In the exotic world of supercars, you rarely, if ever, see an evolution of an existing model. You'd probably see variants, but to see the prevalent model being updated is rare. That's because whenever a supercar is built, it is as close to perfect as possible. And perfection as you would know is hard to improve on, but as Stephan Reil, head of development at Quattro GmbH says, it can be optimised!
That is exactly what the 2013 version of the R8 is, a tool that has just got its pointy tip sharpened! That honing has happened to three key areas, the aluminum space frame, the engine and the transmission. Now you'd hardly call the Q7 a supercar, even though its 6.0-litre V12 twin turbo-ed diesel gives it 500PS of max power and a 1000Nm of max torque. That's nearly as much power as the Gallardo's 570PS but with way more torque than the 540Nm the Gallardo generates. Yet the Q7 weighs a hefty 2.6 tonnes or 2600 kilos, that's a lot of weight to be carrying around.
The (base) R8 with the V8 engine weighs just 1560 kilos, the V10 tips the scales by another 10 kilos, yet that's around 1000 kilos lighter than the Q7 and it's all down to the tremendous weight saving measures contributed by almost every component in the car.
The aluminum space frame weighs just 210 kilos, but in the new car further weight savings were gained from the new alloy wheels, the insulating material and the seats which may be lighter but haven't lost any of their suppleness. Carbon fibre reinforced plastics can be found abundantly inside the cabin and these reduce weight further. It may be a few kilos here and there, such as the handbrake lever or the wrap around the instrument console or the door pads but it's still weight, the loss of which makes a difference.
That difference becomes apparent as I throw the R8 through the tight corners of the Marco Simoncelli circuit or what is also known as the Misano World circuit. This is a small and very fast racing circuit that is home to the Italian rounds of the MotoGP and the WSBK. It was recently renamed in honor of Simoncelli who lost his life at the 2012 Malaysian MotoGP. The circuit is a spectacular proving ground to evaluate a super sportscar. The mix of tight and sweeping corners can very easily throw any car of its intended line with ease.
Getting a measure of this track requires a delicately balanced car. The R8 is just that, precisely balanced and finely tempered to cleanly slice through every corner without breaking under pressure. The car I am driving is the V10 plus, the new flagship R8 with the most power and torque squeezed from its ten cylinders. The 4.2-litre V8 and 5-litre V10 have been optimised to be more efficient than before. But taking pride of place is this tuned V10 plus whose engine note reminds me of Lars Ulrich, his full bodied throaty voice belting out Unforgiven!
At 550PS the V10 plus is 25PS more powerful than the standard V10 yet it's a very forgiving car. Its surprisingly pleasant to drive at urban speeds yet can change character in an instant. A sharp jab to the throttle and the V10 plus belts out blistering pace. 0-100kmph takes it just 3.5 seconds, a tenth of a second quicker than its lesser powered sibling. Top speed is 317kmph.
The phenomenal pace is also partly virtue of the new gearbox, the dual clutch 7 speed S tronic which replaces the single clutch six-speed R tronic transmission that was used in the older car. Despite the additional ratio, this gearbox is still much quicker than the manual transmission (0-100kmph in 3.8 seconds) harnessing all the benefits of the dual clutch system.
The Misano circuit hasn't got many long straights just the one running parallel to the pit lane. It's just around 600 metres long and towards the ends gently sweeps into a right hander leading into an even more acute right hand hairpin. Yet that distance is enough to propel the R8 past 200kmph before you dig into the brake pedal hard enough to suck every ounce of brake juice out of the big fat carbon fibre ceramic discs (standard on the V10 plus).
Off the circuit the R8 is still every bit a comfortable, almost luxury sedan-like car. The Italian countryside isn't famous for its fantastic roads, but the R8 does not mind the frequent scarring. The adaptive suspension with the magnetic dampers allows the R8 to comfortably drive over the potholed surfaces without disturbing anyone within the cabin. Yes the suspension is stiff, and you do appreciate that there is just no body roll, but you also appreciate the superb ride quality.
However the steering is the one bit that you have to grapple with in certain circumstances, especially if you have to drive slowly in the twisties where the steering makes you feel its weight! If you aren't driving slow for a long period then it's not an issue, once the speeds rise the steering goes back to its old comfortable mode again.
The last time I drove an R8 it was the Spyder and I drove it through Gujarat and Rajasthan and what I remember most about that drive was how the R8 felt comfortable as an everyday car. If you don't want the hair raising driving experience, all you have to do is wind yourself down, the R8 will just follow your lead. So the special bit is not the phenomenally dynamic experience, it's the ordinary stuff that the R8 does that makes it such a brilliant super sports car. Then and even now, the R8 continues to remain a remarkably well engineered product, and whether you wear a three piece business suit or racing overalls while driving it, the R8 moulds itself into whatever avatar you choose!