2017 Audi R8 Spyder
Audi’s racy R8 seems like a fixture among supercars, but it’s easy to forget that the R8 is a relative newcomer. Indeed, the second-generation car only recently launched in coupe form, and the initial coupe version is now joined by a Spyder convertible. As with the fixed-roof model, the Spyder is closely related to the Lamborghini Huracán, but the Audi has its own appeal that is only enhanced by the disappearing top.
The new Spyder again uses a fabric roof, which can be opened and closed in 20 seconds at up to 31 mph. It stows beneath the carbon-fiber engine cover, just ahead of a 5.2-liter V-10. It’s rated at a healthy 540 horsepower delivered at 7800 rpm, while maximum torque is 398 lb-ft, served up at a lofty 6500 rpm. Audi has tweaked the engine with a new dual fuel-injection system that switches between port and direct injection as needed for maximum efficiency or maximum power. Under modest loads, a cylinder-deactivation system can shut down half of the cylinders to improve fuel economy.
The engine is “the last of its kind,” we’re told by Audi. The era of high-revving, naturally aspirated engines is inexorably coming to an end. A glorious end it is: With its instantaneous response, its effortless revving beyond 8500 rpm, and its thoroughbred soundtrack, this engine delivers emotional appeal that no turbocharged powerplant can match, as efficient as force-fed units may be.
The droptop R8 is rated at 17 mpg in the EPA’s combined test, and it is actually possible to reach this mileage with a light right foot. Put the hammer down and you lose some mpg, but you’re rewarded with almost ludicrous performance. Audi says the sprint from zero to 62 mph takes just 3.6 seconds, and the R8’s top speed is a claimed 198 mph.
The V-10’s torque is transmitted to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, a gearbox that those who love both sports cars and automatics will find absolutely no fault with. It whips off gearchanges at lightning speed, and it works beautifully with the V-10, including throttle blips on downshifts and not-so-subtle backfires in the exhaust. Stick to Comfort mode, and the exhaust crackle disappears and the shifts become smoother. In fact, we think the engine sounds better in Comfort mode; the sound is muffled, but it seems more full-bodied and sophisticated than the angry blare you get when the exhaust flaps open.
It won’t surprise you that we lament the loss of the fantastic six-speed manual that was available in the first-gen R8. It was a perfect gearbox, with short, precise throws and a beautiful gated shifter. It’s gone, even though it would nicely match the R8 Spyder’s vibe.
While essentially based on the predecessor, the new car features a tweaked structure that now incorporates carbon-fiber elements. Even though it’s stiffer than the first-gen R8, Audi claims it weighs less. The 2017 Spyder also benefits from a new, fully variable all-wheel-drive system and an enhanced chassis that is fitted with a limited-slip rear differential. The R8 Spyder turns in with laserlike precision, and it stays firmly planted on any road surface. The absence of body flex and road noise is remarkable for an open-top vehicle. Cornering speeds are so high that it’s virtually impossible to approach the limits of adhesion at even remotely legal speeds.
Unlike the aforementioned Huracán, the Audi R8 easily qualifies as a comfortable long-distance cruiser. The front trunk is relatively spacious, and interior space is generous despite there no longer being any storage behind the front seats. Instead, the Spyder version has a glass rear window that can be lowered even with the top up. Doing so allows for an even more unfiltered sound experience.
The interior features Audi’s Virtual Cockpit TFT instrumentation; combined with the electronic gear selector and the techy surfaces, it gives the cabin a futuristic aura that’s a huge step forward from the predecessor’s and is perhaps the most forward-thinking in its segment.
It would be great if the same could be said of the exterior. But the design department decided that a somewhat conservative evolution of the previous car was more appropriate. It doesn’t work out so well to our eyes. The grille is overly boxy, the side view suffers from a drooping character line, and the rear end looks busy and confused. Once more, Audi’s lighting technology tantalizes, with a dramatic treatment of LED lights front and rear. (Europe gets optional laser headlights.)
Styling, though, is a matter of taste. What’s beyond dispute is that, even without a generations-long pedigree, the R8 Spyder is one of the world’s elite super sports cars.
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