Along Comes a Spy­der

It is the first Spy­der model from Audi, and it may also be the last. But it seems that with this lat­est drop-top deriva­tive of its R8 su­per­car, Audi has saved the best for last.

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text: Ferdi de Vos Im­ages © Ryan Ab­bott | Quickpic

First in­tro­duced in 2006, Audi’s al­lur­ing R8 su­per­car serves as a base for the first (and only) Spy­der model built in In­gol­stadt since the au­tomaker was es­tab­lished in its mod­ern form nearly 50 years ago. The first-gen­er­a­tion R8 Spy­der, un­veiled in 2009, re­ceived univer­sal praise for its rigid­ity, on-road dy­nam­ics, and over­all bal­ance. Its suc­ces­sor, based on the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion R8 coupé with a newer Audi Space Frame, new in­te­rior, and re­designed ex­te­rior, made its ap­pear­ance last year, and this im­me­di­ately begged the ques­tion: Does the new gen­er­a­tion Spy­der, look­ing re­ally yummy in yel­low, live up to the lofty stan­dards set by its pre­de­ces­sor?

Un­der the skin the rag-top new­comer is near-iden­ti­cal to the Lamborghini Hu­ra­can Spy­der, shar­ing a struc­ture re­in­forced with thicker alu­minium sills and wind­screen sup­ports, plus a re­de­vel­oped rear bulk­head ac­com­mo­dat­ing the 44 kg roof mech­a­nism.

How­ever, with the roof stored be­tween cock­pit and en­gine, the travel of the driver’s seat is limited com­pared to that in the coupé. And with a roof height of only 124 cm, taller driv­ers will strug­gle to find a com­fort­able seat­ing po­si­tion, not to men­tion get­ting in and out of the lowslung road­ster.

But lower the top (it folds away in 20 sec­onds, at speeds of up to 50 km/h) and push the start but­ton, and most of th­ese short­com­ings are in­stantly for­got­ten. The un­sub­dued and un­fet­tered rasp of the free-revving V10 right be­hind your seat, ac­com­pa­nied by nu­mer­ous loud cracks from the ex­haust, is a prom­ise of things to come. And it is only good things.

The nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gine en­sconced in the Spy­der may be one of the last of a dy­ing breed, but even so Audi has saved the best for last. Blast­ing top down over un­du­lat­ing roads, the sonorous V10 sing­ing in your ear at 8,000 rpm is an ex­pe­ri­ence to be savoured.

Yes, the next gen­er­a­tion of turbo-pow­ered hy­per­cars may be faster and nim­bler, but they will never sound as good, and wind­ing through the val­leys and over the passes of the Western Cape – the howl of the 397kw en­gine re­ver­ber­at­ing against the moun­tain cliffs – one could again only marvel at the lin­ear power de­liv­ery of the V10 and the smooth trans­fer of its 540 Nm of twist­ing force.

And con­trary to the sys­tems em­ployed by com­pa­ra­ble su­per­cars, it is easy to launch the R8 V10. Select Sport mode on the gear lever, turn off the trac­tion con­trol, put your left foot on the brake, and then nail the ac­cel­er­a­tor. With the revs at around 4,500 rpm a “Launch Con­trol Ac­ti­vated” sign flashes up. Re­lease the brakes and hold on, be­cause the Audi is pro­pelled for­ward as if fired from a 155 mm ar­tillery piece.

Be­fore you have time to re­act from the g-force, the Audi has al­ready blasted past 100 km/h in sec­ond gear (3,6 sec­onds), hitting 200 km/h in 11.8 sec­onds and top­ping out at 318 km/h – not as fast as the Plus

deriva­tive only avail­able in coupé form, but still se­ri­ously quick and enough to re­quire a change of un­der­wear.

The proven S-tronic dual-clutch trans­mis­sion is as smooth as silk and cou­pled to the quat­tro sys­tem, now with a new dif­fer­en­tial that can even trans­fer all avail­able power to the rear wheels, the Spy­der’s pre­vi­ous ten­dency to un­der­steer at the limit has been neutered.

And then there are the brakes that are just as sharp, bring­ing the Spy­der to a head-lurch­ing stand­still faster than it ac­cel­er­ates to 100 km/h.

In­side the cock­pit it is all pure Audi min­i­mal­ism, ex­cept for the en­cum­bered steer­ing wheel clut­tered by a string of but­tons and tog­gles. Audi’s dig­i­tal Vir­tual Cock­pit in­stru­ment clus­ter is cen­tral to the dis­play, with di­a­mond-stitched sport leather seats and brushed alu­minium round­ing off the in­te­rior trim.

The beauty of the new R8 drop-top is that it em­bel­lishes on the per­sona of its 2006 pre­de­ces­sor – be­ing a fiendishly fast, but also com­fort­able and in­her­ently user-friendly, su­per­car that at a flick of the Drive Select but­ton changes per­son­al­ity from a se­ri­ous tar­mac hunter to a subdued boule­vard cruiser.

It is bril­liant in the way it adapts. It is not in­tim­i­dat­ing to drive and it in­spires driver con­fi­dence even in those who don’t want to ex­plore its fi­nal lim­its of ad­he­sion. And yes, even with the top down you can con­verse with your driv­ing part­ner with­out re­sort­ing to shout­ing – and com­pared to the din of the rau­cous en­gine, wind noise is neg­li­gi­ble.

The Audi R8 Spy­der must rank as one of best su­per­cars pro­duced, and for those who don’t need (or want) the coupé’s Plus per­for­mance, this is the deriva­tive to have. But there is one prob­lem: Price.

The Spy­der starts at a stag­ger­ing R2.9 mil­lion be­fore op­tions, and if you add rac­ing seats, a per­for­mance steer­ing wheel, a per­for­mance ex­haust, ce­ramic brakes, and big­ger wheels, it will cost you close to an­other R500,000.

Is it worth a half-a-mil­lion premium above its coupé sib­ling? In our view, no. But when you play in this kind of price bracket it will prob­a­bly not be a big con­cern – as long as you can jus­tify the thrill value above com­peti­tors such as the Mercedes-amg GT C road­ster, the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabri­o­let PDK, and the much more af­ford­able Jaguar F-type SVR Con­vert­ible.

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