I’ve been lucky enough to drive pretty much every iteration of the Audi R8 since it hit the scene more than a decade ago and all I can say is, it never gets old. Do I miss the original V8/manual coupe? Heck yeah I do. Is this 2020 Spyder V10 Performance model an absolute peach? Heck yeah it is.
- Powerful, great-sounding V10 engine
- Sharp handling chops
- Easy to drive day to day
- Virtual Cockpit tech is some of the best
- Styling tweaks don’t improve the overall design
- Lacks some driver-assistance features
Little tweaks for 2020
The R8 got a few updates for 2020, most notably a few cosmetic changes that I hesitate to call upgrades. The little non-functional fangs on the sides of the fascia are styling for styling’s sake and around back, the honeycomb mesh over the air outlets spans the full width of the car. I’m not really a fan of either tweak, but I will say I love the huge exhaust pipes and the black badges are cool, too. Design is obviously subjective and hey, people still stop and gawk at this thing when it drives by.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit tech is where you’ll find all the infotainment functions and much like the R8 itself, VC is still a treat after all these years. Some people complain about the lack of a central multimedia screen in the dash, but that would kill the cockpit’s design. You can manage Virtual Cockpit via buttons on the steering wheel, but there are redundant controls on the center console, so your passenger can still screw with your music choice even if they can’t totally see the display.
The R8 is an easy car to spend time in; it’s far more comfortable than other supercars. The seats are supportive, there’s plenty of space for two adults and thanks to the low hood and dash, you have a great view of what’s ahead. All of the climate controls are within easy reach and are intuitive to operate and the 2020 R8 has a wireless charging pad for your phone in a cubby just ahead of the electronic gear shifter.
This V10 is 10/10
I can’t say it enough, I love Audi’s 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V10. Mounted amidships and connected to a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, that big, free-breathing engine produces 602 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque in this Performance model. (Audi used to offer a less-powerful version with 562 hp and 406 lb-ft, but that one’s.) The rear-biased all-wheel-drive system sends torque front and back as needed and while I still give the pre-refresh, rear-wheel-drive the nod as the best-handling version of Audi’s supercar, you can’t argue with the absolutely unflappable AWD prowess of Quattro.
Never lift off the throttle and the R8 will reach speeds above 200 mph. Hit it hard off the line and this V10 Performance Spyder will hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, though Audi admits its acceleration data is somewhat conservative. Numbers aside, launching the R8 is a blast — and best experienced in the Spyder. That big V10 is nestled right behind your ears and the louder it gets, the deeper you’ll dig into the throttle. This is Audi’s best-sounding engine by a long shot.
I’ll always maintain the R8 was at its best with a manual transmission, but supercar buyers don’t want to shift for themselves anymore and the S-Tronic automatic is really quite good. You can move through the gears with steering wheel-mounted paddles, but they’re small and not exactly satisfying to use, though at least they’re made of metal now instead of plastic. Switching between Comfort and Dynamic modes alters the transmission mapping slightly, though it’s sometimes a little too eager to drop a gear in the latter setting. Honestly, just leave the powertrain in Auto for the best experience. Even when the engine is at a simmer, it’s still a freaking 602-hp V10.
The V10 Performance can be optioned with a carbon-fiber sway bar that saves 4.4 pounds of weight, which you’ll never actually notice unless you’re the type who likes to take supercars to truck scales. A more meaningful upgrade for the 2020 R8 is the retuned variable-ratio steering system, which is said to have a more progressive feel not unlike that of the aforementioned R8 RWS. The all-wheel-drive R8 is quick to turn in and offers an appropriate amount of feedback. The steering is a little light for my tastes in Comfort mode, but just run the R8 in its Individual setting and you can have it default to the heavier Dynamic setting. There, I fixed it.
Weirdly, the V10 Performance uses a fixed suspension setup instead of the adaptive, magnetic-ride dampers used on the base R8. That’s not a complaint, necessarily — the steel springs are soft enough to deliver a compliant ride over broken city streets yet they’re also firm enough to offer excellent handling when you’re enjoying a spirited drive. I feel like Audi could probably trick a few buyers out of some extra cash by offering the adaptive dampers on the Performance car, but if the top-level R8 is set up this perfectly from the get-go, why complicate things?
The everyday supercar
All of this brings me to what I’ve always loved most about the R8: It truly feels like the best definition of the “everyday supercar,” as esoteric a segment as that may be. It truly is perfectly happy to just run a few errands at slow speeds or sit in traffic on the freeway. (Which reminds me, adaptive cruise control would be a nice addition.) It’s as comfortable and techy as any other modern Audi, but has no trouble keeping up with the world’s finest sports cars — some of which, don’t forget, carry significantly higher price tags than the 2020 R8 V10 Performance Coupe’s still-very-expensive $198,850 starting price (including $1,250 for destination and a $1,700 gas guzzler tax). With a few key options like the carbon fiber front spoiler, Bang & Olufsen sound system, diamond-stitched seats, red brake calipers and more, the 2020 R8 Spyder seen here costs $225,945, extra fees included.
On that note, much as I dig the Spyder experience, I’d be hard pressed to pick it over the Coupe. Never mind the $12,200 price increase for the privilege of going topless, I think the R8 Coupe looks way cooler and you can see the engine through the glass rear window, which is sweet. Then again, all R8s are good R8s. And they’re just as enjoyable now as they’ve ever been.