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.
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.