2017 Audi R8 Spyder Review

Here’s a fun fact: The 2017 Audi R8 Spyder will blast from rest to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds.

That’s twice as long as it takes to put an end to the techno music pulsing through the car’s 13 speakers — including two in each headrest — before departing Barcelona on the roundabout journey to Spain’s Costa Brava region. Optional Bang & Olufsen audio system be damned, if this is the beginning of the end of the V10 era, it needs to be heard.

Heading north of the city, it doesn’t take long before the first tunnel nears — and with it the first opportunity to sample the soundtrack that will be playing for the afternoon drive. A few quick flicks of the left paddle shifter see the gearbox slide into fourth and the engine wind up to 4,500 rpm before the hammer drops and the decibels rise, the rolling stereo filling the crisp, cool air with an ensemble of epic proportions.

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Sibling Rivalry

Of course, this new R8 Spyder is good at more than making noise. Like the coupe version, it’s a real-deal supercar that shares much of its genetics with the Lamborghini Huracán, including the engine and transmission, along with a platform made of aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced polymer. The Lambo is, by all accounts, wilder than the Audi, not to mention a bit faster. But if the Huracán is Animal from The Muppet Show, the R8 Spyder is Animal from The Muppet Show in a Tom Ford suit. Where the Lamborghini is brazen, the Audi carries at least some modesty, choosing to make its visual statement with a whisper rather than a howl. The brand played it safe with the second-gen R8’s looks, refining rather than redesigning the car with more chiseled lines and plenty of carbon fiber accents that improve both form and function.

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Blasting down the highway at speeds upwards of, well, fast, is an absolute joy, with power coming by the bucketload as the accelerator reaches toward the floor. With 540 horsepower to go along with 398 pound-feet of torque, the R8 Spyder’s output falls short of most of its competitors, but few feel faster.


The Strong, (Almost) Silent Type

Cognizant of the attention the R8 Spyder is attracting through both sight and sound, the decision is made to make the canary yellow super-convertible as incognito as possible. The steering wheel-mounted drive mode selector is set to Comfort, the exhaust baffles are closed and the dual-clutch transmission finds seventh gear. Suddenly, the roar of the V10 engine quiets to a dull rumble followed by near silence. Because on top of the cylinder deactivation and idle-stop functions that have been added to the 5.2-liter V10 in the name of efficiency, it also gets a new freewheeling mode that allows the car to coast with the engine decoupled for a fuel-sipping serenity that rivals the Audi A4.

Coasting off the highway at the next exit, the coolness of the mountain air is quick to cut through clothing. Temperatures hover around 60°F, low enough for the novelty of topless driving to wear off rather quickly. The R8’s speed briefly dips below 30 mph, within the safe zone required to put the top up, and so the magic begins at the press of a button, the engine cover raising and canvas top unfolding in 20 seconds of choreographed dance that gives the Porsche 911 Targa’s transformation a run for its money while giving the R8 Spyder a coupe-like quietness.

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Without the illusion of space provided by the view of the sky, the confines of the convertible’s cabin are noticeably cozier than its coupe counterpart. The R8 Spyder’s seats have been shifted forward to accommodate the reinforced ragtop, shrinking legroom for both driver and passenger in the process while offering little room to recline.

Despite the surrendered space, the R8 Spyder benefits from the same interior arrangement as the coupe version. There’s no infotainment screen to be found on the center stack, the car featuring a 12.3-inch digital display that replaces the gauge cluster to put all relevant infotainment information directly in front of the driver. Fully configurable, the screen can be jostled to prioritize a view of the map or gauges — both of which come in handy as the labyrinth of Spanish roads tightens and traffic thins.


Waking the Giant

With the effects of a sleepless transatlantic flight catching up quickly and no caffeine at hand, the jolt needed to complete the journey is delivered through the drive mode selector. Back in Dynamic, the hefty 5.2-liter engine churns madly behind the seats. The rear window is lowered to fill the cabin with the joyous sound of 10 cylinders working in unison with the active exhaust that burbles and spits for an authoritative wakeup call.

Sliding the shifter into manual mode, the steering wheel-mounted paddles become a game of Whac-A-Mole, with quick hits leading to even quicker gear changes, bouncing across second, third and fourth — and back again — with precision and polish. Hustling around the twisting roads of the Spanish countryside, the R8 Spyder grows predictable but never boring. It’s about as dramatic as a chess match, but that’s not to say it’s unexciting, the all-wheel drive system sending as much as 100 percent of available torque to the front or rear axle when needed, while the software-based brake vectoring system applies the inside brakes during high-speed cornering to provide the bite necessary to pull the wide-bodied convertible through corners.

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The standard electromechanical steering is weighted well and provides plenty of feedback, while the optional dynamic steering improves response through variable ratios that are wider during low-speed driving, making the R8 Spyder feel lighter than its 3,792-lb (1,720 kg) curb weight would suggest, and narrow gradually as the needle climbs. Even without the optional magnetic ride control magnetorheological dampers, the four-corner double wishbone suspension is more than capable of corner-carving exactness, while the optional carbon ceramic brakes slow the R8 Spyder in a hurry.


The Verdict: 2017 Audi R8 Spyder Review

Rolling into the Mediterranean beach town of Lloret de Mar, all eyes — and ears — are fixed on the R8 Spyder. It’s greeted with pointing and picture-taking as the idling exhaust note resonates through the narrow streets.The rumor mill says a re-tuned version of the twin-turbocharged V6 found in the 2017 Porsche Panamera will make its way into the R8 sooner rather than later, a great engine but a damn shame when it comes to unadulterated power and sound.

In closing, I’d like to apologize to the people of Spain. I’m not sure what the customs are when it comes to acceptable levels of sound, but I’m pretty sure I broke them. OK, I shattered them. It’s not that I was trying to offend anyone, but there’s just something about the harmonics created by the burly 10-cylinder engine bolted to the back of the R8 Spyder that force you to do bad things in the face of so much goodness.

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