Published: 18:00, 07 August 2017
The Audi R8 Coupe is, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, a simply splendid automobile.
It is blindingly rapid fast and yet remains more civilised than a supercar has any right to be. So civilised, in fact, that you could happily leave the family hatch on the drive when it’s time to nip to the supermarket, just don’t expect to squeeze a weekly shop in the luggage compartment.
The thing is, as good as the coupe is, wouldn’t it be even better with the roof chopped off? Well, the answer is, yes and no.
For a start, there’s the additional weight that the Spyder has to haul around. At 1,795kg it’s 125kg heavier than its fixed roof sibling. Then there’s the 40% reduction in stiffness which reveals itself with the occasional vibration through the steering column or the odd wobble of an extremity.
And, well, that’s about it. It’s weightier and wobblier. Now, what’s good about it? A lot, is the answer.
Let’s start with what is, unarguably, the centrepiece although unlike the coupe the 5.2-litre V10 is hidden beneath a carbon fibre – to help keep the weight down – engine cover. The distinctive sound of a V10 is a result of two sound waves, one low frequency and the other an octave and a third higher. You didn’t know that? It’s true.
The first thing you must do is find yourself a tunnel and then follow these simple steps remembering, at all times, to remain within speed limit. Floor the throttle, listen as the engine roars and snarls and growls, smile broadly and then slow. If safe to do so repeat.
What you may also notice as you revel in what is one of the automotive world’s finest soundtracks is how brutally efficient the power delivery is. No turbocharger means no turbo lag. Instead there’s an immediacy about the power delivery. It’s linear too, building steadily and predictably as you squeeze the throttle.
It’s easy to relax into the moment, to give the car its head and let it thrust you, potentially, straight into the arms of the law. This is a car, after all, that takes just 3.6 seconds to hit 62mph and a scarcely believable 11.8 seconds to take you to 124mph.
The suspension rates have been tweaked, rather than softened, which would be the usual approach to help compensate for the additional mass. That tweaking has helped the soft top retain much, though not all, of the Coupe’s majestic body control without wholly sacrificing the R8’s impeccable manners. The ride isn’t perfect, however, with surface imperfections feeling marginally more intrusive compared to the coupe. It is only marginal, however, and only evident if you’re driving in any mode other than Comfort.
There are three other modes –Auto, Dynamic and Individual – accessible via Audi’s Drive Select but he best way to enjoy the Spyder is to drop the Drive Select into Individual, leave the suspension in Comfort and switch everything else to Dynamic. Throttle response and steering are sharpened up and, even with the suspension at its most supple, you’ll still be bel to revel in what is an astonishing front end that bites hard as you turn in while the four-wheel-drive remains unobtrusive.
You quickly get a sense of what’s happening at each corner of the car. You can feel each tyre hanging gamely on as they approach the limits of adhesion and that allows you to be very precise with your throttle control which means that if and when the rear does step out, it won’t catch you by surprise.
The cabin is impeccably Audi. The instrument binnacle is dominated by Audi’s stunning virtual cockpit, which puts all the crucial information front and centre on a high-res 12.3 inch TFT display.
The centre of the fascia houses the air con controls which are magnificently simple in their design and function and beautifully conceived in their construction.
Behind the gear selector is Audi’s multimedia interface (MMI) which uses a touch sensitive jog dial to facilitate sat nav inputs – you simply spell out your destination on top of the dial – unless you’d rather use voice input, of course.
For pure driving experience it would be hard to argue a case for the Spyder against its Coupe sibling. Despite the necessary structural changes – the increase in weight and loss of rigidity – the Spyder’s dynamic ability is just a hair’s breadth away from the fixed roof R8 but those small margins will make a big difference to the keenest of drivers.
However, if you can make do with a scientifically proven 99.73 per cent* of the performance of the Coupe, can cope with the loss of the luggage space behind the seats that now accommodated the folding roof and aren’t too precious about your hairdo, then that very narrow gap between the two models is quickly eradicated.
Talking of hair dos, it isn’t just travelling with the roof down that might prove the undoing of some carefully coiffed styles. If you’ve sat in the coupe and already struggled to squeeze your frame under the awning then this isn’t the car for you, there’s a noticeable reduction in headroom.
It’s not all about making sacrifices if you opt for the Spyder however. For a start there’s the exhilarating pleasure you’ll get from hearing that glorious V10 bark and snarl and spit just behind your ears. That naked exposure enhances the visceral sensation of forward momentum, everything seems to flash past just that little bit quicker.
The rear windscreen can be raised to act as a windbreak and, on the whole, it does a very effective job. Taller drivers will, of course, still endure a degree of buffeting but nothing that elicits immediate regret at having dropped the roof.
And don’t imagine that, when the elements conspire against you, forcing you to journey with the fabric roof in place, you won’t enjoy levels of refinement comparable with the Spyder’s fixed roof sibling, because the cabin is just as well insulated, just as cosseting and just as comfortable. In every respect it’s a win-win.
*This fact is, in fact, totally fabricated.
Audi R8 Spyder
As tested: £137,720
Engine: 5.2-litre V10
Transmission: 7-speed S tronic driving all four wheels
Max power: 540PS @ 7,800rpm
Max torque: 540Nm @ 6,500rpm
Max speed: 197mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 3.6sec
Extra urban: 32.5mpg
Emissions (CO2): 277 g/km
For more information visit www.audi.co.uk
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