25 Dec
Precise corners, head-pulling throttle and euphonic sounds

When Audi chopped off the top of its inimitable R8 supercar, many called foul. We beg to differ; here’s the LIAS review. All photos taken exclusively for Lost In a Supermarket by the peerless Robert Kerian.

Driving Audi’s latest revision of their world-class supercar, the R8 Spyder, is somewhat akin to sliding a newly minted scalpel across a fresh sheet of construction paper. Not only does its silhouette — sharpened with the removal of its roof — appear razor-like in its cleanly shaven profile, but the experience of driving it is so surgical as to make you gasp and flex at its delivery. Remember Fahrvergnügen? Well VW should have saved the Joy of Driving tagline for its sister company’s halo vehicle, for it is experienced to a terminal point when whizzing the R8 Spyder around Malibu canyons with the drop top down, and the wind massaging your scalp.

We’ve already gushed verbose about the standard hardtop coupe iteration of the R8, that which received a heart transplant of the Lamborghini Gallardo’s sweat-inducing 5.2-liter FSI V10 engine, so we’d be remiss at any significant drop-off in performance, style or grace with a chopping off of its roof. Lucky for R8 fans, said drop-offs are negligible. Performance wise, the Spyder’s V-10 still churns out 525 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque, loses only a 1 mph in top speed (to a felonious 195 mph) and clicks a 0-to-60-mph time of about 3.7 seconds (as opposed to 3.5). And to amend for loss in rigidity — a common malaise of convertibles — Audi reinforces the A and B pillars and adds braces and panels to the floorboards. Moreover, compensating for the usual cheesecake weight gain associated with going topless, the rear quarter-panels were switched from aluminum to carbon fiber, resulting in a very modest and manageable 220 lb expansion of the belt.

So now that you know the slight dips the R8 has absorbed with losing its top, you may be wondering how it has improved. Well for that answer one need only lower the fabric roof (it takes all of 19 seconds, and can be done while driving at speeds up to 31 mph), shift into first  and pull out of the driveway. The rest is a Cheshire grin montage of precision corners, head-pulling blips of the throttle and a euphonic orchestration of sounds.

Continue reading Audi R8 Spyder Unlocked: The LIAS Test Drive after the Jump…

“With only clear blue skies shining overhead, there lies very little between you and the tingling guttural belches exuding from the gorgeous V10…”

And those sounds, oooh the sounds. With only clear blue skies shining overhead, there lies very little between you and the tingling guttural belches exuding from the gorgeous V10. On freeways one overtakes lesser cars with the effort of a slight toe tap, but on mountain cutbacks the R8s handling is best experienced. This is where the scalpel metaphor fits in, as you wind your way through empty roads slicing around corners with construction paper flying. On the last R8 test, with the Coupe, we had the six-speed R-tronic automated manual with paddle shifters. This time we were given the six-speed manual with gated shifter. Normally I love paddles, but Audi still has not been able to integrate a DSG dual clutch with the R8 (our only complaint last review), so the shifting can be a bit muddled compared to, say, the Benz SLS AMG or Porsche’s PDK transmissions. But with the manual? Oh Lordy. Your brow will moisten as you negotiate the hairpin guardrail-less corners skirting over cliffs below, Pacific waters crashing on shores in the distance, one hand on the wheel as the other executes shifts. It may take you a few hours to acclimate to the metal gate on the manual — its thin inlets demanding pinpoint shifts (see gallery above) — but once you do, the precision is exhilarating.

Truth be told, if you prefer keeping two hands on the wheel there’s very little need to ever switch out of 3rd in this environment — the gear can take you from 30 to 70 mph with vicious torque across the RPM band line. Anywhere between those speeds in 3rd gear, substantial power is only a tap of the throttle away. There’s a standard 465-watt 12-speaker Bang & Olufson soundsystem, but you probably won’t turn that on for the first 3 months of ownership. There’s no 4-minute indie rock palaver, brainless hip-hop ode to bubbly or even sweeping Germanic symphony written that can compare to the sounds you’ll elicit from flogging that throttle. And what elevates the Spyder over the Coupe is its heated rear window, which even with the top up can be independently lowered, allowing those melodious piston combustions to float freely and sweetly throughout the cabin in ways the Coupe never can. It is truly a thing to experience firsthand.

Pushing the R8 Spyder over land and sea…

Looks-wise, some bemoan the loss of the R8 Coupe’s iconic “sideblades” that make the car so distinctive from many of its supercar nemeses. But the air scoops which take their place add to the prototypical “roadster” look of the car. Sure it may not look as futuristic, but in a convertible the added traditional language lends the Spyder a more classic roadster appeal. And I personally love it.

Another aesthetic touch that separates the Spyder from the Coupe are its louvered fairings that cover the engine bay, giving the profile a little haunch behind the cabin that gently slopes down to the rear wheels. And in a typically Audi tech flourish, the Spyder features a set of 3 microphones in the shoulder seatbelt. When using the hands-free Bluetooth connection, the system recognizes which speaker is closer to the user and activates it. Considering the symphony of B&O soundsystem, V10 howling and wind circling around at 80+ mph, that added technology should soon be making its way across envious competitors very soon. But for now, only Audi has it.

All in all, there are very few convertibles that would make a shortlist of modern dreamcars to purchase, and the 2011 R8 Spyder is among them. With a pricetag of about $158K for the manual (and more for automated manual), the R8 just keeps getting increasingly more expensive from its initial $118K V8 model. But if Audi keeps improving on its halo performance vehicle in this way while jimmying up the MSRP, the price will be worth paying.

One more gallery of the Audi R8 Spyder by Robert Kerian, note the optional carbon fiber trim and Spyder-specific engine bay fairings…

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