Is the first-gen Audi R8 the best R8?

When the first-generation Audi R8 made its appearance in a Super Bowl commercial for Iron Man, it blew peoples minds. Here was an Audi, the brand typically known for making sensible, luxurious sedans, making a ton of noise with a mid-engine exotic being driven by one of the world’s biggest movie stars. It was new and exciting and almost kind of odd. It was weird to see a car with such crazy looks and then to see an Audi badge on the front. But it worked and it brought a massive influx of customers to the Audi brand. Now, there’s a second-generation Audi R8 and it’s a sensational car. But will it ever be as good as its iconic predecessor?

The first-gen Audi R8 launched with a 4.2 liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine mounted in the middle. That V8 was basically the same one you’d find in a B7 Audi S4 of the time. So, while a sensational motor, it was a sort of pedestrian and wasn’t anywhere near as exotic as the car looked. That engine made around 420 hp and was mated to either a brilliant six-speed open-gate manual gearbox or a rather ho-hum six-speed single-clutch automated manual, and it sent power to all four wheels, via Quattro. Later on, a 5.2 liter 510 hp V10 was sourced from the Lamborghini Gallardo as an option.

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It wasn’t the fastest car on the planet or the craziest one but that was the beauty of it. It was a bonafide mid-engine supercar but one that was easy to drive, comfortable, high-tech and all-weather capable. It was brilliant.

This new second-gen car is also brilliant, especially in “V10 Plus” form, as that packs a 610 hp version of the new 5.2 liter V10. It’s a rocket ship, capable of 0-60 mph in under three seconds and onward of 200 mph. But there’s something about it that seems less thrilling, less special. It’s a sensational car, no doubt, but the first-gen has a special feeling to it, a romance even. And I don’t think time will be as kind to the second-gen car. The first one will look pretty for decades to come, where I’m not so sure the second-gen R8 will. Plus, you could get the first-gen R8 with a manual, something absent in the newer model.

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2011 Audi R8 Spyder manual

I personally love the new Audi R8. I think it looks brilliant, it’s a sensational car and it’s still as much of an everyday supercar as ever before, maybe even more so. However, if it were my choice, I’d have the first-gen Audi R8 V8 with a six-speed manual and I’d never look back. So if you ask me, the answer is yes, the first-gen Audi R8 is the best R8.

Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.