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Car reviews - Audi - R8 - Spyder 5.2 FSI quattro

Our Opinion

We like
Awesome V10 power, wicked exhaust note, stunning cabrio styling, uncompromised sports handling, ergonomics
Room for improvement
$392,000 price tag (because we can’t afford it), high cost of options

29 Sep 2010

WE are strapped into the deep sports driver's seat, with the drop-top roof stowed and all 386kW of V10 power primed and rumbling deliciously at our back, when the first raindrop plonks ominously on to the windscreen.

Then another fat wet drop lands on the hand with the slightly whitened knuckles gripping the chunky leather-bound steering wheel in readiness for a few uninhibited laps of Australia’s best race track in one of the most desirable cars to ever make it to our shores – the mid-engined 5.2-litre Audi R8 Spyder.

And then the rain storm really hits the Phillip Island grand prix circuit. Oh oh – not the best scenario for testing a fiery European thoroughbred, especially one temporarily without a roof, a theoretical top speed of 313km/h and price tag just shy of $400,000.

However, a little bit of Antarctica’s second-hand weather blowing in from Bass Strait is not going to deter us from this fling with the hottest high-priced floozy in town, so we press on out of pit lane, top down and all.

You know that line about driving fast in a cabrio in rain? How the water passes over the top, leaving the driver pleasantly dry? That is only partly true, because we can assure you that a steady stream of rainwater can – in fact does – pour off the corner of the sleek, laid-back windscreen of the Spyder and on to the driver.

Did we care? Not a bit. With the ESC firmly switched on, we lap the saturated track, slowly at first, but steadily faster as the rain eases, the confidence grows and the track slowly dries (at least most of it).

As Audi’s advertising line for the R8 goes, you hear it before you see it.

Even wearing the mandatory helmet on this occasion, we rejoice in the sonorous symphony of the Lamborghini-sourced V10 (it also graces the Gallardo) as it rises and falls with the revs. At full noise – north of 8000rpm – we are transported back to trackside at the Le Mans 24 Hour in the dim-distant past.

A bi-modal exhaust that opens two bypass flaps in the dual exhausts automatically turns up the aural pleasure to sinful levels, made even better by the lack of a roof between us and the twin outlets. It doesn’t get any better than this.

After the glorious song of the engine, the next thing you notice about the R8 Spyder, unsurprisingly, is the raw power.

While it pours on like the Amazon River in the wet season, it is neither harsh nor uncontrollable – just endless. Peaking at 8000rpm, the power comes courtesy of big-bore naturally aspirated mechanicals that gather force in a measured gallop, not in a rush like many forced-induction firecrackers.

With the full 530Nm of torque joining the fun at 6500rpm, the R-tronic-equipped R8 Spyder – like its Coupe sibling – performs at its best when keenly driven, with the driver calling the shots by changing up and down assiduously to keep the horses charging at full stretch.

Hard on the brakes and into a corner, changing down using the steering wheel paddles of the six-speed R-tronic, the engine automatically blips the throttle with each down change. Oh boy, is that nice. You really should have been there.

Even with dodgy track conditions, the front wheels bite and turn, the steering wheel alive with transmitted information about what is going on under the nose of the car.

Accelerating out of the corner, we are grateful to Audi’s acclaimed quattro all-wheel drive system that, in the Spyder’s case, uses a viscous coupler to split the torque between the front and rear axles. But after a few corners we get a little over-confident and ease on the throttle a little early, stepping the big beast sideways momentarily before the tut-tutting electronic nannies regain control.

In deference to the conditions and the fact your test driver is not Michael Schumacher, the only place we give the Spyder its total, inhibited head is coming on to the long Wayne Gardner straight, aiming for the crest of the hill and the run down into turn one.

Although wearing a helmet and not exactly paying strict attention to niceties such as wind noise as we speed towards the horizon and Bass Strait with the boot buried to the firewall while flipping up through the gears, we can say the open-top cabin is a pleasant place to be.

Gorgeous sports seats – trimmed with sumptuous leather – cosset the driver sitting at the flat-bottomed steering wheel and facing a typically stylish and user-friendly Audi dash.

Like most top-end Audis with sports pretensions, the R8 Spyder offers a range of settings for controls such as the transmission, steering and bi-modal exhaust – comfort, automatic or dynamic. On this occasion, dynamic it is.

Two thirds of the way along the straight, the 200km/h mark on the speedo comes and goes with scornful ease, and all too soon we are on the brakes to avoid the embarrassment of being towed from the kitty litter.

If the brakes with their eight-piston callipers up front can be tortured into a squishy pedal, we saw no sign of it. The ultra cautious uber-wealthy could err on the side of the optional four-wheel ceramic brake package for a mere $25,422, but we would probably just buy a European holiday instead.

All too soon we are being waved back into the pits. There we raise and lower the fabric roof with the one-touch button and, give or take a couple of seconds, it does do the job in about 19 seconds as Audi claims.

The rear glass window is fascinating, sliding vertically up out of the rear bulkhead like a regular side window and sealing the cabin by slipping into a notch in the raised roof, just as regular side windows do.

This gives the Spyder a squared-off rear end to the cabin, like a Triumph Herald, but to save on-lookers from this travesty, Audi designers fitted the roof with sloping wings that stretch towards the rear of the car on either side of the window for a more aesthetic, sloping profile.

While the fabric roof is one of the best around, the Spyder was born to be undressed. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this beholder is in love with the topless R8.

A track test of such a fine example of automotive engineering is a genuine treat, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

For example, how does the vehicle ride and handle on less-than-perfect surfaces? How does its rigidity compare with the solid-roof R8 Coupe in terms of scuttle shake? Does it kill you at the petrol pump?

Is it hard to live with, like a highly strung mistress? And what about the gearshift of the manual version that we didn’t sample?

All these questions will have to wait for a longer road test (we should be so lucky), for we left Phillip Island with a long list of imponderables – and a big smile on our face.

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