2017 Audi R8 Spyder Review

Rating: 8.5
$388,500 Mrlp
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Lighter, stiffer, faster – the second-generation Audi R8 Spyder dials up the afterburner on the flagship, rag-top supercar formula.
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Does the 2017 Audi R8 Spyder bridge the chasm between polite, everyday civility and circuit-ready ferocity just as its Audi Sport maker promises? It surely does. Thing is, it's a deceiving car and you might have to dig like a prospector to unearth the drop-top supercar’s golden talents.

On initial – and misleading – impressions, the second-generation flagship doesn’t quite seem to deliver the fire and brimstone levels of performance you might expect for a device with a supercar aura and requisite supercar price tag – it'll want for a considerable $388,500 (plus on-roads) once the 'R8 Spyder V10,' as it's also named, lands in Oz mid-next year.

Talk Audi R8, in either Spyder or Coupe form, and the corporate cousin that shares 5.2-litre V10 essentials and other key DNA, Lamborghini’s Huracan, is never far from conversation. And, unsurprisingly, their makers’ have hammered a wedge between these teammates of sorts.

The pricier, more ostentatious Italian promises a visceral character though offers, as we’ve discovered in reviews past, a handy amount of underplayed user-friendliness. The Audi R8, by contrast, has generally been considered the more polite and austere sports car that presents blood-racing talent if you dig deep enough.

That pitch has changed somewhat in recent times. While Lamborghini openly describes its Huracan LP610-4 Spyder – the logical nemesis to our subject at hand – the “lifestyle” variant of the range, Audi Sport wants to convince you and I that this new gen-two R8 Spyder has all of the mojo and driver-engaging talent of the regular R8 coupe. (There’s no pulse-raised ‘V10 Plus’ rag-top yet on offer).

So while the R8 Spyder is canvas soft up top, it's diamond hard in the centre, Audi will tell you. But I’m not nearly as convinced, however, after stabbing the red start button of our options-loaded Vegas Yellow test car, dialing up D for Drive for the seven-speed gearbox mode and Auto for Drive Select mode, and venturing out onto the motorways around Barcelona, Spain, where Audi has chosen to launch the car internationally.

Windows and canvas lid up, first impressions are that the R8 Spyder is quiet, polite, comfy, easy to drive and ride quality is downright pleasant. If you can contend with the scant 112L ‘trunk’ space and limited in-cabin stowage, you could drive it across Europe non-stop without fatigue or raising the pulse one beat per minute. Impressive, yes, but not the sort of character you might expect from a blazing yellow supercar sat on black 20-inch wheels wrapping monstrous carbon-ceramic brakes.

It’s not making the arm hairs stand on end like a Huracan Spyder can without breaking a sweat. That’s despite the sharper and busier exterior treatment that leaves the Audi looking ‘warp five’ while standing still.

Styling is highly subjective, of course, but where the old Spyder looked long, low and elegant because it didn’t feature the coupe’s signature ‘sideblades’, this gen-two version wears them – in choice of different colours – loud and proud. And there’s more. With its various various vents, strakes, holes, humps and that racer-like diffuser treatment rearward of the doors, the new Spyder can, for some eyes, look a bit fussy and overdone, if mostly when viewed from the rear.

It’s barely shorter (by 14mm) if notably wider (by 36mm) than the first-gen R8 Spyder, though it shares the same height and wheelbase as the old version. The canvas roof is framed in aluminium and magnesium, weighs just 44 kilograms, and can be deployed or stowed in 20 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h from its cubby hole beneath the bulging carbon-fibre deck lid, via a button on the centre console or remotely via the key fob.

The roof seals confidently and its triple layers isolate outside noise well, though it is susceptible to some aerodynamic wind noise across its structure even at a leisurely 110km/h cruise. Generally speaking, the rest of car feels so rock solid it’s as if its structure is hewn from granite.

Engineers put a lot of reinforcement in its body structure, said to have 55 per cent higher torsional stiffness than the old car – about on par with the first-gen coupe – and we're shown cut cross-sections of the sill sections of both current R8 chassis: the wall thickness of the structure looks twice as hefty in the Spyder as it is on the Coupe.

There is a trade-off to this heavy-duty construction. Despite being made of 80 per cent aluminium and 13 per cent carbon-fibre – the remaining seven per cent 'other' – the R8 Spyder comes with a formidable 1695kg kerb weighbridge ticket. That it’s 25kg lighter than the gen-one version is only a slight concession…

Nigh on 400 kilowatts (well, 397kW to be exact) does a very handy job of propelling the hefty rag-top forward, though the dry-sumped, dual-injected 5.2-litre V10 produces a workmanlike 540Nm way up at 6500rpm, so it demands plenty of rpm on board for its maximum slingshot effect.

Keep the needle between 6500 and its lofty 8700rpm redline and the claim is 3.6 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint. That’s 0.2sec and 0.4sec respectively shy of the R8 coupe and R8 V10 Plus coupe, though actually feeling the difference by the seat of your pants is debatable. Keep the right foot buried and the Spyder takes 11.8sec if you string it out to 200km/h. Top speed is 316km/h.

As the Spanish highways shrink into twisty backroads, though, the R8 Spyder doesn’t feel quite as heroic. Trouncing the throttle from a steady cruising speed, there’s a slight pause as the gearbox politely downshifts in search of ample engine rpm. It’s swift on its feet, but far from alarmed in its urgency. The engine note, too, sounds rich, crisp and satisfying, if a paler soundtrack compared to the sharp metallic howl I remember from a Huracan.

As I’d discover, though, this pussycat demeanor is all just a deception…

Drop the rear window separating your ears from the rear engine cover amplifies the V10 symphony. Activating the ‘loud’ exhaust mode, dialing up Dynamic drive mode, and dropping the roof completely ups the spine-tingling ruckus and piles on the feel-good vibes. The improvement in character by stowing the roof is so marked that, if you owned one, it’d almost take a heatwave or a monsoonal downpour to convince you to raise the lid during any driving situation you could name. At speed, in cabin wind noise and buffeting are almost entirely suppressed.

In Dynamic mode, the powertrain becomes noticeably more immediate in throttle response and blunter in up- and downshifts, and the open-top format certainly enhances the sense of road speed, itself a big plus for those who like the aura of speed without high-roller gambling your licence.

Thing is, the R8 Spyder is so planted and rock solid at genuine pace that the temptation to speed is an addictive lure so, thankfully, there’s ample talent at play when you go searching for corners to peg the road speed back to sensible levels.

Punchy, manic, thrilling – the R8 Spyder can be all of these things left in regular Dynamic mode. But the rag-top also features the bespoke Performance modes (carried over from the latest coupe) that recalibrates the quattro system’s torque shuffling trickery and the dynamic package’s electronic support systems to provide loftier all-round abilities – in a choice of Dry, Wet and Snow settings – than mere Dynamic mode can muster.

“Performance mode is like turning everything up to 11,” explains one Audi engineer at the launch.

Any of these three modes evoked too much firepower to safely wrestle on the twisty roads outside the Spanish coastal town of Costa Brava where overstepping error’s slimmest margins meant punishment into a rock wall or a big dip into the Iberian sea. The R8 Spyder can be driven in these modes, but such is the manic urgency it produces from the car's controls that it requires large reserves of driver concentration and fair amount of restraint to keep progress tidy. Too much for these roads, then...

Even in ‘regular’ Dynamic mode, R8 Spyder feels more potent and lively an animal than the succession of second- and third-gear blacktop allows.

If Audi Sport is true to its word, this Spyder might well be as animated and joyfully playful as the coupe is around a race circuit. But when you’re threading the narrow needle dodging hikers, cyclists and tourist coaches jockeying for a decent patch of your fastest line, the Spyder generally provides the levels of ironclad grip, point and composure demanded for brisk yet safe passage.

The R8 Spyder grabs your attention and feels, finally, like a proper supercar – or, at least, a device with levels of such potency and capability that you can feel, at times, apprehensive about extracting its ultimate talents. You do feel its weight from behind the wheel, and the jury is out as how it performs at ten-tenths, squirming around on a race circuit, but it does seem Audi Sport has truly nailed the ‘duality’ brief of bridging everyday friendliness with outer fringe ferocity.

The machine, hand-built at Bollinger Hofe facilities, is as nicely as solidly crafty as any high-end Audi. The cabin is excellent: a deftly balanced blend of high-brow design – particularly the ‘monoposto’, or arch that surrounds the driver – melded with Audi’s typically neat workmanship and top-notch materials.

It isn’t what you call commodious, as there’s precious little stowage space and the passenger’s side is shorter in footwell depth than the driver’s side (for reasons unknown). But it’s a clean, attractive and simple if style-laden treatment that’s nowhere near as gauche or try-hard as the Huracan’s jet fighter-inspired accommodation.

There's a plenty of bells and whistles to complement the the technical tour de force that is the Spyder's dynamic package. The obligatory Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation is a mainstay, though this version is capable of displaying performance parameters such as g-forces and can log racetrack lap times. There's full smartphone integration for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, WiFi with internet connectivity via LTE, and Audi's top-end MMI Navigation Plus infotainment system.

Meanwhile, the powertrain offers both 'coasting' freewheeling mode in the transmission and cylinder-on-demand engine functionality to help reduce the 5.2-litre engine's keen thirst (a combined 11.7L/100km claimed). You can even upgrade the LED headlights to laser technology as an option. For full specification details, read here.

Quality and taste aside, the sheer drama of a hard-revving naturally-aspirated V10 surely represents a large chunk of the investment that’s breached $400k once you factor in on-road costs. But given Audi Australia expects to sell between five and 15 examples per year – against some 50 units projected for the $33,884 more affordable coupe version – going the Spyder option looks to be an exclusive experience for very few buyers.

Of course, the R8 rag-top’s price-tag saves $82,300 over a Huracan LP610-4 Spyder, so there’s certainly extra enticement for V10 supercar lovers with deep pockets.

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