Audi R8 Spyder review

The thinking man’s super-cabrio returns, and promptly goes head to head with one of the greatest driving roads in the world. We adjudicate
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November 09, 2016
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The road from Sant Feliu de Guíxols to Lloret de Mar. Without a hint of hyperbole, this northern Spanish route is one of the most epic stretches of tarmac (denoted by ‘GI-682’ in case you’re already trawling through Google Maps) I have traversed. Ever. It’s right up there with Chapman’s Peak Drive, on the outskirts of Cape Town, and Australia’s Great Ocean Road, both of which will live on in my memory banks until I lay down to rest for the final time.

Nestled in the embrace of the Mediterranean Sea on the left and the rocky face of the Ardenya Massif mountains to the right (if you’re travelling north to south), GI-682’s nickname — ‘The Road of 1,000 Bends’ — pretty much spells out what you’ll find here. It’s a blacktop arena in which you need to be on your game. With the hard, unforgiving mountain face jutting to the very edge of the road, and sheer drop-offs on the opposite flank, it’s not going to be pretty if you put a wheel wrong.

And this is not to mention the ever-present threat of the lumbering, road-hogging tour buses you encounter coming in the opposite direction — sod’s law dictates that this happens just as you’re rounding a tight blind corner, of which there are seemingly hundreds. In view of all this, it’s not the sort of terrain where you want to find yourself in an unruly, ponderous chariot — especially if said vehicle packs a 500bhp-plus punch.

The latest V10 rag-top from Ingolstadt builds on the strengths of its predecessor — substantially so — using as its basis largely the same underpinnings as the Lambo Huracán.

As it turns out, I covered this same stretch four months ago (albeit in the opposite direction) in the Jaguar F-Type SVR. With 567bhp and 700Nm, a nicely tied-down AWD chassis, torque-vectoring diff, carbon-ceramic brakes and active aero package, the Jag made mincemeat of this bitumen bonanza. But I had no idea then that even better things lay in store. And this — the second-gen Audi R8 Spyder — is it.

The latest V10 rag-top from Ingolstadt builds on the strengths of its predecessor — substantially so — using as its basis largely the same underpinnings as the Lambo Huracán. Of course the Germans refer to it as the Audi Space Frame, and this architecture is an aluminium-intensive one, although the rear passenger-cell wall, central tunnel, sideblades and B-pillar are all fabricated from CFRP (Carbon-Fibre-Reinforced-Plastic).

Given that it sacrifices the structural strength the roof provides in the R8 Coupé, Audi’s labcoats have strengthened the aluminium lattice that forms the sidesills, A-pillars and windshield frame of the Spyder. The result is that it takes a force of 19,300Nm to twist the chassis through a single degree. This is an impressively lofty figure for a drop-top (it’s 50 per cent stiffer than its predecessor), but the proof, of course, is in the driving, and if you stay tuned, I’ll get to that shortly.

Much work has also gone into the roof and its folding mechanism, which weighs just 44kg, helping keep the car’s centre of gravity as low to the deck as possible. The electro-hydraulic drive makes the roof pop up or recede in 20sec at speeds of up to 50kph, and watching it go through the various steps is to witness a feat of mechanised ballet. With the roof down, the rear window sinks into the bulkhead, but it can be extended electrically to help reduce turbulence inside the cabin.

Out on the road in topless mode, relaxed, non-shouty conversation between driver and passenger is feasible at speeds of up to 130kph, but beyond that it starts to get a bit gusty with the roof down. Pop the roof up and there’s almost the same level of refinement as the coupé, barring some noticeable wind rustle emanating from the area around the B-pillars.

But the best part about having no physical layer (aside from the engine cover) between you and the source of propulsion is being able to soak up every last eardrum-titillating nuance of what is, without a shadow of doubt, one of the finest engines to ever be slotted into a production car. In its latest guise, the direct-injected 5.2-litre V10 ekes out 532bhp and 540Nm, making for a 0-100kph split of 3.6sec (0.2sec quicker than before) and top whack of 318kph, but these numbers don’t even begin to speak of the neck-hair-raising effect of 10 lightweight pistons squashing and combusting fuel at 8,700rpm.

This could be one of the last atmo V10s to be offered by any manufacturer as the draconian EU7 emission standards kick in by the end of the decade, piling on the pressure for supercar purveyors to go the downsizing/turbocharging route, as Ferrari has been gradually doing across its range. I, for one, will observe a minute of reverent silence when this happens, because this V10 is an automotive hall-of-famer.

The Ferrari 488 GTB’s 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 is a mighty engine, with a mid-range wallop that your grey matter can scarcely comprehend. But for all its bulging, boosted muscle, it cannot hold a candle to the immediacy of throttle response and knee-trembling vocals of the Audi V10. It zings its way to the 8,700rpm redline, yet the long-stroke motor has a barrel-chested willingness to pull without hesitation even if you nail the throttle at 1,500rpm in seventh gear.

The V10’s bassy rumble and hissy induction accompaniment at light throttle loads subsides to a civilised hum when you’re in cruise mode, which means the R8 Spyder is pretty much the wheeled equivalent of someone who can juggle and play the trombone while riding a unicycle. It’s multitalented in that it can effortlessly eat hundreds of miles without taxing its occupants or, on the flip side, bare its teeth to reveal its inner Mr Hyde. Kick it in the guts and the V10 screams with the intensity of 1,000 banshees unleashed from some deeply hidden cave. If you’re depressed, I have the perfect therapy. Get into an R8 Spyder with the optional sports exhaust (recognisable by gloss black pipes) and find some tunnels. Then drive through them. With your foot flat to the floor. I guarantee you’ll feel better.

By now you should be getting some idea of just how dramatic and goosebump-inducing this last-of-its-kind engine is. But I had to do it justice seeing as it may not be around for too much longer.

For what it’s worth, the V10 also shows some concern for the tree-hugging brigade, as in its latest iteration it features a new freewheeling mode, in which the R8 Spyder coasts when the engine is disengaged, and there’s also a cylinder on demand (COD) system, which deactivates one cylinder bank entirely at low to intermediate loads, as well an auto stop-start system that kicks in when the car comes to a halt. Thanks to these technologies, the R8 Spyder has a quoted consumption figure of just 11.7 litres per 100km (if you drive it extremely sedately).

The good news is that the R8 Spyder isn’t just about the motor. It’s a beautifully sorted scalpel of a thing that you can use to slice and dice any stretch of tarmac to ribbons.

And indeed, as I alluded to earlier, I had covered the GI-682 a few months earlier in the Jag F-Type SVR. The baddest of all leaping cats fairly demolished this stretch to be fair. By any conventional measure, it’s a ballistic device. But, even then, discretion was needed when deploying its 700 Newtons of twist (especially given the greasy conditions on the day) and care was also required to get the car balanced before turning in to avoid getting out of shape.

The difference with the Audi is that the motor is exactly where it should be — slung between the two axles — and it has an ultra-low, ultra-wide footprint. It also has a brilliant seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, tenacious all-wheel-drive set-up and mighty brakes, especially the canary-yellow car I was driving as it was kitted out with optional carbon-ceramic stoppers. These were repeatedly called upon to tear chunks out of velocity on the serpentine road, yet there was no sign of fade, even after 20-30km of max-attack driving. The brakes squeaked slightly as I trundled into Lloret de Mar, but that’s fairly normal for ceramic discs.

In outright terms, the Spyder might sacrifice some dynamic prowess compared to its ultra-stiff coupé sibling owing to the lost rigidity provided by the latter’s roof. But you’d be hard-pressed to notice this. The compensatory measures in strengthening the chassis elsewhere mean it’s taut enough to be a formidable weapon on roads such as GI-682. You’d need a stopwatch to glean that the coupé is faster.

It’s a beautifully sorted scalpel of a thing that you can use to slice and dice any stretch of tarmac to ribbons.

The R8 Spyder’s inherent balance, mid-corner stability and eagerness to change direction with immediacy (even though it tips the scales at 1,720kg) ensure there’s the possibility to instantly alter the car’s cornering line when unexpectedly encountering one of the aforementioned oncoming tour buses suddenly filling up the field of view halfway through a narrow hairpin. It seemingly has the answer to every question ever asked.

Perched inside the cabin, you’ll notice this is a much better place to be than the innards of its dated predecessor. There’s the now familiar Virtual Cockpit, and the ‘Monoposto’ layout that ensconces the driver in their own little pod. As with the coupé, the chunky flat-bottomed wheel is nice to hold and behold, and among the controls housed in the multifunction tiller are a red fighter-plane-style Start-Stop button, as well as buttons for Drive Select and Race mode.

The R8 is slightly wider and taller than the Huracán, which means there’s a greater feeling of spaciousness inside the cabin. Only the lankiest of drivers will have any problems squeezing their frame into the car. Just one note: I’d recommend ticking the box for the standard seats over the optional sports pews as they’re far more comfortable. They also offer ample lateral support under heavy cornering loads.

The exterior styling might be a careful evolution of the oldie, but it sure as heck works. I lost track of the number of dropped jaws, rabbit-in-headlight stares and toothy grins from Spanish onlookers as the R8 Spyder erupted on to the scene, and just as quickly disappeared from it. The accompanying pictures provide some indication of the rag-top’s visual drama, but you need to see it in the metal, out on the road, to appreciate its full eyeball-smacking impact. It looks like a spaceship in the sea of Seats, VWs, Fords and Renaults that populate Spanish roads.

If this has been an overwhelmingly positive review, there’s a very good reason for that. The R8 Spyder is an absolute cracker — one of the very best roadsters I have ever driven.

Specs and Rating

Model:Audi R8 Spyder

Engine:5.2-litre V10

Transmission:Seven-speed auto, AWD

Max power:532bhp @ 7,800rpm

Max torque:540Nm @ 6,500rpm

Top speed:318kph

0-100kph:3.6sec

Length:4,426mm

Width:1,940mm

Height:1,244mm

Wheelbase:2,650mm

Weight:1,720kg

On sale:Q2, 2017

Highs:Scintillating engine, taut dynamics, usability

Lows:Minimal luggage space