The new Audi R8 Spyder takes a big leap forward from its predecessor, but can it tempt the rich from more exotic brands?
SINGAPORE — There are Audis, and then there’s this, the Audi R8 Spyder. It’s handbuilt in a facility where 500 people focus on bolting Audi’s fastest cars together, and it’s priced just short of what a genuine supercar would cost you. That doesn’t mean it falls short of delivering what a supercar does, however. Read on…
In a word: everything. The R8 Coupe underwent a ground-up revamp last year and this shares its bones, so there’s a whole new structure underneath. Its basic frame is made of aluminium and roughly 25kg of carbon fibre. It’s 50 percent stiffer and does feel super rigid, yet the body weighs about as much as two tubby men (208kg if you’re a stickler for details).
Cool! So, featherweight sportscar, then?
Not at all. Bare-knuckle, knock-down supercar bully is more like it. Come to think of it, it’s a supercar in its own right. The V10 engine is a monster but purely from the old school: a dry-sumped, 5.2-litre slugger without a turbo in sight. Instead, it gets its power from revs, and spins to a frantic 8,700rpm.
The R8 has a brilliant engine. Too bad this is all you get to see of it
540hp is what it has to give, and in a nice bit of symmetry there’s 540Nm of peak torque. This is a car more about muscle than leanness, in other words. And anyway, it’s not that light, at 1,720kg.
That’s surprisingly heavy. It must have grown some?
Not really. It’s 36mm wider than before (and is now a girthy 1.94m), but also a bit shorter. Don’t ask us where all the weight is from, but a big chunk must have gone into making the cabin feel so solid. It might be a proper supercar, but the R8 Spyder has none of the brittleness or fragility of one.
Maybe the roof adds flab?
You’d think so, given how the car feels like a coupe when it’s overhead. It’s honestly hard to tell sometimes that the top is made of fabric and not metal, the way it insulates the Spyder’s cabin from the outside world so well. But the various layers that make up the roof weigh just 44kg altogether.
Anyway, the number you really wanted to know is 20: that’s how many seconds it takes for the roof to disappear. That can be done at up to 50km/h, courtesy of some electro-hydraulic origami. It’s nicely choreographed and neatly packaged, too, as this little diagram shows.
All well and good, but the numbers we want most have to do with speed…
In that case, prepare to read this twice, in case you think your eyes are fooling you: 3.6 (the number of seconds the R8 Spyder takes to hit 100km/h), and 318 (what you’ll reach in km/h if you keep the hammer down long enough).
Oddly enough, the R8 doesn’t actually feel explosively fast, at least not in the way a Ferrari 488 GTB does. That car feels like it’s propelled by a runaway nuclear reaction, but here the power is doled out so smoothly and in such a linear way that you sometimes hit speeds you didn’t mean to because you didn’t know you were going that hard.
‘Honestly, officer, I had no idea I was going that fast…’ Yup, that should work
The revvy nature of the engine is probably responsible. There’s serious shove from behind you pretty much everywhere on the tachometer, but just past 6,000rpm or so is when things get properly savage and the Audi feels like the afterburners have come on. Right where some cars run out of puff, in other words, is where the R8 goes for the kill.
How’s the accompanying soundtrack?
Absolutely brilliant. The exhaust is loud enough to make you wonder how it’s legal (probably because an active flap lets you choose ‘sport’ and ‘standard’ modes), but apart from that the overall soundtrack is layered and nuanced.
At low revs the engine has the gruff but polished growl of a high compression engine, and the V10 layout gives it a unique, off-beat warble at the mid-range.
Then you wind it to the redline and suddenly a high-pitched chorus takes over, belting out chords that touch the lower notes of the music that classic 90s Formula One cars used to make.
Through it all there’s a rising whoosh from the air intakes, the big V10 refilling its mighty lungs so rapidly that it takes a neverending breath.
Air goes in here, and sounds terrific while it’s at it
Ultimately, nothing sounds quite like the R8 Spyder, especially in today’s muted turbo era.
Er, sounds pretty lurid. But is it all go and no flow?
A fair question, that. The previous R8 Spyder was a bit, well, tricky to drive fast, after all. It was twitchy through corners and even braking hard in a straight line obliged you to keep a firm hand on the wheel to keep things steady.
No such drama with this one, though. It feels like it has a lower centre of gravity, and while the ride over bumps feels firmer than I remember of the last car, the payoff is much tidier body control.
The weight distribution is still slightly rear-biased, but the car no longer feels like it wants to throw itself backwards into the scenery and take you with it.
Instead, it’s super sharp without being wiggly, to the point where turning your head to point your chin into a corner is almost enough to have the car change directions accordingly.
And if there’s any body roll at all through bends you can’t feel it.
The steering deserves high praise too, for being beautifully set up. It’s light at parking speeds but becomes meaty and full of feedback as you speed up; more so if you select the Performance driving mode.
There’s all-wheel drive (or “quattro” if you speak Audi) but it’s heavily rear-biased, and if it ever came into the play I wasn’t aware of it. It’s probably why it takes a mountain of effort or ham-fistedness to get the car’s traction control light to blink.
It all makes the Audi richly rewarding to drive hard. The chassis is taut, precise and scalpel sharp, the steering is beautifully judged, the acceleration builds progressively, and there’s a gorgeous noise that having the roof folded only makes you more aware of.
This is beginning to sound like love.
Well it’s all here, isn’t it? There may not be an exotic badge, but the R8 Spyder is a genuine supercar. You could live with it day-to-day, too, because it’s possible to coax quietness from the engine, and the cabin is surprisingly user-friendly.
The digital landscape of the virtual cockpit system takes a bit of getting used to, but there’s a large glovebox, there are cupholders and door pockets, and there’s a useful compartment in the rear firewall for odd and ends.
Surely there are negatives?
Of course. The boot is pretty much a token effort; it’s small and it gets hot, so much so that I’m not sure I would bring eggs home from the supermarket in there if I wanted them to stay raw.
And blind spot monitors would have been useful, because the driver has a dickens of a time seeing over either shoulder.
It’s also monstrously thirsty, but one suspects that that would be something of a non-issue with the target customer.
If anything though, it’ll be the price that gives you pause: an R8 Spyder will set you back $872,888 with COE, enough to put some posh names on the also-consider list.
Posh names like?
Porsche, of course, with the upper-end sportscar models (though a 911 Turbo S Cabriolet is over a hundred grand more costly).
But assuming the fact that you can afford nearly 900 grand means you can also afford just over a million, there’s the Aston Martin DB11. Now there’s a properly exotic name, though it’s attached to an inferior car (less fun, a bit more comfy, but not close to the Audi in terms of build quality).
What else? A McLaren 720S is even faster, but the roof doesn’t come off so the experience would be altogether different. Or to dial things back to six-figure pricing, there’s always the Audi’s sister car.
Which is the Lamborghini Huracan Spyder, a mechanically similar machine (albeit with 70 more horsepower) that costs $888,000 without COE.
The point is, at R8 sort of money the customer is spoilt rotten for choice. It will take someone who’s fairly certain of himself to buy an Audi at this price, then. The kind of person who knows what he wants and cares more about getting it than about what other people think of his choice of car. The sort of chap, in other words, who knows the perfect answer to a question like, “Why would you buy an Audi R8 Spyder when you could have had a Lamborghini Huracan Spyder?”
And the perfect answer would be?
“Because I could have had a Lamborghini Huracan Spyder.”
NEED TO KNOW Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI
Engine 5,204cc, 40V, V10
Power 540hp at 7800rpm
Torque 540Nm at 6500rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 318km/h
0-100kmh 3.6 seconds
Fuel efficiency 11.7L/100km
Price $872,888 with COE
We could do this all day…
Posted by CarBuyer Magazine on Tuesday, 20 June 2017