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.

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.

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.