Review of the new Audi R8 Spyder

AUDI CONVERT?

AUDI R8 SPYDER

star rating 8.2 out of 10 (8.2 out of 10)

REVIEW DATE: 11 Dec 2009

If the R8 supercar isn't exclusive enough, could Audi interest you in the V10 Spyder version? Steve Walker takes a look.

Audi R8

AUDI R8 SPYDER NEW CAR ROAD TEST

A large part of what gives the Audi R8 the profile it has is to do with the way it looks. True, there aren't many supercars without the potential to elicit a second or third glance from passers-by but if Audi hadn't pulled off the design of its sporting flagship with quite such confidence and futuristic vigour, it could easily have been lost amongst rival models with more illustrious badges than the four interlinking rings. The car is beautifully engineered too and unerringly capable but style and image will always play the major roles in the fortunes of a car of this kind. Divested of its roof in Spyder form, the R8 is only likely to attract more attention of the right sort.

An Audi supercar was the last thing anyone would have expected back in the 80s and 90s when customers had the choice of three Audi models and weren't choosing any of them in any great numbers. Today, the Audi range is well into double figures and the R8's existence is taken for granted. Sharing many components with the Lamborghini Gallardo, the R8 is as good a symbol as any of how far Audi has progressed and of all the R8 derivatives, it could be the V10 Spyder convertible that best showcases the brand's all-conquering ambition.

There are those who would question the veracity of the standard R8's claim to supercar status: it 'only' has V8 power after all. With the Lamborghini-derived V10 engine, however, it undeniably has the supercar performance to go with its supercar looks. This is the only unit currently offered with the Spyder convertible model and without the barrier of the fixed roof, the experiences it serves up promise to be all the more intense.

"It's a touch more visually elegant than the muscular coupe"

The engine is a 5.2-litre V10, large parts of which are built by hand. It has 518bhp that's generated at 8,000rpm and 530Nm of torque at 6,500rpm. Get medieval with the throttle and the 0-62mph time is 4.1s, then the car will pass 124mph in just 12.7s on its way to a screaming 194mph maximum. Power is sent to the road through a six-speed manual gearbox and Audi's famous quattro four-wheel-drive system which has a heavy bias towards the rear wheels in the R8. There's also the option of an R Tronic automated manual gearbox with paddle shifters.

Integral to the way the R8 drives is its mid-mounted engine which enables a 43:57 weight distribution. The suspension system is a double wishbone set-up on all four wheels and Audi's magnetic ride dampers are standard. These can adjust their settings automatically according to the driver's style. They can be set into one of two modes for a more comfortable experience or a more dynamic one.

One of the R8's most distinctive design features wouldn't work on the Spyder model. Shedding the hard-top meant that side blades stretching from the sills to roof level in front of the rear wheels had to go. Instead, there's a deep groove cut into the Spyder's flanks culminating in an air-intake ahead of the rear wheels and a section above that curves around to meet with the heavily vented rear deck. From the front and rear, the R8 coupe design cues remain largely unaltered but from the side, these changes produce a longer, sleeker look, particularly with the hood down.

The all-important roof is a fully automatic fabric affair powered by electric motors. It opens and closes in 19 seconds in an operation that can be performed at the touch of a button at speeds of up to 31mph. It weighs just 30kg and despite the reinforcements made under the skin to compensate for the rigidity lost when loping off the fixed roof, the R8 Spyder still tips the scales at 1,720kg, just 100kg up on the coupe. The glass rear window is not attached to the roof and lowers into the bulkhead behind the seats when the roof is open. The fabric section is concealed in a compartment on top of the engine bay when not in use and the whole thing looks a very neat installation.

At north of £110,000 for a standard model, the R8 Spyder is some way outside Audi's usual comfort zone but the detailing and technology features speak of a brand with supreme confidence in its ability to extend itself upmarket. The LED headlights are quite something, using LED technology for all of the beam functions. Then there are the seatbelt microphones which make it possible to talk on a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone even when the roof is down. Buyers also get a Bang & Olufsen stereo, DVD satellite navigation heated seats and a launch control system to aid in getting maximum acceleration off the line.

The R8 was launched with a V8 engine and an £80,000 price point. Not small beer by any stretch but the kind of money that people spend on top-end performance sports cars like the BMW M6 and the Porsche 911 GT3. Then the V10 engine was launched taking the R8 asking price and performance into junior supercar territory. There were Aston Martin DB9s, Porsche 911 Turbos and Bentley Continentals to be had for similar money while Lamborghini and Ferrari models were not so far up the ladder. The Spyder takes Audi's R8 project a little further up the pricing scale squaring up to the open-topped versions of these supercars.

The running costs for an R8 Spyder aren't really the issue but Audi has taken steps to keep fuel consumption within the bounds of decency and depreciation shouldn't be any worse than the average £100,000 supercar. The engine's direct injection system and high compression ratio help the car return 19mpg on the combined cycle in manual form and 20.3mpg with the R Tronic automatic.

It seems there are no limits to Audi's ambition and having grown its mainstream range exponentially over recent years, it's also established itself as a supercar manufacturer to be taken very seriously. The R8 Spyder sits at the top of the Audi pile, adding a slickly engineered fabric hood to the standard R8 package. It's a touch more visually elegant than the muscular coupe but those all-wheel-drive V10 mechanicals mean there will be no let-up in its performance.

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RATING OUT OF 10

For R8 SPYDER
OVERALL 8.2 OUT OF 10
Performance star rating 8 out of 10 8
Comfort star rating 9 out of 10 9
Handling star rating 9 out of 10 9
Economy star rating 7 out of 10 7
Space / Versatility star rating 6 out of 10 6
Styling star rating 9 out of 10 9
Equipment star rating 9 out of 10 9
Build star rating 9 out of 10 9
Depreciation star rating 8 out of 10 8
Insurance star rating 7 out of 10 7
Value star rating 9 out of 10 9
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