Route 33 begins innocuously as you wind out of Ojai, Calif., up into the Los Padres Forest. The mountainous road is beloved by serious drivers for a mix of high-speed sweepers, tight switchbacks, and a smattering of straights to let a performance machine stretch its legs. Choose your wheeled weapon to assault this inky ribbon of asphalt carefully; a lack of guardrails may afford beautiful scenic photos, but drivers who run out of talent could find themselves careening off a steep cliff. Enter the 2020 Audi R8 V10 Performance, Ingolsadt’s latest super steed is the perfect dance partner for the demanding, exhilarating journey.
After a decade of production, the 2020 R8 is treated to a refreshed exterior that sees a new honeycomb grille, front spoiler lip, lateral air intakes, and a new backend awash with more honeycomb, sinister oval exhaust pipes, and a new diffuser. Whereas the outgoing R8 had started to show its age, the sum of these subtle tweaks imbues it with a more timeless supercar presence. The Premium edition trim level adds a whole new layer of menace, with brightwork swapped out for high-gloss black, blacked-out Audi Rings and badges, and titanium or (optional) carbon-fiber lower trim components. Two new V10 hues join the paint options, including a Performance-level exclusive, Ascari Blue, and our favorite shade, Kemora Gray.
New this year are custom shoes, courtesy of Michelin. Wrapping the 19-inch, five-double-spoke milled and forged rims (you can opt for 20-inch, 10-spokers, too) are Pilot Sport 4S tires, bearing an “AO” (Audi Original) smack on the sidewall. They provide beyond ample levels of grip, though the range-topping Pilot Sport Cup 2 is also available. Rounding out the additions are a $1,100 carbon-fiber front anti-roll bar, though none of the six testers Audi plied us with contained one, and rejiggered ABS and ESC systems.
Nestled behind your head is one of the two remaining naturally aspirated V-10 mills available today (the other resides in the R8’s Italian cousin, the Lamborghini Huracán). This 5.2-liter engine cranks out 602 hp and 413 ft lbs of twist in the Performance trim. The base models jumped up from 533 hp and 398 lft lbs to 562 hp and 406 ft lbs, but the real magic is made with the Performance units, so we’ll focus on those. The American versions of the R8 V10 Performance are slightly blunted in comparison to the European variants’ 612 hp and 428 ft lbs, but we do get the louder exhaust. And you’ll appreciate a noisy soundtrack more than you’ll welcome the ten extra ponies.
In both the $197,150 coupe or the $209,350 spyder iteration, the engine’s growl increases to a deeply satisfying howl all the way through the 8,700 rpm redline. A button exists to damper the exhaust, though why anyone would use it, I’m not sure. The coupe is blisteringly quick off the line, filling the surrounding canyon walls with that intoxicating V-10 wail as it shreds to sixty in 3.2 seconds, a conservative estimate by Audi. (Assume it’s actually completing the runs in around 2.9 seconds.) The spyder tacks on a tenth of a second, but you won’t discern the lag.
The point-and-shoot steering is precise and full of feedback as the more technically challenging sections of Route 33 begin. A decade of learning manifests in diminished understeer and improved wheel feel. Tick the Dynamic Steering box on your order sheet and the $1,400 add-on aims to imbue a more neutral response, with tempered ratio adjustments. Chuck the R8 into a corner and you’ll find it holds the line decently, even when you roll on the throttle. It’s easy to get in a smooth rhythm on Route 33, nimbly rocketing from apex to apex, and you find your grin only increases the longer you drive.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is staggeringly fast, though the gears are relatively short with second running out somewhere in the high sixties. Tapping through the gears manually as you roar along is recommended as the R8 continues to hunt for the highest gear possible when left to its own devices. Other trivial quibbles include a dearth of adequate storage space for bags and belongings, and some light skittering under extremely hard braking. But real drivers shouldn’t experience the latter on public roads under normal use.
What’s beloved about the R8 is the everyday usability of a supercar; something few competitors can boast. A McLaren 600LT is too harsh for a solid daily driver, and coffee runs in the likes of a Huracán would be taxing at best. The versatility of the R8 affords livability and that goes a long way. The Performance R8’s fixed steel suspension (the base model employs adjustable magnetic dampers) gives it a stiffer ride during everyday affairs, but it’ll still pass the “significant other” test. Logging long hours and hundreds of miles in the R8 would be a pleasant affair, especially if you’ve eschewed the race seats for bolstered ones.
This will likely be the swan song for the R8’s mill we currently know and adore, as electrification will soon seep in. But it’s going out on the highest—and loudest—note. The efficacy of R8’s continued evolution means that whatever comes next, even if displacement is replaced by electricity, it will still be a wonderfully potent and vastly capable supercar.