AUDI was very late in entering the upper echelons of the sportscar universe notwithstanding that it had made a name for itself decades ago on the World Rally stage and of course, at Le Mans.
It was therefore mildly ironic that the first R8 coupe I ever saw was in the Audi GB campsite in 2007 alongside the Circuit de 24 Hours where the R8 racing prototype had dominated proceedings for so many years. The then Audi PR boss, David Ingram, had brought it down from the UK and it caused a sensation wherever it was seen.
In those days, it was offered with a delectable V8 but today, a V10 in two guises has taken over the role of motivating Audi’s second generation R8. And although this 2017 Spyder had the less venomous (in relative terms!) 397kW V10 sitting amidships, the striking looks and simply awe-inspiring aural accompaniments ensure that nine years on, Ingolstadt’s sportster attracts every bit as much attention as the original did nearly a decade ago.
Perhaps the mildly garish but stunningly well-applied bright yellow paintwork had something to do with this car’s camera-attracting abilities, but take nothing away from the distinctive shape which in gen-2 guise has retained all the design cues of the original.
Fact is, the R8 cannot be confused with any other supercar with its angular and low-slung panels and distinctive honeycomb grilles telegraphing its origins in no uncertain manner. The accompanying photographs tell you all but let me say that no car I’ve ever had use of, including the Alfa 4C three years ago, has brought out cameras and triggered gesticulations quite like this one.
Why, following motorists even stealthily extracted their cellphones to get a snap and the pump attendants at a nearby filling station gyrated and motioned to encourage liberal use of the throttle. And the ultimate accolade was paid by a BMW owner who passed by when the Audi was being photographed and then proceeded to do a u-turn and ask for his photograph to be taken – no less than three times – alongside a car he said had encouraged him to increase his lotto budget!
Mind you, those pump attendants had good reason to demand a burst of throttle as this melodious, all-powerful V10 purrs, barks, howls, growls, wails, bangs, pops and trumpets according to your prevailing mood.
Like all sporting cars bearing the four-ringed logo, various drive modes are on offer including Dynamic and Race and these are supplemented by a rorty exhaust setting which had doves and even birds of prey almost falling off their perches in their rush to find inner peace.
For us car buffs, the sun is setting on the use of large displacement normally-aspirated motors such as the 5.2 litre V10 that sits amidships in the R8 Spyder, so let’s just say this was a chance to savour the rapid throttle responses and the whining camshafts and the bellowing exhausts that such a configuration provides.
But please don’t get the idea that driving this car is always akin to sitting dead centre in a tornado. Select Auto or Comfort -and despite the over-the-shoulder proximity of all those cylinders, progress can be pleasingly peaceful. This is what makes the R8 such a wonderful all-rounder. It’s a snarling beast one minute and a mute cruiser the next, so much so that with the auto open/close, precision-fit soft top in-situ, a motorway jaunt at 120 clicks is soothing and most comfortable.
The comfort has its origins in beautifully crafted and supportive nappa leather seats and in remarkably effective isolation of wind noise. And despite the use of ultra-low-profile rubber – 245/30R20 up front and gargantuan 305/30R20 down the back – the ride is acceptably pliant and far from bone-jarring in Comfort mode.
Dynamic mode, as its title suggests, stiffens everything up and the trade-off comes in the form of fairly sharp reactions to knobbly road surfaces. Resistance to body roll though is beyond reproach and steering reactions are rapid and faithful. In fact, I found the steering to be thoroughly pleasing in all drive modes and with the quattro drivetrain, straight line stability even under full power getaways is arrow-true.
Talking of full power, I should disclose that the 0-100 dash can be eliminated in a scant 3.6s but this Audi feels even faster than that and the violent shove just doesn’t dissipate as the speedo pointer races around the dial. The exhilaration factor is also stratospheric thanks to all the glorious aural feedback and should you be lucky enough to be traversing a limit-free autobahn, you should see around 320 clicks without too much effort.
Naturally, stopping power is immense and should remain so for an eternity as this vehicle was equipped with (optional) high-tech ceramic discs clamped by massive callipers activated by an easily-modulated brake pedal.
Aside from the aforementioned quattro AWD system, all 397kW/540Nm is first fed through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission dubbed S tronic in Audi-speak. The engineers must have beefed up the internals to handle all the muscle on parade but this has had no negative effect on the lightning shift speeds served up. On full throttle, only the change of engine note and the movement of the rev counter telegraph that cogs have been swopped. And should the driver wish to take complete control, easily-accessed paddle shifters are in-situ.
Just occasionally when dawdling along in D (a more sporting S mode is also accessible) on a light throttle, upward shifts can snatch ever so slightly and very low speed manoeuvres demand delicate use of the throttle (remember there’s no slip with a dual clutch set-up) to avoid running into hard obstacles like garage walls, but otherwise, this transmission is perfectly suited because of its rapier-like responses even in full auto mode.
It’s almost pointless to talk about fuel consumption in a car with a performance envelope as broad as this but let me just say that the official combined figure for what it’s worth talks of 11.7l/100km. I saw short-term highs in the low 20s but with judicious use of the throttle, mid-15s can be expected overall and out on the motorway on a constant throttle at 120 km/h, thirst falls to 10.5l/100km.
Returning to that beautifully-finished cabin, it would be remiss of me not to mention the superb digital instrument cluster with its endless array of display options that keep the keenest driver informed and entertained. There’s even a g-meter, for heaven’s sake! And as you’d expect from Audi, material quality and detail execution is beyond reproach but it’s all presented in an understated almost minimalist manner that will do much to ensures enduring appeal.
Be aware though that interior oddments space is at a premium – there is a little locker neatly integrated into the bulkhead between cabin and engine – and that luggage space in the nose will allow no more than two soft bags. Weekends away from home will certainly restrict madame’s clothing repertoire! With typical Germanic attention to detail though, Audi’s interior designers have incorporated a rectangular rubberised slot into the console alongside the shift lever to accommodate the “key fob” which would otherwise be sliding around the cabin given the keyless -start facility.
Practicality certainly is not a virtue of topless supercars and on a related matter, it also stands to reason that structural integrity of such a design will also be compromised. There’s many a rag-top that I’ve driven that suffers from scuttle shake, creaks and rattles. The R8 Spyder however resists these foibles remarkably well such that scuttle shake is non-existent (certainly on the roads I traversed) and only on rare occasions was the slightest creak from the tight-fitting soft-top ever detected.
At the end of the day, what the drop-top version of the R8 majors on is the sensual experience. That V10 motor really is a stand-out piece of kit and with the roof down, its inspiring aural attributes can be enjoyed to the full. Long-term, I think I would still rather have the fixed-head coupe, but that’s my practical side coming out. For sure, the multitude of onlookers -including those who should otherwise have been paying more attention to their driving – attracted to the Spyder’s alluring disposition suggest that this version of the magnificently-engineered Audi R8 is the one that wins the popular vote.