Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, CanadianDriver.com
Just when you thought the R8 couldn’t attract any more attention, Audi gives its V10 Coupe a roof-ectomy for 2011, creating the $187,000 2011 R8 Spyder 5.2.
Spending a week behind the wheel of this Brilliant Red ragtop, fitted as it was with a six-speed manual transmission and lovely optional five-spoke Rotor Design wheels, proved to be an exercise in avoidance – that would be avoiding cars that hung precariously in my blind spots, avoiding stares from gawking motorists and avoiding the constant urge to plant the happy pedal and hear that ferocious Lamborghini-derived naturally aspirated direct-injection 525-hp 5.2-litre V10 howl to its lofty 8,700 r.p.m. redline.
Temptation, I know thy name. And as much as I was sad, nay heartbroken to return this scarlet siren to Audi central, I was relieved to have not heard any sirens or seen any flashing lights in my rear-view mirror during my week of stewardship.
The Spyder costs an additional $15,000 over the Coupe, and for this you get a fabric top that tucks away under its carbon-fibre reinforced plastic lid in 19 seconds, and can operate at speeds up to 50 km/h.
The rear side body panels are also made of this lightweight material. The heated vertical rear window works independently of the roof, so it can be lowered with roof in place for more ventilation, or raised when the roof is folded, acting as a wind blocker. There is also a manually installable wind blocker stored in the front trunk, but I never felt the need to fuss with it.
The Spyder’s seats feature treated leather that keeps them up to 20 per cent cooler in direct sunlight, and the microphone for voice activation is in the seatbelt, right on your shoulder. Cool.
What the roof and window don’t do is provide much sound insulation. Not that hearing the symphonic V10 is much of a chore, but even in cruise mode the cabin never really gets quiet – wind, tire and engine noise are your constant companions. The Coupe is quite a bit more isolated.
No one will be buying this drop-dead sexy exotic for it long range touring capabilities. The R8 Spyder is all about dropping the top, click-clacking the stubby shifter through that lovely forged alloy gate, feeling your backside press into the seats and hearing the engine wail like a Stuka dive bomber.
And of course, attracting attention.
Just don’t call the 2011 Audi R8 Spyder a poseur. In all respects, it drives like the Coupe. There is no noticeable loss in structural rigidity and it operates with the same fluidity and ease of use that initially belies its formidable talents.
With just 15 per cent of power going to the front wheels, the steering is alive, beautifully weighted and hardwired to your every intention. The R8’s balance is superb, grip astounding and if you do manage to kick the tail out, it moves in a predictable fashion. There is nothing intimidating about the R8’s dynamics.
This V10 loves, nay needs, to be wound out. Its torque peak of 390 lb.-ft. arrives at 6,500 rpm, and while the engine is tractable down low, things don’t really start happening until 4,000 rpm. That’s when all hell breaks loose and Spyder bolts like an ignited weasel.
Looking at its low rider stance, one would assume the ride quality to be of the “knock your dentures askew” variety. Au contraire: amazingly, the R8 is more compliant than many of Audi’s other offerings, thanks to the expertly tuned adaptive magnetic dampers. You can put them in full-time sport mode if so desired, but for street use the auto setting is just fine.
So what are the downsides of this droptop Audi? It costs an additional $15,000 over the V10 Coupe, you lose the “engine under glass” wow factor, there’s more cabin noise and it’s marginally slower – 4.1 seconds versus 3.9 seconds to 100 km/h.
For those who are concerned about such things, the V10 has an alarming appetite for premium fuel – 19.1 L/100 km city and 11.6 L/100 highway.
The Spyder’s immediate competitor is the all-wheel-drive $181,500 500-hp Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, a car I recently tested. While these two are comparably priced and powered, they are about alike as anchovies and ice cream.
The Audi is a rare and gorgeous exotic. The iconic Porsche 911 has been around for nearly half a century, so no amount of scoops, wings and bulging body bits will give it the R8 wow factor. Yet with 516 lb.-ft. of torque available at 2,100 rpm, the ballistic Porsche will show the Audi its LED taillights.
The R8 is very fast. The 911 Turbo is stupid fast.
The Audi’s naturally aspirated V10 sounds otherworldly. A 911 Turbo on the boil makes an un-sexy whoosh like an angry fire hose. In the day-to-day grind, the R8’s magnetically adaptive ride is gentler than the Porsche’s, yet the 911 is a more practical proposition with its two small back seats, far superior fuel economy, quieter cabin, larger front trunk and year round capability. The Audi is so low you’re always worried about scraping the front splitter – carbon fibre on this one (part of a $10,000 Carbon Sigma Exterior Package). In winter, your R8 would turn into a very expensive snowplough.
Porsche’s optional twin-clutch seven-speed PDK is absolutely brilliant and costs $6,200. Audi’s optional single-clutch sequential six-speed R tronic is jerky, best suited for track work and sets you back $11,500.
The 911 Turbo Cabriolet is a car two people could pack up (carefully) and take on an extended road trip; ain’t gonna happen in the R8.
We could debate this for days, but the bottom line is irrefutable: the Audi operates on a higher plane of desirability. It’s a striking piece of rolling exotica that turns heads faster than a Mike Tyson left hook and delivers a soul stirring drive right from the moment that 5.2-litre V10 barks to life.
And with just about everyone guessing the R8 Spyder’s price at around $300,000, that sub-200 grand list can be your own little secret.
Pricing: 2011 Audi R8 Spyder 5.2
Base price: $187,000
Options: $17,900 (Carbon Sigma Exterior Package $10,000, Carbon Sigma Interior Package $3400, Enhanced Leather Package $4000, 19-inch “Rotor” Design Titanium Colour Wheels $500)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $207,795
Crash test results