Remember the innocent days of late 2006? Those naive times before the R8's launch when we wondered if Audi could really pull off a mid-engined supercoupe to rival the Porsche 911 and, heaven forbid, even the Gallardo?
How daft we were. So rapidly has the R8 been assimilated into the sports-supercar elite that when Audi recently announced a new range-topping version capable of 0-62mph in 3.5secs and a top speed of 198mph, our first question wasn't if it'd be any good, but exactly how excellent it'd be.
Pretty damn excellent, that's the answer. The V10 Plus (sadly, no relation to the Golf Plus) is the flagship of the facelifted R8 range, a facelift comprising sparkly new LED lights, an extensive weight-loss programme and, most significantly, a shiny new S tronic double-clutch gearbox to replace the R8's clunking old automated manual. Power output on the standard V8 and V10 models remain unchanged, but the Plus's V10, while remaining naturally aspirated, gets a 25bhp hike to a Ferrari-troubling 550bhp, putting its vital stats within a gnat's wing of the 458. What odds would you have got on an Audi causing sweaty palms in Maranello a decade ago?
The new 'box is a cracker. The R8 has lost sales to the 911 by not offering a credible alternative to PDK, but the S tronic is spot-on, melting into the background when you're pottering around, but serving up thumping, split-second shifts when you click the R8 into Sport. And the Plus's extra power doesn't undermine the R8's trump card - its easy, everyday usability. Even on dodgy roads, you can be a bit silly without bothering the traction control, the Plus's steering is easy and true, its standard ceramic brakes far less recalcitrant than many we've tried. It sounds magnificent, and it goes like the remapped clappers, but - much as it pains TG to say so - it's not our R8 of choice.
We'd stick with the non-Plus, slightly-less-powerful R8 V10 (coupe or convertible). Why? Because the stock R8 V10 is a fraction softer than the Plus, which has received a suspension beef-up fit for the schportiest model in the range. Though this hasn't transformed it into a gastric-band-dislodging Nürburgring special, the Plus is more of a handful to drive on obliterated, Brit-spec roads. But that's a minor blemish on a thoroughly convincing refresh, and, hey, if you just want the newest and the fastest, we won't blame you for going Plus. The R8 is no snotty upstart nowadays, but a card-carrying member of the supercar royalty. Arise, Sir Durch Technik...
5204cc, V10, AWD, 550bhp, 398lb ft, 21.9mpg, 299g/km CO2, 0-62 in 3.5secs, 198mph, 1595kg
Audi's fastest-accelerating road car ever is ruinously rapid with a lovely new DCT gearbox, but a mite hard-riding for Britain. Standard R8 V10 will do us fine, ta.