Review of: 2017 Audi R8 2dr Conv Spyder Auto V10
2017 Audi R8 Spyder V10: Marvellous performance
By Matt Bubbers
Nov. 6, 2017
Ever since Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man alter ego took to the road in Audi’s R8, streaking across the silver screen in more Marvel movies than anyone can count, Audi’s flagship supercar has become a dream machine for kids everywhere.
You notice this when you drive an R8. It’s mostly teenage boys who turn and gawk, pointing and smiling in approval. To be the one in the driver’s seat is a strange feeling, because despite the car, I am not Iron Man. The R8 can’t turn you into a superhero, but it can put a stupid big smile on your face and the faces of those around you, so in that way at least, it’s not too different from a Marvel movie.
Pros & Cons
- + Strong brakes, great handling
- + Great engine sound
- + Transmission
- - Price of options
- - Conservative interior design
- - Parking
The R8 Spyder is an object lesson in a new kind of minimalism perfected by Audi in recent years. There are so few lines used to create the shape. Each cut is crisp and precise. Audi’s newest sports cars don’t look styled so much as machined.
Depending on how you option an R8 it can look either very subtle or very vulgar, tasteful or tasteless. The Suzuka Grey metallic ($890) of our test car falls firmly into the former camp. It’s subtle, letting the shape of the car wow onlookers. It looks good, without being in-your-face. For a supercar, this is a rare trick.
The convertible soft-top of the Spyder does, however, ruin the lines of the coupe. With the top up it looks too cab-forward. Top down, the world is your oyster. Just be ready for lots of people staring at you.
The Lamborghini Huracan shares a basic chassis and engine with the R8, and yet you’d never know it from the driver’s seat. The R8 feels much more practical for daily use. The roofline makes it easier to get in and out of. A bigger view out the front window lets you see wayward pedestrians and cyclists. The seating position is low, so low that when you first drop in you feel like you’ve been punked, like someone pulled the car out from under you. But rest easy, it’s there.
Once inside, the R8 carries the minimalist theme through to the controls. There’s no centre screen, and for a moment you wonder where the navigation and Bluetooth controls are. You have to use the tiny steering wheel buttons to flick between sub-menus to find all these functions, which is confusing at first. But after a few days it became second nature. Eventually I found these controls less distracting than a touchscreen. With a car this fast, there’s no time for distraction.
Our test car was loaded, and better for it. You’re not going to spend $198,100 on a supercar and then cheap out on options. The Bang & Olufsen stereo costs $2,300, adding speakers built into the headrests. When you get sick of the extra-loud sport exhaust (part of the $7,000 Le Mans package), that stereo will keep you entertained. It’s probably the best stereo in any supercar right now. Extended leather ($3,400) is nice, but the Carbon Interior package ($3,800) is the one to have—if you can only pick one. It adds beautiful carbon-fibre surrounds to the instrument cluster and vents. If there’s any criticism of the R8’s interior, it’s that it’s too plain. These options fix that problem, but at a hefty price. In total, there was $35,540 worth of options on our test car.
Technology? Well, there’s Apple CarPlay. And the way the climate-control info is displayed on tiny screens inside the control dials is pretty nifty. But that’s about it. There’s no semi-autonomous driving stuff here: it’s a supercar. If you’re looking for the car to take over some of the driving, you’re doing it wrong.
The most impressive bit of technology is located over the driver’s right shoulder, behind a little piece of glass. There’ll you’ll find a masterpiece of modern engineering: a 5.2-litre V-10. There are no turbochargers, and in these days of increasingly strict fuel economy, a naturally aspirated sports car is a very rare thing indeed.
That engine—more so even than the Iron Man tie-in—is the R8’s greatest asset. Of all its rivals, the R8 is now the only one without turbos. Despite that, the motor makes 540 horsepower (at 7,800 rpm) and 398 lb-ft of torque (at 6,500 rpm). Those peak figures arrive very high in the rev range. It’s not like a turbo motor, which doesn’t much care what gear it’s in. You need to work the paddle shifters of the 7-speed automatic gearbox to keep this V-10 screamer in the sweet spot. I’d forgotten just how much fun that actually is: click-bang!, downshift, click-bang!, revs flare and rooooaaaaAAAARRRRRRR—the sound is glorious. The noise this thing makes is better than a Porsche 911 Turbo S, better than a McLaren 570S. It’s the stuff of gearhead legend. The optional sport exhaust is a must.
Performance is far beyond what you can legally use on the street. So let’s talk about what it’s actually like to drive on the road. Quarter throttle is all you need to take off ahead of all the other cars at a traffic light. Since 0–100 km/h takes just 3.6 seconds, on any road you can only keep your foot planted for a second or two before you’re into the danger zone. But even just taking off from stop signs and traffic lights at part throttle is a thrill because it feels like there’s an endless amount of power. You’re just scratching the surface and it’s already mind-blowing. The ride is stiff, which hurts a little over streetcar tracks, but the way the R8 corners is something to experience. The steering ratio is quick, so you don’t need to do much to the wheel to get the car to whip around a 90-degree bend. When it does, there’s no body roll. None. You find yourself taking all corners faster than you do in any normal car. There’s no lean and the deeply bolstered bucket seats hold you firmly in place.
Underground parking garages are an issue though. Any sharp ridge or ramp with an abrupt transition is a major hazard. You don’t want to scratch that carbon-fibre splitter. I hate to think what a new one costs.
But what if you want to go really fast? From past experience with the R8 on a track, I can tell you that this second-gen car is much more playful and adjustable than the original at the limit.
Where the Porsche 911 Turbo is a $200,000 version of a $100,000 car, the R8 feels unique, more special. It shares a platform with the Lamborghini, but that only makes it cooler. Aside from the 911, the R8’s only other real rival is McLaren’s 570S which starts at $219,750 and is rear-drive only. The McLaren has the advantage of a super-light carbon-fibre tub and better handling, but its engine is a less-special turbocharged V-8. If you’ll do any track days, go with the McLaren. For daily driving and ease of servicing, the Audi will probably be easier to own.
In Canada, the 2017 R8 V-10 Spyder starts at $198,100. Our tester with all its options was a hefty $236,635.
The R8 V-10 is a modern classic. Together with its corporate stablemates at Lamborghini, this is the last mid-engine supercar with a naturally aspirated motor. In terms of performance and handling, there’s no difference between the Spyder and the Coupe at road-legal speeds, so get whichever you like the look of.
I’ve given the keys to our R8 test car back now, but when I remember the experience, it still brings a stupid grin to my face. You know, the R8 is so much more fun than any Marvel movie. Sorry, Iron Man.