|August 26, 2010
Text and Photos: Kris Hansen
When last we drove the R8 5.2 V10, it was the coupe version, and we were in Vermont, locked in the dead of winter. We enjoyed the coupe tremendously, even though we didn’t get to use it to it’s ultimate potential because of the snow tires it was fitted with. Fast forward a few months, and we find ourselves in San Diego California, to drive the R8 Spyder. This is quite possibly the most highly anticipated model Audi have ever produced. We were told that Audi dealers had deposits placed for the R8 Spyder before it was even suggested that there would be an R8 Spyder. Honestly, were not at all surprised at the hype this car generates, its truly spectacular.
As we mentioned in the R8 coupe review, there is nearly nothing the Spyder does wrong. Starting with its exterior appearance, its nigh on impossible to find fault with this car. The Spyder is differentiated from the coupe not only by the obvious deletion of the roof, but also the iconic side blades that are simultaneously controversial and revered are missing. Intentionally left off the Spyder design to visually elongate the car, it certainly has a different appearance along the flanks. The air inlet channels running the length of each door are therefore a bit longer, and that much sexier as they funnel air to the engine.
The R8 Spyder is drop dead gorgeous with the top down. Audi had a variety of cars on hand, and we saw not one color that looked bad on the car. Not surprisingly, the brighter the color, the sexier the car looked. In Phantom Black it was sinister, in Ice Silver and Teak Brown, elegant, in Sepang Blue it was playful (and possibly our favorite). We spent a bit of time in a Brilliant Red car, and unsurprisingly it drew a huge amount of attention, even in car crazy Southern California. From car loads of young kids going crazy trying to get a better look, to people stopping by to chat during our photo shoot, people just love this car. Everyone wanted to get a better look.
Of course, R8 Spyder is dramatically more than just a pretty face. Just like the R8 coupe, the car is built upon an all aluminum space frame by the specialists in Neckarsulm Germany. The front cover, fenders, and doors are also aluminum. Unlike the coupe, the rear fenders, and engine cover are of carbon fiber. Also unlike the coupe, the engine is not shown off under glass. In fact, you really cant see the engine at all, even when you open up the access door aft of the louvered hood. The reason for this of course, the folding convertible top has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is on top of the engine. There is a cover that protects the 3 layer insulated top from the intense heat of the 5.2 liter V10 engine, so even when the top is mid way up or down, you STILL cant see the engine. But thats ok, because you get to hear it. Oh yeah!
See, with the coupe, the engine is behind glass. Not so with the Spyder. Driver and passenger really get to hear the mechanical bits in there, such as timing chains, cam followers, and so on. We noticed some aspects of the sound that you just cant hear wile inside the coupe. Driving up the 5 freeway, we detected a distinct whine at higher revs at part throttle. Off the throttle we heard the loveliest burble from the exhaust. As we rocketed across the California desert, we were treated to the melodies and harmonies of 10 cylinders blasting out their song at 8000 rpm. The sounds this car makes are just incredible. Its more like music than it is merely engine noise.
The fun doesnt end when the folding top goes up either. The rear window of the R8 Spyder is glass, and its electrically retractable, just like the side windows. It doubles as a wind blocker when the top is down as well.
Top up motoring with glorious sounds flowing through the open rear window is pretty awesome. We had the opportunity to test the tops operation speed when we were caught in a very sudden and torrential downpour. We can tell you that in no uncertain terms, 19 seconds seems like forever when youre desperate to stay dry, but in reality, its pretty quick for a power top to go up or down. The R8 Spyders top is beautiful, with flying buttress flanking the rear window. This is one convertible sports coupe that looks equally great with the top up as it does with the top down.
It should go without saying that once the top was up and the wipers at top speed, the fun didnt end on our drive. This may be a super car, but its an Audi super car, and a little rain wasnt going to slow this thing down. Road conditions were not ideal as there was standing water in the truck ruts in the pavement, but the R8 was just as stable and sure footed as it was in the dry. Its a remarkably confidence inspiring chassis to say the least. Because the R8 Spyder is built on a rigid aluminum space frame, it doesnt seem to lose any of the torsional stiffness from the coupe. We detected zero cowl shake, zero header shake, nothing. Most unit-body based soft tops tend to twist in the middle, and have inconsistent contact with the road because of it. The R8 Spyder felt no different than the coupe in this regard.
Flying along the hysterically fun mountain roads leaving the mountain town of Julian and heading into the desert, the R8 Spyder was truly in its element. Combining the incredibly well planted chassis, wonderfully responsive engine and transmission combination (R tronic) powerful brakes, with unlimited headroom; it really doesnt get much better. We kept pushing harder and harder, braking later and later, with higher and higher cornering speeds, and the Spyder just kept encouraging us to try more and more. In Sport mode, the suspension was track day firm; there was zero body roll, and instant response to steering wheel inputs. We did detect a tiny bit of push at the front the harder we worked the car, but honestly, it was easily remedied by easing off the throttle near the apex of the turn, which helped the front tires bite, and rotate the rear a little. Suffice it to say, the harder you push the R8 Spyder, the more it works with the driver to keep it pointed in the intended direction. One does want to be a little careful though, as the limits of this car are so stratospherically high that if reached, you had better know what youre doing behind the wheel. As good as ESP is, it cant defeat all of the laws of physics after all.
We drove both the 6 speed manual, and the manu-matic R tronic equipped car. R tronic is the older style single clutch (as opposed to the Audi S tronic dual clutch transmission) automatically operated transmission. This was our first time in the latest iteration of the R tronic, which we were told had been optimized for smoother clutch engagement at lower speeds. While we can attest that around town, stop and go driving, and all mellow driving, its very very smooth. Oddly enough, the range that we found it to be a little strange was at full chat. For some reason, and maybe it was just our car, but, at full throttle, or any time under power, upshifs were very jerky. It was spooky at 8000 rpm when the shift happened. I can only describe it as it felt like the clutch engaged before the ECU opened the throttle up again, which caused the car to decelerate somewhat suddenly, and briefly. Its as if the clutch and throttle control is out of sync. The only way to get a smooth upshift was to back way out of the throttle. Honestly we were a little disappointed by this. Fortunately though, the ultra rapid and insanely sexy downshifts, replete with burbling from the pipes and quick throttle blips, more than made up for the difficulty we had with smooth upshifts.
The manual is pure magic though. The awesome gated shifter is lovely to operate, and the clutch is smooth and easy to modulate, with very good feel. Obviously, there is nothing the manual does that upsets the car while accelerating at any speed. Frankly there is nothing as fun as ripping through the gears in the R8 5.2 coupe, but thanks to the heightened auditory experience, its an out of this world experience driving the Spyder. Its apparent that the extra weight of the convertible top mechanism dulls the intensity of the 5.2 V10 ever so slightly, but its still the kind of car that pushes driver and passenger firmly into the seat on hard acceleration. We found it to be incredibly addicting.
There is simply nothing like driving a drop dead gorgeous convertible super car around the greater San Diego area. We spent some time in the infamous traffic along the 5 freeway, which gave us a chance to see what this car is like in day to day life. First of all, because of the incredibly cool seatbelt mounted microphones for the Bluetooth telephone interface, calls are crystal clear, even at speed with all windows and top open. Wind control in the cabin is excellent. This is one of the first open top cars weve driven where we didnt get the sensation that our hat was going to fly off. There was no backdraft of air on our necks. It was incredibly comfortable. One of the issues with a coupe like the R8 is always outward visibility. Well, with the Spyder, thats not an issue with the top down, and with the top up, its not any worse than the coupe.
Somehow, Audi made the perfect super car even more perfect. It still remains an incredibly competent high speed machine, but at the same time, its an infinitely useful car for day to day driving. We spent 4 hours driving the R8 after spending most of the day traveling, and yet we were not fatigued in any way by the car, quite the opposite actually. The R8 has a way of coddling its occupants in a way thats a bit unexpected from a car of this performance category. Again, in a very Audi way. Another nice thing about this car compared to the coupe, luggage capacity in the front trunk was not reduced in any way, though the small parcel shelf behind the seats went away. What that means is, there is no way to carry golf clubs with the Spyder, unless on the passengers lap. But thats a small price to pay for such a great car. We know that the R8 is brilliant in snow, brilliant in town, and brilliant on the highway.
Now its brilliant as a convertible.