Review: the loud, lovely Audi R8 Spyder

A new Audi R8 Spyder… that’s arrived quickly.

Yep, a mere year after the second-generation R8 coupe, we get the drop-top version.

The Audi R8 Spyder arrives in 540bhp trim, costing £129,990, around £11k more than the hard-top. It’s on sale now, with UK deliveries starting in December.

Um, just in time for winter.

Yep. But this, if you believe the bumf, is an all-weather convertible supercar. It has a Quattro four-wheel drive system – unavoidable on a fast Audi – while its fabric roof comes with multiple layers to keep out the noise and cold when it’s fixed in place.

As with the old R8 Spyder, there’s a small glass window at the back which can retract while the roof is in place, to pipe V10 histrionics into your ears without your bonce getting cold. But for the full effect, you naturally want the roof down, a 20-second operation which can take place at 30mph and below.

Audi really has put a lot of effort into the noise this car makes. Full-bore acceleration comes with the wailing backing vocals only a naturally aspirated engine, free of hissing turbos, can provide.

Gearchanges and lifts of the throttle, meanwhile, will bounce a wild cocktail of pops and crackles off the nearest solid surface. It’s utterly silly and a little childish. But that’s what supercars are about, right?

They’re about going fast, too…

The R8 Spyder’s got that covered, too. While there’s no 610bhp Plus version for now – that will come – the ‘base’ 5.2-litre V10’s 540bhp really is enough to be getting on with.

Overall, it doesn’t feel tangibly slower than the range-topping R8 coupe, and with a 3.6sec 0-62mph time and 197mph top speed, nor should it. But an upside of its slightly thinner power output is you’ll get more chance to wring out the best part of its first four gears without behaving like a total hoodlum. The seven-speed paddleshifter’s invitingly short gearing also helps that cause.

The Quattro drivetrain is as competent as ever at putting all the power to good use, too. Acceleration is smooth and seamless, even in sodden conditions. The experience might almost lack drama if it wasn’t for the riotous sound behind it all.

And how does it handle?

Get in without twiddling any of its settings, and the R8 appears to have a foolproof setup, a very supple ride and some reasonably talkative steering keeping you in your comfort zone even on really bumpy and challenging pieces of road.

Weighing 1795kg (despite Audi’s weight-saving gubbins, a clever aluminium and carbon-composite frame included), its mid-engine layout should be a minor handful in theory, and yet it’s really not. This is as easy to drive quickly as the front-engined Audi TT RS.

Flick the drivetrain into ‘Dynamic’ mode and push the Performance button on the steering wheel – which opens up dry, wet and snow modes, and loosens the electronic safety nets – and the car notably livens up, and will allow small amounts of slip at the rear to keep your cornering line tight.

From the outside, it looks impossibly long and wide, and yet the old cliché of ‘the car shrinking around you’ feels apt. It’s so agile through a sequence of tight bends, and appears to have infallible traction in quicker, more sweeping corners.

You’ve not said how the Spyder feels different to the coupe.

That’s because, at road speeds, it doesn’t. Convertibles are prone to a bit of wobble, you may be aware, and while it’s 50 per cent stiffer than the old Spyder, this new one is still around a third less rigid than its comparative hard-top.

It’s possibly a difference that would be shown up on circuit, or via a boringly scientific back-to-back test over a really bumpy piece of tarmac. But there’s no detectable judder through the steering and seemingly no delay in the R8’s lightning reactions. On the road, there’s simply no compromise.

There must be some downsides…

Okay. It’s not as comfortable as the coupe. The interior is still beautifully put together, and the seats themselves are great. But to accommodate the roof’s mechanicals, the cabin is slightly shorter, and you can’t recline the seats as much. I’m five-foot-nine and I was starting to squirm a bit after a few hours in the car. But it’s not a deal-breaker.

I’d argue, too, that the Spyder’s detailing isn’t quite as nice as the coupe’s. The glass engine cover has gone, while the black strip between the rear lights looks the tiniest bit clumsy. And with the office ‘road-testing pedant’ hat on, the R8’s limits are perhaps too high for it to truly express its sense of humour on the road. But you can say that about rather a lot of cars now.

You’re nit-picking.

That’s what must be done to criticise this R8. Lack of luggage space aside (the front boot is very small), you’d happily use it for every journey. Switch the sports exhaust off and it’ll cruise along eloquently, and its twin-clutch transmission is super smooth when you leave it change gear itself.

A Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet is similarly useable, and also has some token rear seats and more luggage space. But the Porsche doesn’t have an inspirational ten-cylinder engine, and nor, I’d argue, does it look anywhere near as exotic as the Audi.

The R8 combines excitement with the everyday like few cars on sale, and the ability to drop the roof only serves to elevate the experience of a car that doesn’t lack drama in the first place.