At 120 mph, the bird bounced off the windshield header of the 2020 Audi R8 Performance with a sickening thud. Actually, it was more of a crunch. Miraculously, the impact, which likely pulverized the majority of the creature’s tiny hollow bones, didn’t leave a blemish on Audi’s updated six-figure supercar.
HIGHS: Seriously quick, the theatrics of a mid-engine supercar, calm enough to drive every day.
It wasn’t our fault, at least not entirely. The intense howl and thundering bass of the Audi’s 5.2-liter V-10 at 8000 rpm should have given our feathered friend fair warning to stay clear. For the 2020 model year, the second generation of Audi’s mid-engine R8 receives a mid-cycle refresh that includes a pair of exaggerated oval exhaust tips so oversized they’re actually out of proportion with the rest of the car.
The active exhaust system itself is unchanged. It still has two settings, Standard and Sport, and it’s quite subdued in Standard mode below 4000 rpm. Sport mode, however, which is activated with a button on the steering wheel, makes R8 models sold in the United States seemingly the loudest in the world. R8 Performance models sold in Europe get a new, quieter, single-mode system along with a few engine mods that increase output from 602 horsepower to 612. “We decided to stick with the sound on the U.S. cars,” said R8 product manager Anthony Garbis. “When you have 602 horsepower, you don’t really need 612.” Some, of course, would disagree. The base R8 model, however, does get a 30-hp boost for a total of 562 horses.
Visually more successful is the even more angular front end now worn by both variants. The new look incorporates upright winglet-style elements on both sides with fake vents and a new, wider honeycomb grille and darkened headlamps. The revised rear bumper gets honeycomb air extractor vents, the big RS-style oval exhaust pipes, and a more serious rear diffuser. Redesigned rocker panels now include a gloss-black inlay on the base R8 model while the Performance version’s treatment is rendered in a standard titanium finish or optional carbon fiber. Similar to the wheels on Audi’s RS5 models, the R8’s new forged-aluminum rollers are cut on a mill for more complex angular patterns. The result is a more severe, if still undeniably handsome, appearance than before, though some still will complain that the R8 is a supercar that doesn’t look the part, like a runway model in joggers.
LOWS: Grabby brakes, non-adjustable suspension on Performance models, where’s the dual-zone climate control?
The most expensive vehicle in the Audi stable still shares much of chassis and component set with the Lamborghini Huracán Evo, and the Italian’s version of the same 5.2-liter recently has been cranked up to 631 horsepower. Shared with the Lambo is the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but each variant of the R8 gets a different version of the gearbox. The unit in the R8 Performance has shorter ratios in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh gears versus those in the base model. While the R8 V10 Performance’s engine really wakes up above 4000 revs, there’s plenty of thrust available without downshifting.
As loud as the Audi is, the Lambo is louder still, and the Huracán’s suspension tuning remains stiffer. The R8’s spring and damping rates are unchanged, but Audi has switched from Pirelli P Zeros to Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires with a proprietary compound for more grip, as well as revamped the R8’s traction and stability controls. “In Sport mode, the system will allow you to slide the car a bit,” Garbis said. “It is a mid-engine car, so it’ll do some snap throttle oversteer if you want it to.”
Playful yet Livable
In the lovely roads overlooking Santa Barbara, California, not far from Oprah’s little bungalow, the R8 Performance is precise and easy to drive quickly. Its all-wheel-drive system can vary its torque split to maximize grip, although in Dynamic mode it tries to keep a rear bias, utilizing its limited-slip rear differential as much as possible. The $1400 active-steering system has been retuned with less aggressive ratio swings and a bit less assist, upping the heft. Audi says it also added stiffer front bushings and applied some learnings in steering feel from the R8’s now-defunct rear-wheel-drive model. The steering feels quicker and more direct than the helm of the new 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, but it isn’t darty.
Also new is an optional carbon-fiber-and-aluminum front anti-roll bar, which is 4.4 pounds lighter than the standard unit, but the car we drove wasn’t equipped with it. “You’d have to be so tuned into your car to feel the difference in steering response,” Garbis says. Without the carbon bar, there’s a hint of body roll, which helps you set up the R8’s chassis in faster corners, but we found ourselves wondering how much more agile it would feel in tighter sections with the Huracán Evo’s four-wheel-steering system….
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