The noise. That’s what convertible supercars are all about, right? Because in all other areas they’re a compromise: slower, more expensive, not as sharp to drive.
The all-new, second-generation Audi R8 Spyder – with its 197mph top speed and near-£130,000 price- tag, £11k more than a coupe – is at least two of those things. But naturally, with a large capacity V10 engine shorn of any turbochargers, it’ll fill your lugs with as much noise as they can bear when the roof is stowed.
With the R8 (and its Lambo Huracan cousin) among a diminishing group of nat-asp supercars, it makes one of the greatest sounds in the business. Extend each gear to its red line and it’s an almost racecar-like wail, one which builds and builds as the car exhibits a slightly runaway sensation of speed.
Short shift to a higher gear – say fourth – and keep the accelerator pinned until your conscience steps in, and it’s more of a hearty, bassy noise, and one that’s no less enjoyable or addictive. Whatever your approach, a lift of the throttle or some assertive downchanges into a corner will pull the pin on a cacophony of pops and crackles that are only intensified if there’s a solid surface nearby for the sound to bounce off.
Yes, it’s exceedingly silly and makes you feel like an overgrown child. But that, surely, is the job of a supercar.
An elite group that the R8 has arguably only stepped into in its latest, more expensive MkII guise.
But, with the way it drives, it deserves to. As you’d expect, chopping the coupe’s roof and replacing it with a fancy piece of folding fabric has had several negative effects. The Spyder is around a third less rigid (though it’s 50 per cent stiffer than the MkI R8 Spyder), while the roof, its mechanism and some additional strengthening have swelled the R8’s kerbweight by 125kg, to a rather portly sounding 1,720kg.
The suspension has been fettled to counter the extra mass, but the Spyder has been designed to drive just like the coupe, striking the same balance between sharpness and comfort. For now, it only comes in 533bhp, ‘standard’ trim, with a 602bhp ‘Plus’ version a little way off yet.
With a 3.6sec 0-62mph time, though, it’s more than fast enough. Overall, you’d need both engines back-to-back to truly spot the deficiencies in performance, but the pleasant upside of the skinnier tune is that it’s even easier to enjoy quite a lot of the R8’s first four gears at morally acceptable road speeds. Keeping a naturally aspirated engine singing is a wonderful, and increasingly rare, joy, and the shortly stacked gears of the standard seven-speed S tronic paddleshift transmission give you a reasonable chance of doing so away from a circuit. This is to be commended.
You’d also need a boringly scientific test to really split hard- and soft-top R8s. For a 1.7-tonne car, the Spyder feels uncommonly agile (once you’ve got past its width, which may feel a little much on a gnarly British B-road), and the way it tucks into especially tight corners is no trickier than in an RS3.
That a burly mid-engined supercar is as easy to drive as a front-engined hot hatch is all thanks to the quattro AWD system. It’s an inevitability of a fast Audi – current Audi Sport boss Stephan Reil has categorically ruled out a RWD R8 special – but unlike the front-biased systems in smaller RS models, this one can happily send every last horsepower to the rear axle.
Climb into the R8 and just drive it and it’s a cosseting, foolproof introduction to the supercar. The ride is supple, its steering light, and its responses entirely friendly. It’s an absurdly easy car to drive quickly. So much so, that you’ll quickly feel like ramping things up via its various modes. There are two strands of this: the Drive Select system is like in any other Audi, and ups the aggression of the engine, gearbox et al, while an optional sports steering wheel brings a chequered-flag Performance Mode button. This goes a step further, and tweaks the stability control systems (as well as the car’s usual parameters) through Wet, Dry and Snow settings.
With everything in its most dynamic, the R8 properly livens up. Its paddles flick through the gears as quickly as your brain ponders doing so, and the car’s resistance to under steer, and willingness to avoid it with subtle slip at the rear, is a complete joy. Its limits still remain high – arguably too high, for really uncorking it on the road – and in fast, sweeping corners it finds seemingly infallible traction. But however deeply buried, there’s a sense of humour beneath the R8’s skin. A point rammed home by the artillery fire as you change down to second gear into a tight, stone-walled corner.
It takes a really bumpy surface to find any shimmy through the Spyder’s steering rack, and even then it’s because you’re looking for it. A shaky rear-view mirror – the traditional telltale you’re in the soft-top version of a closed car – never revealed itself on our test route.
It may give a small amount of alertness to the coupe, but nothing you’ll tangibly miss. On the road, the Spyder hardly feels compromised.
Not dynamically, at least. There are other, less crucial areas where the coupe comes out on top. A newly designed rear deck means the glass engine cover has to go, while the additional cooling strip between the Spyder’s rear lights looks cumbersome. The mechanical gubbins of the roof mean you can’t recline the seats as much, making the soft-top a more wearing long-distance car. A couple of hours of driving are enough to have even a five-foot-niner like me squirming about a bit. There’s only one luggage compartment, too, its meagre 112 litres also an inconvenient shape if your bag isn’t willing to be squashed into place.
Those are terribly grown-up criticisms, I admit. And with the sports exhaust off and the gearbox left to its own devices, the R8 is otherwise a brilliantly refined car through town or on motorways. With the roof up, it’s not quite as cocooning as the coupe, but it’s really not far off. The hood itself folds in 20 seconds, at 30mph and below. But given how theatrical the action is, it’s probably best carried out near people who are best not distracted.
Roof tucked away in the bodywork, the R8’s interior is largely wind-free up to 80mph, though liberal use of the heated seats is advised if you wish to go open-air on a cold day. The alternative – carried over from the first-generation Spyder, and nearly every convertible supercar that’s followed it – is a glass rear window that can drop down with the roof in place, allowing you to enjoy all ten cylinders whatever the weather. Because yeah, no matter how good the rest of the R8 Spyder is – incredibly good, is the truth – it really is all about the noise.
Life on the inside
Seat: Your choice between a fixed- back Recaro or an adjustable quilted leather item that doesn’t recline enough
Steering wheel: Specify the sportier wheel, which adds Performance mode. But R8 is sweeter without Dynamic Steering
Roof controls: Two buttons. Hold one for 20 seconds to fold the roof up or down; the other operates the ‘noise window’
Transmission: A seven-speed paddleshift auto is your only option; the R8 won’t go manual again. Good job it’s superb, then
Phone link-up: Power your phone in here, either by cable or inductive charging. Virtual Cockpit also does Apple CarPlay
Audi R8 Spyder
It combines excitement with the everyday like few cars on sale; losing the roof only elevates the experience