More than two years have passed since Audi unveiled its second-generation R8 supercar, which migrated from its former Lamborghini Gallardo underpinnings to those of the mightier Huracán. The current high-water mark among roadgoing R8s is the viciously quick, 610-hp V10 Plus coupe, which we have fully vetted in Euro-spec form, in a comparison test, and at Lightning Lap.
This test represents the first time we’ve strapped our test equipment to the new-for-2017 R8 Spyder, which initially is offered only with the R8’s base 540-hp V-10. We haven’t previously tested this powertrain in any R8. (A 610-hp V10 Plus Spyder is coming in 2018, and other powertrains are planned for both body styles.) After experiencing the Plus model so often, would a 540-horse R8 feel inadequate? We also wondered if the soft roof would be accompanied by a softer character, considering that all R8s with this version of the engine ride on adaptive magnetorheological dampers instead of the sport suspension found in the V10 Plus.
Ragtops are innately social machines, more fully exposing their occupants not only to the sun and sky but also to other humans. When that convertible looks like the Huracán Spyder or the R8 Spyder, those other humans often engage, although in decidedly different ways. When driving a Huracán, one can count on hilarious fanboy freak-outs on any given trip but equally as many stern glares and acts of outright hostility from other motorists; in the R8 Spyder, however, we basked in thumbs-ups, smiles, friendly nods, even the occasional, “Hey, that’s Tony Stark’s car!” (Can you tell we drove it in movie-mad Los Angeles?)
Whether Lambo hate is simply envy made manifest or a defensive reaction to the Huracán’s full-aggro, comin’-to-steal-your-children design is a question best left to psychologists, but in our experience, the R8 just doesn’t garner the same vitriol. Flick the turn signal on a jam-packed freeway and watch space in the adjacent lane open right up, accompanied by a beckoning wave. Do the same in a Lambo and you could be boxed out for miles.
The R8’s conservative redesign hasn’t changed the reaction from the proletariat, but we wish Audi had pushed it a little bit further. Sexy as it is, there are few styling elements—from the front-end graphic to the metallic windshield surround and fuel door to the spinelike air extractors over the engine—that aren’t carried over nearly exactly from the original. And the changes that have been made aren’t necessarily improvements. The added geometric lighting units and angular grille openings front and rear have stiffened and sterilized its appearance, particularly in our test car’s hospital white with black convertible top, the only top color offered for this first year. The Spyder now features a contrasting side blade over each side air intake, like the R8 coupe, which helps liven up the looks, particularly when equipped with the $4800 Carbon Exterior package that also applies gleaming carbon fiber to the rear deck and the side blades.
In this Spyder’s case, more razzle-dazzle was only a 20-second top drop away, revealing a stunning, lipstick-red leather interior that picked up the color of the taillamps and red-painted brake calipers. Diamond-pattern quilting on the 18-way adjustable sport seats and carbon-fiber accents kept the show going, although none of that came for free—the diamond-stitched leather package costs $3500, the in-cabin carbon accents run $3400, and splashing red paint on the calipers costs $700. Along with a $1500 set of 20-inch forged-aluminum wheels and the $1300 gas-guzzler tax, this car’s price bloated from its $177,650 base to $191,550. Yikes.
However enjoyable it is to cruise along reveling in public adoration and savoring the interior visuals—including Audi’s trick Virtual Cockpit instrument screen with track-relevant information displays—the R8 is happiest at speed. And it gets there quickly. We clocked its zero-to-60-mph sprint at 3.2 seconds, only 0.3 behind the comparison-test coupe, a car that was 70-hp stronger and 236 pounds lighter. The Spyder’s acceleration remained tremendous through the quarter-mile, its 11.4-second, 125-mph run being just 0.5 second and 4 mph behind the V10 Plus coupe.
As with other Huracáns and R8 V10s, the real fun is found in the upper reaches of the tachometer, making the trip to its 8500-rpm redline ever more rewarding. The ancillary benefit of running it to redline—and one of the most enticing aspects of the Spyder, really—is how the mellifluousness notes of that port- and direct-injected, naturally aspirated V-10 can find your eardrums with no interference from window glass or a roof structure. High-revving nonturbocharged engines with double-digit cylinder counts are an endangered but still enticing species, so we almost never turned on the 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, opting instead to savor the engine’s sounds. Lowering the glass rear window with the roof and side windows raised filters out atmospheric noise, leaving the cabin awash in the blissful bellow of unembellished, rapid-fire internal combustion.
Redline revelry consumes fuel at an alarming rate, though. While the EPA rates the R8 Spyder at 17 mpg combined—which hardly seems atrocious, yet is poor enough to trigger the guzzler tax—we averaged only 12 mpg. Which is atrocious. Sorry, Earth.
The open-air R8 accelerates, turns, and stops quickly, but none of that happens suddenly or unpredictably, in contrast to what we noticed in the V10 Plus during Lightning Lap. (It should be noted, however that we didn’t lap VIR during our time with the Spyder.) The standard cross-drilled wavy-edged brake rotors delivered a blockbuster performance, marked by steady, firm pedal action. Summoned to halt the Spyder from 70 mph, the brakes deliver in 155 feet, only two feet longer than what we measured in the V10 Plus with its carbon-ceramic rotors, calling into question the value of the $9900 carbon-ceramic option on non-Plus R8s.
The V10 model’s standard suspension also serves the car well, so long as you don’t plan on picking a fight with a McLaren 570S. Its linear and chatty electrically assisted steering and adaptive dampers effectively turn this mid-engine sports car into a long-legged GT. As with most Audis, one may fine-tune its demeanor through the Drive Select system. Comfort mode offers a luxurious ride but lightens the steering too much and requires too deep a dip into the gas pedal’s travel when you need to summon a burst of acceleration—you know, to shake off the paparazzi. Dynamic mode never feels terribly harsh or jumpy but tends to shift high in the rev range and locks out the upper gears at freeway speeds; reserve it for when you’re truly serious about chewing up some asphalt. Auto mode, we found, offered the best overall balance—it’s a quick study, too, responding after just a few aggressive driving moves by automatically raising shift points and serving up throttle-blipped downshifts during braking, then relaxing soon after the driver does.
Missing is any whiff of the sheer lunacy that characterizes the Huracán, although we admit that driving a supercar without the baggage of a supercar brand is one of the R8’s strengths. As to the question of it feeling underpowered compared with the V10 Plus coupe, well, 3.2 seconds to 60 mph never feels slow. And if “going soft” means braking this well, steering this precisely, riding this beautifully, and sounding this good, the V10 Spyder need never apologize.
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