2012 Audi R8 Spyder Road Test Review

Tony Whitney - CAP staff
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The Audi R8 must be regarded as one of the most successful automotive designs of the last few decades. Not only is this a stunning-looking car, but it drives like a dream, handles like a track-prepared racer and has one of the best laid-out cockpits in the business. As far as upscale sports cars go, this one is right up there with the very best, although it's far from being outrageously expensive.

Perhaps more than most automakers, Audi has the history and know-how to bring us a sports car like this. Going way back to the 1920s and 1930s, Audi has dominated every branch of motorsport it's chosen to compete in. While many decades have passed since the mighty Auto Unions burned up the tracks of Europe in Grand Prix racing, the constructor has been winning championships all over the sport in more recent times from Le Mans to World Rally Championships to touring car races like Germany's famed DTM.

When Audi announced that it was working on a convertible "Spyder" version of its R8, I was more than a little skeptical. After all, the R8 is so low-slung and sleek, it was difficult to see where the folding top and its hardware could be stowed when the owner fancied a little "bugs in the teeth" motoring. But with true Audi engineering panache, they pulled it off and if anything, a top-down R8 Spyder looks even better than the "tin top" version. And of course, it's much more fun to drive around with the sky overhead.

There are two basic R8 Spyder models and it's all about engine size and horsepower. The Spyder uses a 4.2-litre V8 developing 430-horsepower and the Spyder GT boasts a 5.2-litre V10 with 525-horsepower. The V10 - an unusual configuration once beloved by F1 constructors - is related to the ten-banger that you'll find under the access hatch of a Lamborghini Gallardo. Lamborghini, of course, is owned by VW/Audi and there's more than a touch of commonality between the R8 and its Italian cousin. I once had a close look at the underside of an Audi R8 and it's surprising where some of the suspension and other parts originate from around the VW/Audi Group - and the same can be said of Lamborghini.

Both R8 variants feature Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive, a feature I believe should be "standard equipment" on any high-performance car. Four or five hundred horsepower has a nasty way of biting back if you accelerate too hard out of a rainy corner with just the rear wheels driven. Manual and Audi R-Tronic sequential gearboxes are available (both 6-speed) and though I usually find myself quite happy with automatics (or sequentials) when there's this much power on tap, I prefer the manual for the R8. On several sequential-equipped cars I drove, transmission shifts with the steering wheel paddles seemed sluggish, and it was hard to drive the Audi with complete smoothness. The manual box is a fine piece of work with slick, knife-through-butter changes and it matches the R8 perfectly - V8 or V10.

The R8 is largely hand-built and certainly when I last visited Audi Neckarsulm - the factory where it's constructed, along the river from Heidelberg - I saw an awful lot of hand filing and fettling of the aluminum bodywork to make everything fit precisely. The car uses Audi's ASF (Audi Space Frame) technology, which is a very efficient way to build lightweight car bodies. It's not built like steel car, but uses a combination of aluminum panels, die-castings and extrusions to create the bodyshell. When it's all welded together, it's very rigid as well as extremely light. This stiffness contributes towards the R8's remarkable handling prowess.

The R8 Spyder is great to drive and for just about everybody, it's very easy to find the perfect driving position. Once set up behind the chunky leather-clad steering wheel, which is flattened at the bottom to create more thigh clearance, you feel very much part of the car. It's easy to reach everything and nothing has been skimped as far as electronics and convenience features go. It's one of those cars that make any driver feel like an F1 star, though the car has far better manners. In fact, it's a very pleasant machine to dawdle around the city in - which is more than can be said for some temperamental premium sports cars.

The leather seats are specially pigmented, according to Audi, to reduce heating resulting from bright sunshine. Behind the seats is a luggage area that Audi assures me will take a couple of golf bags (I haven't tried). The sound system for the V10 variant is supplied by legendary manufacturer of upscale audio Band & Olufsen.

The top is made of fabric (a folding aluminum roof would have been too much of a challenge as well as adding a weight penalty) and deploys electrically. It doesn't mar the car's appearance when it's folded back. It's also very well finished inside and out and there isn't much wind noise when it's raised (in less than 20-secs) for bad weather. A heated glass rear window is separately integrated and can be raised or lowered separately to the roof. It's worth mentioning that several supercars claiming convertible status only have a removable roof panel, so their configuration is more "sunroof" than "Spyder." One interesting point of detail is that buyers can opt for three tiny microphones fitted to the seat belts plus another in the windscreen pillar so that the driver can talk on the phone - even at highway speeds. Other options include carbon fibre composite brakes.

I firmly believe that the R8 belongs in the supercar class, despite its very reasonable "non-supercar" starting price of $134,000 – the Spyder starts at $148,000. I could argue that there isn't a better-looking sports car at any price and that no rival is more delightful to drive. There are sports cars that cost $100,000 more than the Audi and don't deliver any more performance in practical terms, nor attract as many admiring glances. The coupe is fun for sure, but the Spyder is just that much more enjoyable.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Roadster, Audi, 2012, R8 5.2 FSI quattro Spyder, R8 4.2 FSI quattro Spyder, $99,999+, Supercar,

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