The Spyder's naturally aspirated V10, redlining at a sky-high 8,700rpm, would make Bocelli proud. Image Credit: Christopher List/ANM
Falling in love with the Audi R8 Spyder is easy when it looks this good. But Amit Benjamin has plenty of other reasons to be smitten, too.
By Amit Benjamin, Editor
Published: 00:00 September 10, 2010
For someone who doesn't easily buy into PR rhetoric, a high performance convertible is a glorious contradiction. Chopping the roof off any car drastically compromises its torsional rigidity and thus, in a lot of scientific and boring ways, ruins its dynamics.
So, logic dictates the R8 Spyder shouldn't be as good as its coupé sibling. It's heavier, slower, more expensive than the hard top and therefore, in a lot of quantifiableways, worse. But that may not bethe whole truth.
The Spyder is also, in a lot of unquantifiable ways that only petrolheads can fully comprehend,a mind-bogglingly fantastic car. Whether you'll like the R8 Spyder rather depends on what you expect from your next supercar. If you're thinking Palm Strip then the R8 Spyder is ace, but if it's the drag strip that'son your mind then I suggest you continue shopping.
This isn't going to be as straight-forward as you were hoping. Sorry.
Beauty is back
The R8 coupé is incredibly gorgeous, but the convertible is downright bewitching. It'll reduce you to a drooling, quivering mess. Even though it's an inch narrower than the coupé, the absence of a roof means the Spyder appears wider and lower, hence more dramatic and supercar-like. It may lack the visual chutzpah of a Gallardo, but it's undeniably striking. The trademark sideblades are gone, affording a clean profile and yet there are plenty of styling elements that you could spend days gawking at. Even mundane stuff such as headlights have their own 3D detailing and louvres which are merely there to let hot air out of the engine compartment are finished in machined aluminium. Add to this the forward raked stance, which makes it look like a beast straining at the leash ready to pounce on its next victim, and you have a car that's visually spot-on from every angle.
Even the electronically-operated folding roof, which lowers in 19 seconds and is made of ‘leak proof fabric' (what will they think of next) fits the handsome silhouette perfectly, tapering off into two fins for a sloping coupé-like profile.
Surprisingly, even in this day and age of fancy metal folding roofs, Audi has stuck to an old fashioned rag top. The upshot is that the roof tips the scales at just 30kg, making the top end of the car lighter and keeping the centre of gravity low. This improves balance and reduces body lean during heavy cornering. Now you know why there isn't a double-decker class in FIA GT.
Despite the lightweight hood, the Spyder is heavier than the coupé. The A-pillars as well as the sills have thicker sections, whilst an aluminium panel and crossbeam on the underside tie the four ends together to improve lateral rigidity and prevent the chassis from bobbing and flexing during cornering.
Even though the extra metal to compensate for the lack of a roof only adds a Keira Knightley-ish 6kg, the overall weight gain is about 100kg. That's the same as having Rosie O'Donnell onboard all the time.
Sure enough, this makes the Spyder slower than the coupé, but there's just 0.2 seconds in it. Trust me, zero to 100kph in 4.1 seconds feels plenty quick when your face is being pelted with bugs and your eardrums pounded bya shrieking and yowling 518bhp Lambo V10. In the price range nothing even comes close to delivering the experience the R8 Spyder does.
Granted the convertible Porsche 911 Turbo is quicker, but it looks like a mongrel and its 3.8-litre flat-six has the aural appeal of Shakira's cacophonic and incontinent warbling on She Wolf. By contrast, the vocal prowess of the Spyder's naturallyaspirated V10, redlining at a sky-high 8,700rpm, would make Bocelli proud. The thing is, when you buy a convertible, you willingly sacrifice performance for some showing off. So, might as well invest in a car that actually sounds and looks good. On both counts the Audi is unbeatable.
Dynamically, the R8 Spyder is well sorted for a convertible. It handles uncannily like the coupé, which is one of the best cars we've ever driven. The dreaded scuttle-shake is kept ata minimum and granted it's lost some of the agility, but would you be as athletic if you were a ton lardier? Thought not.
Chuck the Spyder into a series of fast left-right-left bends and its 1,725kg (1,720 with a six-speed manual) girth becomes apparent. It lacks the eagerness of the coupé while attacking corners, even if only slightly. The absence of the important bit of metal from the body becomes more evident when you hita rough surface; the car kicks back and shimmies through the steering. At slow speeds you can feel the steering wheelgo heavy due to the inertia created bythe ultra-wide 235/35 ZR19 Pirellis, but it's far from ponderous. Especially, when you're gunning it.
Every input you dial in translates intoa crisp and carefully metered directional change. You are always aware of what the front wheels are up to and whether the rear wheels are stepping out of line. Which they do. Often.
This intuitive handling characteristic is partly due to the magnetic dampers and the double wishbones all around — similar to the ones used in race cars. And partly due to the quattro all-wheel drive system that is heavily rear-biased, up to 85 per cent of the power goes to the back. This means the Spyder, unlike all-wheel drive Audis of yore won't understeer into a tree if you make a U-turn too vigorously. The system constantly monitors which of the 19in wheels might be able to use the power best and deploys the horses where they are most effective.
Another fantastic addition is the Sport button, which to all intents and purposes should have been called the ‘powerslide activation module unit'. Press it and the gears hold longer and throttle response sharpens up. And as my proposed moniker suggests, it allows you to pull impressive slides with nonchalant ease.
Accelerate midway through a corner and the Sypder makes tail-out action seem ridiculously easy. Unlike the buzz-kill Nissan GT-R's nannying electronics which cancel out any form of over or understeer in the name of dispatching corners quickly, the R8 lets you have a bit of fun.
The Lambo-derived six-speed R-tronic transmission is lightning quick and swaps gears within a tenth of a second, but it still lacks the smoothness of a normal torque converter auto. Your head bobs every time it changes gear, which could be cool if you had some gangsta rap pumping on the stereo. Otherwise not so much. Other complaints? The Launch Control which promises "rocket-like starts" is unimpressive. The Spyder feels quicker when you rely on your right foot rather than the electronics to dole out the power. But naturally that's not enough to put me off the R8 Spyder.
In the end, it all comes down to the price. And this is where the Audi really shines. The base R8 Spyder R-tronic will set you back Dh579,000 and comes with leather upholstery, sat-nav, a superb Bose stereo and tons more kit as standard. And if you go for the manual gearbox you can save another 35 grand on top of that.
Admittedly, the R8 Spyder is not as sharp as the coupé, but what convertible is? Trust me, you will forgive the slight compromise in performance when you're driving the Spyder on the stunning road to Khasab with the wind in your hair and the spine-tingling V10 bellow ricocheting off the cliff face.
Imagine the quantity of smugness when you drive past a Gallardo convertible, knowing that you're having the same amount of fun for Dh300K less. I've always maintained that the R8 is a thinking man's supercar. The Spyder, it turns out, is for a thinking man who likes to show off. A bit.
Ever since the original 1994 Audi A8, the Ingolstadt manufacturer has been fixated on aluminium construction. The aluminium space frame, or ASF, optimises the connection between torsional rigidity and weight.
Get yer geek hat on
The Spyder and coupé versions of the R8 are about 70 per cent one and the same. The main differences are in the centre tunnel and bulkhead areas, reinforced in the Spyder.
The 5.2-litre V10 sits in a supporting frame made of even lighter magnesium alloy.
Aluminium plates and a crossbeam stiffen the car's floor section, since there isn't much rigidity you can add to a fabric roof cover.
Even though the Spyder is 100kg heavier than the coupé, at 216kg its body is just 6kg heavier.
When the front end, central floor and rear end are joined together, robots add 107m of seam welds and computers check accuracy down to a tenth of a millimetre.
Dieting won't help, the R8 needs liposuction! However, it still reaches 0-100kph in 4.1 seconds
Thicker A- and B-pillars make up for some of the stiffness lost when the roof is cut.
The "sideblade" air intakes have been subbed for scoops in front of the rear wheels.
The windshield is lowered, and height drops by 0.3in.
The wind deflector helps reduce turbulence in the cabin.
Microphones are weaved into the seatbelts for the hands-free Bluetooth phone connection.
Specs & ratings
TransmissionSix-speed R-tronic AWD
Max power518bhp @ 8,000rpm
Max torque530Nm @ 6,500rpm
PlusLooks, build quality, performance
MinusSome scuttle shake.
From Gulf News