Has chopping the roof off the latest V10-powered Audi R8 ruined what is one of the most versatile supercars ever made? We braved a week of December weather to find out in our full-fat R8 Spyder review.
With British winters becoming less wintery, a convertible is more easily justified and the R8 Spyder is one of the fastest options money can buy. The latest version is based on the new R8, which was initially offered in V10 and V10 Plus flavours.
The R8 Spyder loses the option of a 600bhp V10 Plus option, which is a shame, but it does get a folding fabric roof to let you embrace the elements and let onlookers get more acquainted with the sort of face that can spend house money on a car.
Not that having the same engine as a Lamborghini Huracan will ever be a hardship, plus the Audi’s all-wheel drive quattro system should ensure the 540bhp R8 Spyder can leave most of its supercar rivals for dust – no matter the weather.
What we want to know is whether it is worth spending £129,990 to own the R8 Spyder and how easy is it to live with? Does removing the roof remove some of the brilliance? One week of ‘ownership’ later and we had it sussed.
2017 Audi R8 Spyder review: What are the negatives?
Let’s be a Debbie Downer for a second. The new Audi R8 was already rather fat and the Spyder is even fatter. 125kg heavier, to be precise, taking the total to a somewhat porky kerb weight of 1,720kg and reducing the level of performance.
The R8 Spyder also loses the lovely bit of glass that lets you look longingly into the engine bay, while the interior has been shrunk a tad to help house the roof mechanism. It also loses three litres of fuel tank capacity so expect to fill it up more often.
Then there is the fact it is a third less rigid, though you would struggle to notice without driving the coupe and convertible back to back, and you can hear the odd squeak somewhere over your left soldier that spoils the illusion of Audi build quality somewhat.
2017 Audi R8 Spyder review: How fast is it?
The acceleration of the 2017 R8 Spyder is explosive, but naturally less savage than the 610bhp V10 Plus Coupe. 0-62mph comes and goes in 3.6 seconds – a tenth slower than the Coupe V10 and four-tenths slower than the V10 Plus – and 100mph arrives before you have had time to peel yourself off the seat.
The difference in pace is almost entirely made up for when the roof is down, mind you. Without any metal blocking the gap between you and that 5.2-litre V10, your ears bear the full brunt of a glorious, thunderous symphony that can be heard miles away.
The R8 Spyder’s slightly less bonkers performance is a blessing in some ways because you can at least enjoy full acceleration without quite so much risk of ending up dead or by the roadside having a chat with the boys in blue. Who heard you coming the moment you left your house.
It really will be a sad day when this engine goes because the naturally-aspirated lump gives the R8 such frenetic pace. Without any turbo lag to contend with, as seen on modern Ferraris and the like, the R8 Spyder can go from pootling along to holy-shit-now-breaking-the-limit-by-double in the time it takes to blink.
This is partly down to the gearbox, which can react to a heavy foot faster than you ever could with a manual gearbox. Factor in the very clever quattro all-wheel drive system, which practically bends physics, and it is no wonder this is a car best described as neck-snapping.
A benefit of the quattro system is that the R8 Spyder is ludicrously fast in the wet. You could even use it in snow and make it home in one piece, which is unusual for most cars, let alone a supercar.
2017 Audi R8 Spyder: Is it rubbish around town?
There are four driving modes you can switch between: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual. Comfort keeps the engine revs low, making it eerily quiet around town. Auto is similarly relaxed until you start getting a bit heavy-footed hence why we found ourselves using this mode the most.
Stick on Dynamic or a lairy custom setting of your choosing, hit the sport exhaust note button on the steering wheel and the R8 Spyder holds onto each gears for longer and indefinitely, ensuring it is ready to catapult you towards the horizon with maximum brutality.
Yet for all of its mind-blowing potency, the R8 Spyder can be all pipe and slippers when it needs to. It will cut the engine out in all but the sportiest driving modes to save fuel and reduce the CO2 emissions spewed out on a journey, which is good for nearby pedestrians.
The steering is light and direct, which adds to the ease it can handle a trip to the shops, while the standardisation of a rear-parking sensor helps you get it into a space. Even if it is rather wide. Gone are the days of a supercar being undrivable, although it does maintain the tradition of having almost zero storage space.
Even the ride is comfortable, thanks to the clever suspension system that works hard to mask British potholes. We drove the coupe for four hours and got out feeling fresh and the R8 Spyder is just as comfortable.
2017 Audi R8 Spyder review: How does it handle?
The coupe is more dynamic and agile, but the R8 Spyder can hide its extra weight better than we thought it would; the handling is sublime, the level of grip intimidating. Where most Audis are prone to understeer, the R8 holds on like it has carved out a concrete track for its sizable tyres to follow.
It feels weighty and has a sure-footed confidence that becomes even more fun at higher speeds, but you never feel like you are missing out if you take it steady. The liveliness of the chassis and engine note does more than enough to keep you interested at all times.
A touch more steering feel would be welcome, but then the sure-footed nature of the R8 Spyder does make this less of an issue. Most drivers would be in a hedge long before they started reaching the boundaries of what this car can do.
Though the V10 Plus was sharper and more purposeful, the R8 Spyder is still an absolute blast to drive. Even if the weather means keeping the roof up. And on that note…
2017 Audi R8 Spyder review: What about the convertible bit?
You can open and close the roof at up to 31mph so there is no need to stop completely. It takes around 20 seconds to do its thing and the mechanism, which finishes with a reassuring thud as it locks back into place, is mesmerising to watch.
The coupe is quieter on a motorway, but the level of sound-proofing is sufficient enough for motorway cruising. It is actually remarkable how much engine and road noise is lost when you have the roof up and windows fully closed.
As for wintery days, the rear glass is easily de-iced and the heaters keep the R8 Spyder from ever steaming up for longer than a few seconds. You really could drive it to work in the winter, especially with the heated seats on full blast.
2017 Audi R8 Spyder review: Should I buy one?
There is a premium of £11,000 for losing the roof and then there are the many optional extras that will bump up the price. Our test car up to £160,000, highlighting the fact those Bang & Olufsen speakers and carbon fibre extras are anything but cheap.
But then the R8 Spyder is more capable than a lot of far costlier exotic machines. As for aesthetics, argue all you want about whether it looks better than the original – it turns heads and that is what matters. And if you never see it coming, you sure as hell will hear it.
The simple fact is the R8 Spyder is an absolute monster of a supercar yet you could use it every day. It is refined, forgiving on shoddy roads and can be relaxed when it needs to be. There is little it struggles with beyond a weekly shop. And taking the kids to Disney Land.
The R8 Coupe is the superior car, it must be said, but the R8 Spyder makes up for a slightly softer, less honed experience with the absolute best way to enjoy a truly astonishing engine that is undoubtedly destined for the scrapheap in the sky.