Roof-down aural elation
There's rain slapping my cheeks, creeping in over the windscreen giving me my second shower of the day. Wind is whipping past my glasses making me squint slightly, and the cold is making my jaw stiff. Doesn't sound that fun, right? Well... no. It was awesome. The roof was off the new Audi R8 Spyder, its 5.2-liter V10 singing the song of its people and the heated seat made sure my arse and back were toasty. Hell, even the heater was keeping my feet warm. I was grinning like a loon, keeping an eye out for errant sheep (thanks, Wales), and enjoying a mid-engined, naturally aspirated supercar in the driving rain.
When the first Audi R8 launched during the last decade it caused something of a stir - it had killer looks, an awesome V8 and drove remarkably well. The second generation launched in 2015 with an angrier look, a V10 engine shared with a Lamborghini and an automatic gearbox (no manual, sadly). The V10 Plus, a 610-horsepower, 413-pound-feet of torque monster with a big wing, is a spectacular car, the base V10 with a mere 540 horses and 398 pound-feet is similarly wonderful, if not quite as urgent. Or wingy.
A drop top was an inevitability, and now it's here. It comes with the 540-hp version of the V10, though I'll wager a Plus will make an appearance sooner rather than later. 0-62 mph takes 3.6 seconds (0.1 slower than the hard top) and you'll hit 197 mph if you're feeling brave enough and have a big runway to play on.
Its roof takes just 20 seconds to do its thing, quick enough to briskly raise it should the sky decide to have a wee on you. If you're busy cruising around town, hoping people will stare at you in your fancy motor and the sky does its thing, you can work the lid at speeds up to 31 mph. The mechanism looks pretty dramatic too. It's a supercar, there should be a bit of drama after all.
With the roof down the rear window acts as a wind deflector, but with it up... it can be a rear window to keep the elements out or you can retract it and listen to the engine do its thing without getting rained on. However, I'd offer this piece of advice if you're looking to buy an R8 Spyder: Roof down unless the storm has a name.
Speaking of the seats, the car I had were fixed buckets that weren't super comfortable. They rather destroyed my lower back after the first couple of hours in the seat. A passenger also complained that they're great if you're driving and your arms are outstretched grabbing a wheel, but they're not great on the shoulders if your hands are resting in your lap. They did have speakers in the headrest. That was pretty cool.
Supercars are awesome, though they do come with some built in flaws. The R8 is no exception. The engine is hidden under roof bits, so don't expect to press a button and wow your friends with a throbbing V10. Instead you flip a switch and see a tiny bit of it and a lids to top up various fluids. How exciting. There's also naff all space to store anything in there. The frunk (front trunk) can fit a carry on case and a squishy weekend bag, but that's about it. In the cabin the doorbins will take a wallet, but don't corner too hard else they'll fly out. There are cup holders hidden in an armrest, but you have to remember not to elbow your coffee.
A hidden, lockable compartment at the back of the cabin is great place to store personal items but not many of them. A bin under the centre stack can take your phone and keys so long as you don't have a big bunch of them. So... don't take stuff with you if you're going long distance. Chances are you'll end up naked at your destination anyway though. You're in a supercar after all. These things happen.
All your infotainment sits in the instrument binnacle in the form of Audi's Virtual Cockpit. It works well once you get used to it, though I found it a touch confusing to use on the fly. I'm sure it's something that'll come with time. All your info sits in there: nav, music, phone settings (Apple CarPlay is there as well), drive modes and car set up... everything really.
The steering wheel comes with a number of buttons to play with as well. You can make the tailpipes extra noisy, select your drive modes, put the car in hardcore 'performance mode', volume, start/stop, etc. It's akin to the 'all in one place' feel you get from a Ferrari's 'wheel, though the indicators are proper stalks not stupid buttons.
That's the fiddly stuff out of the way, now... the drive. If you like power, the R8 Spyder's 540 hp won't disappoint. Because there's no turbo to spool up the throttle response is instant and accompanied by an ungodly howl that, with certain buttons pressed, makes it burble, crack, and pop like a machine gun. You can make it crackle in town as well which is sure to make pedestrians and cab drivers love you with all their hearts.
Once you've got straight line pace out of your system, throw it in 'dynamic' and have a crack at a corner. Then try the same corner 10mph faster. Do that again. It grips hard. You can feel it move around under hard cornering, though you'd have to be doing super-illegal speeds to get it to really slither in the dry. The steering is sweet in any mode as well. Not too heavy, not too soft and gives great feedback. Hard to fault, really. The speed at which it changes the car's direction is plain silly in the best possible way.
Its seven-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic gearbox is a thing of beauty. When the car's set to 'angry' it'll change with an appropriately sporty jerk, but in 'comfort' and the like it'll change so smoothly you won't really notice it. Would a manual be better? The real question is: Would you spec one if it was an option? Evidence points to 'no,' so don't complain.
Braking performance is utterly phenomenal if you tick the 'ceramic brakes' box. I'm sure the standard steel brakes are wonderful and all, but... put it like this: the area of Wales we tested the car in is full of fluffy, cute, utterly moronic sheep that have no qualms in running in to the middle of the road without a moment's notice. I was, erm, enjoying the car and a sheep decided the grass was greener on the other side -- thanks to those stoppers I avoided ended up being covered in rare lamb. And also because I have the reactions of a fighter pilot. Honest. Okay, they can be a bit grabby when you're in town, though you get used to that fairly swiftly.
Cars like the R8 Spyder are as much about style as drive. The look of the car (and the driver - sorry 250-pound Barry from accounts, you might want to give this one a pass) is hugely important. Mercifully, Audi's designers didn't muck the whole 'roof off' thing up at all. It's a handsome thing with the lid on or off. It's not quite as quick as the coupé, but as far as experiences go at sensible speeds, few things will top it.
There are a number of driving modes, as is the norm with supercars these days, but the difference between 'dynamic' and 'comfort' is huge. One makes it a shouty hardcore megamonster, the other makes it a comfortable cruiser around town and on the motorway. Chalk, meet cheese.