Concept car looks with a mid-mounted and naturally-aspirated engine, plus prices that start below £30,000. The Audi R8 Mk1 was Ingolstadt’s debut supercar and it still makes sense today. Here’s what you need to know before buying one.
Feature taken from Fast Car Audi. Words: Emma Woodcook
Remember 2006? The world was a very different place. Twitter took its first steps that year, the original iPhone was still 12 months way and the Audi range was characterised by understated saloons. That all changed with the launch of the Audi R8 Mk1, a model foretold only by the 2003 Pikes Peak concept and the tantalising shape of Will Smith’s wheels in I, Robot. Rocking revolutionary styling, extensive aluminium construction, a mid-engined layout and a screaming naturally aspirated V8, this was a supercar in every way.
The Audi quickly gained a media profile to match its Walter de Silva looks. Tony Stark gets behind the wheel in the first Iron Man film, a Decepticon transforms into an Audi R8 in several Transformers films and the model appears in more music videos and TV series than you can count. Put that together with the tech spec and it’s easy to imagine that Audi took aim at top tier manufacturers like Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini.
And yet there’s no six-figure price tag here. Priced at £76,825, the original 4.2 litre R8 entered the market as a direct competitor for the 997 generation Porsche 911 Carrera S and undercut the BMW M6 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Even the far faster, V10-powered R8 5.2 FSI managed to just sneak under the £100,000 barrier. Value has always been a key part of the Audi R8 package and that’s still true today. Good cars start below £30,000. Here’s how to find one.
Audi R8 Mk1: What do you get?
The Audi R8 range expanded gradually throughout production, giving today’s buyer plenty of choice. In 2007, it started out simple. A 4.2-litre V8 was the only engine available at launch, making 414bhp at over 8000rpm, with a Lamborghini-derived 5.2-litre V10 joining the range in 2009. Known as the 5.2 FSI, this model makes 525bhp and can be identified by its different headlights, revised front grille, new wheels and twin-outlet exhaust.
The next big change was body style, Audi unveiling a soft-top Spyder variant in 2010. Equipped with an electrically-operated retractable roof, complete with a rear window that can be dropped separately for maximum volume with the hood up, the new shape also lost the coupé’s sideblades and gained a slatted engine cover. The first Spyders were all 5.2 FSI machines, with the 4.2 FSI joining the drop top range in 2011.
A facelift shook up the R8 style in 2012. Hard and soft top cars alike gained revised LED lights, subtle styling tweaks and an optional dual-clutch transmission, plus the 4.2 FSI got a power bump to 424bhp. A new range-topper also appeared: the R8 V10 Plus. Key changes over the standard 5.2 include a power jump to 542bhp, bucket seats and model-specific passive suspension. Production of all first-generation cars ended in 2015. It might sound like a bewildering array but the R8 has never strayed far from its fundamentals of naturally-aspirated power, mid-engined agility and striking design. There are no wrong answers here.
The Audi R8 Mk1 owes part of that remarkable style to its headlamps. The bright white, always on ‘eyelashes’ furthered Audi’s pre-existing commitment to daytime running lights and add a futurist flare that still looks modern today but it’s their technical secrets which really impress. Numbering 24 in total – a figure chosen in reference to the German manufacturer’s contemporary success at the Le Mans 24 Hours – the running lights are all LEDs. That’s pretty normal now but in 2007 it was a revolution. Combined with standard semiconductors for the brake lamps and engine bay lighting, it made the R8 4.2 FSI the most LED-heavy production car in the world.
Audi didn’t stop there: the firm debuted the world’s first all-LED headlamp units in 2008, and fitted them as standard to all V10 machines. Alongside the previous daytime running light functionality, the new units used a total of 54 clustered diodes per headlamp to handle dipped beam, high beam and front indicator duties. Audi pointed to the design’s advantages in light colour, energy use and durability, before developing a subtly revised system that was fitted to V8 and V10 machines alike after the 2013 facelift.
Audi champions ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive across its model range, so it’s fitting that every first-generation R8 sends power to both axles. The system mimics that used in related Lamborghini models and uses a viscous coupling to control the proportion of available drive that’s sent to the front wheels. Under normal conditions every R8 enjoys a rear-biased 15:85 front to rear torque split, though this can shift as far as 30:70 when the rear wheels start to slip. There’s a standard rear limited-slip differential too, for predictable over the limit action.
No matter the engine, transmission or body configuration, running an R8 is going to cost. Every model sits in the highest VED category for the period, attracting a £570 road tax fee each year, and every R8 attracts an ABI insurance category rating of either 49 or 50. Fuel consumption is prolific too, though most owners will be having too much fun to care. Expect to see a little over 20 miles to each gallon in gentle use, mid teens with more enthusiastic use and single figures on tracks. Those figures are largely comparable to Ferrari’s F430 or the Lamborghini Gallardo.
Audi will service an R8 according to either of two service schedules, depending on the amount and style of driving a car enjoys. Owners who cover more than 10,000 miles in their R8 each year, drive mostly on motorways and keep revs in the first third of the tacho might benefit from the Variable LongLife package. This requires a major Inspection Service every two years or 19,000 miles and leaves the onboard computer to determine when oil changes are needed. Few supercars see this kind of use – the temptations of sound and speed are understandably too much – and most R8s are serviced according to the Fixed Inspection schedule. Under this routine, cars get an oil change every 9000 miles or annually and a major service every 19,000 miles or two years.
No matter which motor you choose, engine issues should be few and far between. High oil usage is a quirk of both the V8 and V10 – so check the level is topped up – but should point to nothing more sinister. A rear oil leak, however, can point to a corroded oil line. It’s a known vulnerability of the model, and one that needs to be put right, but should cost little more than £200 to get fixed.
As high performance, naturally aspirated engines from the first generation of direct fuel injection, both the 4.2 FSI and 5.2 FSI can become vulnerable to coke build up around the intake valves. This can dramatically reduce power, often blunting peak performance by 10% or more, and requires periodic removal. Chemical options are available but manual cleaning, where the inlet manifold is removed and the coke physically cleared, is the preferred option. This is a time consuming process and costs can easily reach £500 – but the performance benefits are worth it.
Three different gearboxes are attached to the gen-one R8 platform and they’ve got widely divergent characters, each shining its own light on Audi’s supercar. If you’re not sure which one might suit you, there’s no better way to find out than jumping behind the wheel to see what the transmissions are like in action.
Old school interests are protected by the only gearbox available for the entire Type 42 production: a three pedal, six-speed manual. The external metal gate echoes classic Ferraris and adds a combination of tactile feedback and click-clack soundtrack that’s hard to resist, helping to make it the most sought-after transmission amongst collectors. Ensure the clutch is correctly adjusted and the gearbox oil changed to schedule and there should be little to worry about.
More caution should be exercised around the R-Tronic automated manual. Offered between 2006 and the 2013 facelift, this unit places six gears and a single clutch under computer control. R-Tronic is mechanically similar to a manual transmission, so it’s important not to treat the gearbox like a torque converter automatic. Full-throttle upshifts can place extra stress on the driveshafts and differentials, as can activating launch control, while low speed crawling and uphill reversing promote slip and can accelerate clutch wear. If a test drive reveals rising revs at steady speed or a gearbox that’s reluctant to shift, ask for an expert opinion. The transmission might need the clutch adaption points electronically reset or, in the worst case, could require a new clutch. Expect to spend £2000 for a new item, plus fitting.
More modern is the S-Tronic dual clutch transmission that Audi introduced alongside the 2013 facelift. The seven-speed gearbox is smoother and quicker shifting than its R-Tronic predecessor and works well even in low speed use. A small number of cars suffered issues when new, which Audi fixed under warranty, but ongoing problems are all but unknown. There’s no need to worry about the quattro all-wheel drive system fitted to all first-generation R8 models either.
The world is your oyster when it comes to tuning an Audi R8. Wide arches, big wings and a vast range of bodykits are all available, including a Radical Tuning bundle that exactly replicates the track-ready changes applied to the wildly successfully GT3 racecar. Wheel options vary from Audi’s own 18 inch winter wheel to the largest rims SEMA exhibitors can get under the arches, and suspension options range from floor-grazing air to hardcore height, rebound and speed adjustable KW Variant 4 coilovers.
Mild modifications are possible too, some owners modernising earlier cars through the fitment of late-production LED front or rear lights. This can be a daunting DIY job that requires a new control unit, extensive rewiring and deft coding skills, so could be best left to the professionals. Specialist firms can complete the work or offer advice, while aftermarket control units are available for cars built in 2010 onwards. Available from £500 upwards, these devices make the swap far easier.
Small alterations can also be applied to either thunderous drivetrain. American manufacturers offer a range of dyno-proven cold air intake kits, while Milltek, Larini, Akrapovic and many more exhaust manufacturers can release a premium scream from the V8 and V10. Software experts APR can also release more power through ECU recalibration, claiming gains of 24 horsepower for the V8 and nearly 60bhp for the V10.
That upswing won’t satiate everyone and there’s a growing market for R8s with forced induction. American firm VF Engineering sells some of the best-known supercharging kits and adds Eaton twin-vortex blowers to both 4.2 and 5.2 litre cars alike. It’s enough to push even the earliest V8s to 600 horsepower and extract over 700bhp from V10 machines, all for barely £15,000 apiece. Closer to home, TTS Performance has developed a twin Rotrex supercharger kit for the 4.2 FSI that makes almost 750bhp…
If even that won’t scratch your itch, it’s time to look at turbocharging. North Carolina speed freaks Underground Racing boast some of the fastest R8s in their world thanks to a combination of twin turbos, rebuilt engines and race fuel that can net almost 3000 horsepower and an increasing number of British firms are translating the best parts of the concept into road-usable machines. RE Performance and other specialists offer everything from 900bhp V10 builds with stock internals to extensively rebuilt monsters with over 1200bhp!
Bodywork corrosion is becoming an issue as the model ages, with the leading edge of the bonnet and the bottom of both doors commonly effected. Examine any potential purchase for paint peeling or bubbling, both on the outside and inner edges of the vulnerable panels. Keep an eye out for stone chips and check the rear wheelarches too, as these areas can also corrode. Audi offered a 12 year corrosion warranty from new, and all but the earliest cars will still be covered by this guarantee. Pay attention to any dents too, as they can be difficult to remove from the aluminium bodywork.
If you’re checking out a coupé, examine the model’s trademark sideblades. Stone chips can disrupt the finish on painted items, while the optional carbon fibre blades are vulnerable to damaged or peeling lacquer. This can be fixed but expect a four figure bill for a complete renovation. Some owners also swap between blade styles, a job that can be achieved by a competent home mechanic. Check carefully to ensure the work has been carried out correctly.
Wheels & Tyres
Concerns here are limited but it still pays to be careful: some owners report cracked wheels after hitting a deep pothole, while heavily uneven tyre wear points to incorrect or modified geometry settings. Pay close attention to the Tyre Pressure Monitoring System too. If the system displays a warning message when all four tyres have the correct air, this can point to a sensor or battery failure. Expect to spend £100 per corner
Staggered 19-inch wheels are standard across the range, with both V8 and V10 cars getting 19×8.5 inch rims with 235-section tyres up front and 19×11 inchers with 295/30 rubber at the rear. Don’t go thinking they’re all the same though. 4.2 and 5.2 cars receive different wheel designs as standard, and Audi offered a range of optional alloys too. Y-shaped PQ1 and five-spoke PQU ‘Rotor’ – could only be ordered on a V10 car. As the two models share a bolt pattern and offset, however, there should be no problem mounting them to a V8 car today.
Some of the largest concerns for an R8 owner surround the frame and suspension. The aluminium chassis is vulnerable to bimetallic corrosion where it connects with steel bolts and other components, and extreme caution must be exercised over any accident repairs. Check that minor chassis work has been carried out by a reputable expert and walk away from any car exhibiting cracks in the structure. These occur in a very small number of cars after extreme stress and should only be fixed by frame replacement: don’t settle for an R8 where this damage has
Be equally vigilant if the car you’re inspecting is fitted with Magnetic Ride Control. This system uses a computer-controlled electromagnetic coil to adjust the strength of a magnetic field inside the damper, forcing tiny metallic elements within the oil into alignment whenever voltage is applied. This increases the viscosity of the fluid, limits the movement of the damper and firms up the car’s response, something the car does both proactively as conditions demand and when a driver selects Sport mode. It’s fitted to most V10 cars as standard and was a cost option for V8 machines.
It’s clever stuff but the system’s reliability is not absolute. The magnetic fluid can leak from the dampers, a problem that’s even been observed on low mileage cars, and rectification costs are high. Expect to spend £500 per damper for an aftermarket renovation or around £1000 per corner for Audi replacement items.
Values vary according to engine, age and general condition. The market opens with early V8 coupés, with robust but high mileage cars ducking below £30,000 and pristine examples starting around £40,000. Expect to spend £5000 more for an equivalent Spyder 4.2 FSI, and £50,000 for an early V10 with or without a roof. The same money buys a facelift V8 hardtop. Over £60,000 buyers have their pick of 2012 onwards V10 and V10 Plus machines.