Today we've stumbled across this photo released by Audi in some seemingly unrelated materials... perhaps inadvertently, but then again Audi never does things inadvertently. Pardon the pixelation, but we blew it up and pulled some shadows out of that grille to get a better view.
Meant to show off Audi's LED design prowess, we're 99% certain the design buck shown in the shot also reveals next year's planned R8 facelift. When we first glanced at the small photo, all we saw was the headlight. Taking a second look, the photo really grabbed our attention.
Here's what we see:
1. Unlike the e-tron concept, e-tron spyder concept or other sportscar designs Audi has released in concept form, this is quite obviously an R8... but with several differences and that is most interesting indeed. The R8 facelift is due soon... but how soon?
2. LED-rich, longer and more aggressively shaped headlight - It's possible this is a concept component, but likely not. First, it's not anything we've seen before... not e-tron or e-tron Spyder. If it is production, this suggests the R8's headlight assembly will stretch from the quarter panel entirely to the grille where it becomes pinpoint thin but still carries the amber glow of the turn signal.
2. Hexagonal take on the Audi grille - Notice how Audi's been cutting the corners off the top portion of its grille on the A8, A7, A6 and new A5? The cut is here on this grille too, subtle but there and noticeably different from the current R8 grille.
3. Grille Texture - Note the hole-style mesh of that grille. This is unlike anything we've seen in any current R8 and closer (but not exact) to the grille mesh texture of some RS cars.
Here's what we don't see:
1. Front Outer Intake Slats - To us this fascia looks unfinished. The R8's bold slat-work to the right and left of the main grille is a fairly fundamental part of its design. We doubt Audi will leave those side intakes completely open... but you never know. The no slate look is certainly very aggressive.
So What Else Do We Know
Word is, Audi has some very interesting R8 test mules running around in Germany. Spy photos have shown drivetrain mules and then there was that aggressively flared R8 GT that turned up at Nurburgring. We've also heard of mules fitted with the 2.5 TFSI and 3.0 TFSI, both sporting rear-wheel drive and possibly running S-tronic transmissions. Think Lamborghini Gallardo Balboni meets TT RS. "It's all part of Audi's experimentation in downsizing," said one source to us... or maybe it's just Rupert Stadler, Michael Dick and company's idea of a good time. Whatever they are, these aren't headed for production... this time around.
Sources close to Audi tell us that the Audi R8 product improvement drivetrain changes won't be as radically changed as those rear-wheel drive test mules. Expect the V8 and V10 to carry over but perhaps with a slight power bump. Don't count on the V10 being swapped for the much-anticipated 4.0T quite yet as the V10 is expected to continue on in the R8 and Lamborghini Gallardo despite the big engine's retirement in non-high-rev form from the S6 and S8.
The big news though will be the transmission. A dual-clutch S-tronic will replace the single clutch R-tronic transmission. As with S-tronic in Audi's other models, this new mid-engine S-tronic with twin clutches is expected to increase automatic mode drivability, which has been the biggest complaint about the current car.
Now Here's Where Things Get Interesting
We're told by someone who's seen production plans that production of the S-tronic begins as early as week 39. If that's so, then it's possible that the R8 product improvement (facelift) will be on at least the European market by this fall... which may mean the new R8 will bow at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Week 39 is the last week in September and there's no other auto show event at which to show the car during that time unless Audi goes for a stand alone event. If this proves true, times to watch for coverage here likely either at the Volkswagen Group reveal the night of September 12 (afternoon in the States) or on Media Day 1 on September 13.
Like we said, Audi doesn't slip photos by mistake. That we stumbled across this in materials provided to us makes us think the photo was cleared because the R8 product improvement is close... very close. If so, we'll see it at Frankfurt. If not, well, chalk it up to wishful thinking. It still remains possible that this is just a design buck of an alternative design that didn't get approved. That also happens. Still, we believe the chances are very high that this is the facelift.