LONG before it made its début on the big screen in the second instalment of the Iron Man movie series, rumours of a drop-top version of the car that made Audi’s first foray into the supercar league were already doing the rounds. The R8’s sleek lines and superbly sorted underpinnings seemed to lend themselves perfectly to a more glamorous roadster sibling joining the family. With the coupé (both in V8 and V10 guises) proving such a solid and competent platform to work from, the only question mark over the R8 Spyder must surely have centred on its packaging.
Based on its head-turning looks alone, Audi has answered that question with aplomb. The Spyder’s new fabric roof looks neat without altering the original car’s flowing profile and, importantly, the newcomer looks good whether the hood is in place or stowed. Neither the eye-catching side blades nor the glass engine bay cover – both highlights of the coupé’s design – have made it into the Spyder’s design, but the disappointment of those omissions is made up for by the pair of brushed aluminium louvred vents that boldly stretch almost the entire length of the rear deck. The same 19-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and oval tailpipes as those first seen on the R8 V10 are also welcome sights on the new derivative.
Another welcome feature on the new car is that the roof can be lowered or raised electrically at speeds of up to 50 km/h. Both processes take a total of 19 seconds to complete and are activated via a button on the centre console. A second button operates the heated rear glass window that acts as a wind deflector while the roof is down and can also be lowered with the top in place to allow the full volume of the exhaust note to be heard in the cabin.
Expect to see a V8 version of the Audi R8 Spyder on our roads within the next 12 months, but for the time being we’ll “make do” with the mighty, Lamborghini- sourced, 5,2-litre V10 option. As is the case with the coupé, the naturally-aspirated powerplant produces 386 kW at an ear-splitting 8 000 r/min and 530 N.m of torque at 6 500. If we thought that the soundtrack of this engine and exhaust combination was great in the coupé though, being able to fold the roof away is akin to gaining golden circle access after previously sitting in the cheap seats at your favourite rock concert.
The R tronic six-speed sequential transmission (a sixspeed manual is optional) may not be the slickest in the business, but taking the time to learn its characteristics is a highly rewarding exercise. As before, a Sport button sharpens- up response times both in fully automatic and manual override modes.
Of course, this R tronic transmission also features a launch control setting for optimal acceleration off the line. Using this function we were able to achieve a best 0-100 km/h sprint time of just 4,42 seconds and make it past the kilometre mark a further 17,77 seconds later. Audi claims an unrestricted top speed of 313 km/h. Massive ventilated discs (365 mm up front and 356 mm at the rear) are ABS, EBD and BAS controlled and bring this manic Audi back to standstill from 100 km/h in an average time of just 2,67 seconds.
In our September 2009 review of the R8 V10 coupé we noted that the additional weight of the larger engine over the 4,2-litre V8 made for slightly trickier handling at the limit, but that it wasn’t an intimidating supercar to drive hard. More weight has been added to the Spyder through the reinforcement of the floor but its effect is not overly signifi cant (our test unit weighed only 11 kilograms more than the coupé) so it is fair to say that the soft-top Audi R8 has virtually the same handling prowess and sure-footedness as its tin-top siblings.
The suspension remains firm without being bone-jarring and the Spyder scythes through corners with barely a hint of body roll. Turn-in is impressively accurate and, like the coupé, there is more grip available than most owners will need to explore. Make use of the steering wheel-mounted paddles in manual mode and the rev needle will bounce off the limiter if you are too slow with the upshifts. Downshifts, in turn, are greeted by grin-inducing throttle blips through the tailpipes.
With the corners behind you, the compliant suspension then also affords more than acceptable levels of boulevard cruising comfort – though the temptation to leave the transmission in its manual setting (in order to manipulate the soundtrack, of course) is almost overwhelming. As with most soft-top models, parking the wide Spyder in tight spaces with the roof in place can be quite tricky.This blind spot problem can be partially alleviated by the optional reverse camera. Heated Nappa leather seats and a Bang and Olufsen sound system are standard fitment.
In the motoring world, conventional wisdom suggests that a soft-top version of a focused sportscar (let alone a supercar) is a compromised product. In other words, it represents a kowtow to marketing pressures and not necessarily a meticulously- engineered performance machine. The need for additional reinforcement to compensate for the loss of rigidity brought about by the loss of a fixed roof will always be the biggest hurdle that engineers face when considering a rag-top model.
In Audi’s case (and with thanks to Lamborghini) the R8 coupé set some fairly lofty standards in terms of on-road dynamics, rigidity and overall balance that appear to have paid off in the development of the Spyder. The fact that the V10 coupé offered head-turning looks and an addictive soundtrack even before it was “glammed up” has helped make the Audi R8 Spyder to be one of the most sensational cars on the roads today.