Audi R8 Spyder V8

The Audi R8 is the fantasy sports car for many. A car with stunning looks, handling that's universally lauded, and a badge that tells you that inside, things are going to be relatively practical.

The R8 Spyder takes that foundation, adds a clever folding soft-top, and gives you a car you can't help loving just a little bit too much. Even daubed in Samoa Orange, perhaps not the most obvious colour you'd choose for your sports car, the Audi R8 Spyder instantly speaks to you. 

But aside from hyperbole, superlatives and fleeting flights of fancy, what's it actually like to live with?

Design

Audi has, in our opinion, been riding the crest of a jaw-dropping design wave recently. From the new Audi A3, right up to the Audi R8 at the top of the scale, Audi currently have some of the best looking cars on the road. The Audi R8's design is now a few years old, but it's still rather iconic. 

It's not flamboyant, not in the same way that the Lamborghini Gallardo is, with which this car shares a platform. Undoubtedly the Audi R8 will be seen as the sensible cousin of the Italian monster, but where the Gallardo offers hard lines and drama, the R8 offers a subtle refinement, as well as a lower price tag.

The front end might not be as exciting, but from the sides and the rear, we'd say the Audi R8 Spyder is the better-looking car. The backend, with its slatted rear cooling vents and clever progressive indicators is the sort of thing that's a pleasure to follow in traffic. At least, that's the way it seems, looking at the gleeful expressions on the faces of drivers you'll spot in the rear view mirror.

There's a slight compromise to be made with chopping the top off. You lose that rear window, with that wonderful view into the engine bay at the back. But being able to power down the hood for some alfresco driving is worth it, even if you'll be paying nearly £10,000 extra for the luxury.

The Audi R8 has chosen a soft top rather than a hard folding design. The advantage that this brings is that it packs away more efficiently. There's a small rear glass window that drops down, with a wind deflector that plugs in to stop the buffeting when driving a little faster that's stored in the front when not in use. 

It's a very drivable car with the roof down too. Up to 70mph we found it wasn't too bad: you can still hear the radio and don't find yourself with watering eyes because you're well protected in the cockpit, so cruising at speed isn't a problem. Sure, we missed the Airscarf of the Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster, but you can' t have everything.

READ: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster pictures and hands-on

The rear window is actually large enough to give you surprisingly good rear vision, although you'll be dependent on the large wing mirrors to check the sides, as glancing over your shoulder to check your blind spot will only show you the dark interior of the roof when it's up.

There isn't a great deal of luggage space, of course, but we managed to pack enough into the front for a weekend, workbag, running kit, and all. We found ourselves repeatedly having to get out and slam the hood, it's light weight means it doesn't drop and lock like you might initially expect. 

In the driving seat

Slipping behind the wheel of the Audi R8 Spyder might not be exactly what you expect. Actually, scratch that, it is exactly what you expect, because this is an Audi. With that, there's the reassurance that you're getting a sensible interior, but perhaps it's not as ridiculous as you want.

That's a trait that cuts both ways. Whilst we like the practicality of the interior, as we like the sophistication of the exterior, some might be looking for something more extravagant, more of a showpiece. It's for this reason that the Audi R8 feels like the everyday sports car, something you can drive, without feeling that you've compromised on function for the sake of form. 

Our test model had a dab of carbonfibre on the door handles and dash (the "carbon sigma option, £2000), a lovely aluminium finish to the gear lever, but in many ways, the interior isn't too far removed from that of the Audi TT. But there are a lot of options to customise the interior, including body coloured inlays, body coloured seat backrests and a whole lot more, if you want to pay for it. 

Compared to the interior of the Audi TT, however, it's better laid out. We'd bet our cotton socks that the next generation of Audi TT takes some design tips from the R8 interior, but there's still some groping around to be done to reach the heating controls behind the gear lever. 

Finished in black nappa leather, the seats are firm but comfortable, supporting you in those fast corners, but with full powered adjustability (£850 option) to give you the best driving position. They're heated too, so if you're driving in spring with the roof down, you're not just blowing hot air, you can heat up your tushy nicely.

Visibility out the front is pretty good and although the Audi R8 Spyder comes with parking sensors, we felt that we could park and manoeuvre the car without too much of a problem. But this is a wide beast at 1904mm, it certainly fills its space on the road, as well as having long doors. Slipping out in a tight parking space isn't easy, so should you be thinking about running down to Waitrose to buy your groceries, at least try to park on the end. Where you can be seen, ahem.

Let's press the Sport button

But let's back up a little. It all sounds rather sensible so far: parking, Waitrose, visibility. Let's not forget that this is a thoroughbred sports car, the R on the back isn't for reasonable, it isn't for run-around. Ok, Audi don't say what the R actually stands for, but well take it to mean racing.

Sitting behind your head in this mid-engined sports car is a 4.2-litre V8 engine, paired with Audi's 7-speed S Tronic automatic gearbox, generating 430PS. That auto box gives you manual controls too, both with paddles on the steering wheel and via the gear lever. That gives you the opportunity to regain control of gear changes when you want, be that for overtaking, mountain corners, or just to give you the driving experience you want. 

The automatic box is smooth, although we did notice there was the occasional low-gear jolt when changing up, but in normal driving, it performs as many other Audi S Tronic auto boxes do.

The real difference, however, is the delivery of power. A gentle pressure on the accelerator will see you pulling away smoothly, and fairly quietly, but put the pedal to the floor and the R8 responds as its racing pedigree dictates, powering you away with inane-grin inducing acceleration.

That means you can slowly accelerate at speed without having the engine roar, ideal for that overtaking-on-the-motorway move. Or, you can see that the lane is ending soon, slam your foot down and whip past whatever's in the way. It's balanced and predictable, so you know what's going to happen.

Importantly, you feel in control of that power. The model we had on test will get you to 62mph in 4.5 seconds, with a top speed of 186mph and there's a larger 5.2-litre V10 525PS engine for those who want more power, but at an additional £20,000, although you get more upgrades within that cost.

Turn on Sport mode and the Audi R8 flings aside any pretence of restraint. Letting the engine run the rev range before switching up, it's a different monster. The engine roars as you dab the accelerator, giving you all the noise you expect from a car of this class, including those exciting pops as it changes down. If you want people to look at you, this is the button to press.

Sure, driving in Sport mode is exhilarating, but unlike less powerful cars, you don't need Sport mode to make the R8 an exciting drive. It's exciting all the time, or it can be with a slightly heavier right foot. But again, the Audi R8's handling means that if you do flick over to Sport on the open road, you're not dealing with a lively back end. It's more like a rocket on rails.

Some may say that's a little boring, that they want the wiggle of a rear-wheel drive car, but as we've seen, the Audi R8 is about precision, it’s about perfection, it's about control. The steering has a reassuring weight to it, so when you do speed up, you're not going to twitch off the road driving like BA Baracus. It never feels heavy though, just deliberate. The same applies to braking and no matter what we were doing, the R8 Spyder felt like a little marvel on the road.

There's a cost, of course, and that's in fuel. During our review period we managed to get an average of 22mpg out of the Audi R8 Spyder, which correlates with the combined figure that Audi states. It's a guzzler, for sure, but if you've got the sort of money to pay for this type of sports car, you can probably afford the fuel too. 

In-car technology

Of course there is a downside. For all the performance, the engineering, the excitement and the sophistication of the package, it's in the smallest places that you'll find a cause for complaint. Yes, there's no postcode navigation on the satnav system.

That's right, this car, with a six-figure price tag, lacks the navigation nouse of an entry-level TomTom Start. But if you're familiar with Audi, you sort of knew that would be the case, because it's the same system you'll find elsewhere, recently supplanted in Audi's latest models, but something to watch out for if you're looking at the second-hand models out there.

However, you get the connected experience that comes with it, so you can connect your phone via Bluetooth and the in-car calling experience is pretty good, with no reported problems from those we called whilst driving. Yes, they can hear it when you put your foot down, in case you're wondering. 

You can also hook-up your iPhone or iPod for music access through the MMI entertainment system, although this isn't a touchscreen model. The display's positioning in the centre is convenient for driver and passenger viewing and the location of the controls beneath make perfect sense. Information is reflected in the centre console for the driver, with some scrolling and volume controls on the steering wheel, so you can keep your eyes on the road.

Verdict

The Audi R8 Spyder is a stunning drop-top roadster, there's no doubt about that. It's a pricy beast, of course, and even through the Audi R8 has been in production for the number of years, it's still a relatively rare sight on the road, and it's still a car that makes you murmur "ooh" when it passes.

Although many might choose the Coupé over the Spyder, we think this is a great looking car with the top down, even if the typically miserable British weather doesn't give you much of a chance to do so.

There's little to dislike about the R8, there's power and precision, there's no lack of luxury or sophistication. Some might think it's too sensible to be a supercar; it might lack the extravagance of obvious Italian rivals, but the practical approach inside and the handling on the road means that there's plenty to love about the Audi R8 Spyder. Even in Samoa Orange.