an affordable exotic car that was priced above most Porsche 911s and under any Ferrari or Lamborghini. As with most exotic car prerequisites, the R8 was powered by a mid-engine 4.2L V8 producing 420 HP that was originally found in the Audi RS4. Audi stayed true its motto by retaining the signature Quattro all wheel drive, but with a 70% rear torque bias.
Iconic LEDs along the bottom of the headlights set the standard for not just future Audi vehicles, but many manufacturers alike today. Other significant features included a wide stance with massive rear section tires and a signature side blade found behind the doors that almost always contrasts the body color or offered in carbon fiber.
The Audi R8 offered a slow semi-automatic transmission called R-Tronic that is operated by paddles, but also offered a traditional 6 speed manual unit sourced from Lamborghini. The 6 speed manual is actually one of the most fun to use transmissions due to the gated shifter.
Almost 99% of the car remained the same for 2009 but 2010 introduced an entirely all new engine to the lineup: a V10. In a move that would surprise many, Audi took the Lamborghini LP560 V10 engine and shoved it into the R8 chassis but detuned it with slightly less power to not outdo its twin brother. While the engine was the biggest difference, the transmission options remained the same and the interior looked nearly identical.
However, on the exterior, many changes differentiated the V8 from the V10. To the human eye, most R8s will look the same but the V10 has a gloss black rear bumper insert along with oval exhaust tips instead of quad tips. From the side you will now noticed slightly larger side blade intake scoops and more aggressive sideskirts along the bottom. The V10 front grille is now offered with chrome cross weaving.
2011 gave birth to the convertible variants of both the V8 and V10 model. However, one distinct and controversial visual change impacted the design and that was the removal of the signature side blade and in place was a long swooping side intake vent. Not that anything is wrong with that but it just seemed odd Audi would remove something that made the R8 so special.
For the guys that want a more hardcore R8, Audi introduced the GT spec model in both coupe and spyder form in 2012. Similar to what you would find in a Lamborghini Superleggera, the R8 GT focused on shaving weight as its main priority. 90 coupes and 50 spyders were made for the US market. Key differences were less weight, more aero with a fixed rear wing and front canard winglets, aggressive rear diffuser, clear tail lights, and slightly reworked rear bumpers and front bumper grilles. The interior was heavily optioned with alcantara.
You may notice that your search won’t yield any 2013 models for sale. That is because the R8 was not produced as a 2013 in anticipation for the mid-life cycle update that came in 2014.
2014 – 2015
2014 marked the biggest change for the Audi R8 model with the addition of the S-Tronic transmission. This was the first time Audi offered a 7 speed dual clutch transmission for the R8 but what’s even more funny was that they beat Lamborghini to the punch as well. Other subtle differences included standard LED headlights and tail lights. The bumpers were reworked once again and had round exhaust tips as standard for both the V8 and V10. Interior options were tremendously improved with available cross stitching that made the car look the cost of the car.
The V10 had an additional trim level called the V10 Plus which added 25 HP, carbon ceramic brakes as standard, and firmer suspension as found in the R8 GT model. Though we have heard complaints of the ride being too stiff.
R-Tronic vs S-Tronic vs Manual
If looking for a pre-2014 model, we will almost always recommend going with a manual unless an R-Tronic car is priced aggressively. There are tunes available to improve the jerkiness and shift times of the R-Tronic transmission but it will never come close to the S-Tronic which is borderline perfection. With the way the market is going, 6 speed manual cars should hold their value and be more desirable in todays market. Thankfully, Audi is going to continue to make manual cars until the second generation drops in 2016. If it was me, I’d go with a manual any day of the week over R-Tronic, and even S-Tronic.
Common Issues You Should Look out For
The Audi R8 is a pretty reliable car but like any German car, can have its fair share of issues, especially electrical ones.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues to look out for on used R8s (both V8 and V10) are the magnetic suspension shocks that can leak and make the vehicle inoperable. What is even crazier is that this problem can start to exist below 20k miles and most used R8s fall into this range so that’s why it is imperative that you perform a PPI prior to buying. If you do buy a car that is under warranty, this can be fixed under warranty clause in most cases but otherwise, you’re SOL if this happens and probably better off putting in the V10 plus coilovers as a replacement (which isn’t cheap by any means either).
Clutches in R-Tronic can wear quickly if not driven properly or if used in conjunction with launch control. Manual clutches should last a bit longer but you can always get a clutch life reading during a PPI to know for sure. Otherwise, clutches can run up to $5,000 for a new one including parts and labor.
Other problems known to exist is the air conditioning unit going bad. In most cars this is a simple quick fix but on the R8, things get really complicated and costly if not under warranty. The V8 requires the removal of the engine just to fix this part, but fortunately the V10 does not.
Aside from some minor quirks, the Audi R8 is pretty bullet proof but your mileage will always vary. Do your research prior and always get a PPI.
Should You Buy an Audi R8?
If you are looking to get into an everyday exotic car then the Audi R8 is a no brainer. It provides the best balance of looks, power, design, and comfort in an all-in-one package. We do recommend that you test drive one first prior to buying though. You might find that the R8 is boring or almost too easy to drive which is somewhat true. The one thing you must do is put on an aftermarket exhaust because Audi did not do the 4.2L or 5.2L engine any justice at all. You can look great driving but it’s even better when people hear you before they see you.
Mechanically, all R8s are the same under the sheet metal and look almost identical to the naked eye. If you want dual clutch then opt for a 2014 model but keep in mind they still have not hit their full depreciation curve. If you want a bang for the buck, an 2009 V8 and 2010 V10 model should make you happy without breaking the bank. We prefer fully loaded cars but must have options are 6 speed manual, carbon fiber (sideblade, engine panels, interior) is always a bonus, and Bang & Olufsen sound system is nice to have.