Is the Audi R8 Spyder as capable with a V10 as it is with a V8?

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There’s no sign yet of Audi R8 development slowing down. What started only as a V8 coupé became a V8 or V10 coupé, and then came the soft-topped variant, initially available only with the same V10 engine as you’ll find in the coupé (and, with slight differences, the Lamborghini Gallardo).

Predictably, a V8-powered Spyder came along later, to complete the set.

Audi has opted for a cloth hood rather than the metal option

Cutting the roof clean off a coupé, however, is a process fraught with potential drama. Inevitably, a car’s weight will increase in an effort to retain some of the torsional rigidity that the metal roof would give it.

And there is no replacement metal here; Audi has opted for a cloth hood rather than the folding metal option preferred by Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari.

Our test R8 arrives in what is effectively ‘base’ Spyder spec – with a stick-shift manual gearbox and shorn of options.



Audi R8 Spyder with roof down

Audi designed the R8 from the outset in the full knowledge that there would be a convertible version, so it should come as no surprise that the styling looks rather pleasingly resolved.

From an engineering standpoint, however, removing the roof from a coupé is not usually something that can be done without compromise, and the same is true enough in this case. The R8 is heavier and less rigid than the coupé that spawned it.

The R8 Spyder is very much the mid-engined, four-wheel-drive R8 we know

The R8’s aluminium spaceframe has been strengthened to cope with the absence of its conventional roof, but once you factor in the removal of plenty of aluminium from above your head, the frame itself has been subject to a mere 6kg weight gain. 

To minimise further weight gain, the door skins are now carbonfibre rather than aluminium, as is the engine cover – which is a stressed element to improve rigidity.

Then come the other add-ons. The hood itself weighs 42kg, while there are plates beneath the R8’s front and rear subframes. On the coupé these plates are plastic and serve only to aid aerodynamics, but here they are made from aluminium and provide extra rigidity. The overall weight gain is precisely 100kg. Body rigidity has dropped by 20 percent.

That aside, the R8 Spyder is very much the mid-engined, four-wheel-drive R8 we know and, for the most part, love. At launch, only the V10 engine variant was offered (the V8 followed once the queue for V10s shortened), available, as in the coupé, with either a six-speed manual or the R-tronic robotised manual gearbox – the latter in effect the same as Lamborghini’s e-gear


Audi R8 V10 Spyder's interior

With the obvious exception of things going on above your head, the cabin of the Audi R8 Spyder is generally as-you-were from the coupé.

The interior architecture is the same save for two buttons on the transmission tunnel; one operates the well insulated fabric hood at speeds of up to 30mph, the other a glass rear window that slides vertically from and into the rear bulkhead independently of the roof.

The R8’s is a clearly and logically laid-out cabin

As you’d expect from an Audi, the R8’s is a clearly and logically laid-out cabin, with a standard extended leather package. But even with more cow than usual, as in the coupé you’re under the impression that you’re entering an Audi first and a supercar second.

We didn’t mind that so much on the V8 R8 coupé, but given that our eyebrows were already starting to rise at the V10’s £100,000 price tag, you can imagine how high they are now that the R8 Spyder has sunk ever deeper into six-figure territory.

We’ve no qualms about the R8’s driving position, although its seats could use more lateral support during hard driving — and although this is a convertible, it’s worth remembering that it’s one capable of pulling more than 1.0g in corners.

A few additional compromises come with the removal of the R8’s fixed roof, one being that the useful storage shelf behind the seats has been lost, replaced by a closer bulkhead with just two small storage cubbies in it.


5.2-litre V10 Audi R8 engine

It’s only to be expected that the R8 Spyder is a tad slower than its coupé sibling, but don’t think that with 518bhp it is in any way what you’d call deficient in performance. And despite weighing 1785kg full of fuel, the Audi isn't the heaviest mid-engined exotic.

The 0-60mph acceleration time of 4.1sec we recorded is in line with Audi’s claims. Were the R8 Spyder a slightly different beast — with either launch control, the inclination to spin its wheels from rest in the dry, or a first gear that reached 60mph — we’ve no doubt its power and the delivery of it would allow it to reach the benchmark comfortably in the threes, as a Porsche 911 Turbo does.

The V10’s ample delivery is wonderfully flat and linear

The V10’s ample delivery is wonderfully flat and linear. Slot fifth gear below 20mph, floor the throttle and no more than 30 seconds later you’ll be a mile up the track, having just passed 150mph.

Each 20mph increment will have passed in around four seconds. Shift to fourth gear and 20mph increments take three seconds, in third gear they take two and a bit, and in second gear less than two.

At speed the hood proves well insulated, to the extent that it’s good for a claimed 195mph and, barring some turbulence from towards the rear of the roof, the R8 Spyder is rarely louder than the coupé.

The benefit, of course, is that with the hood down there is all the more opportunity to hear the V10’s vocal range. It’s not an engine whose complex character changes significantly with revs or throttle, but when all is said and done it does have 10 cylinders, very large exhausts and the capacity to rev to the other side of 8000rpm.

That, aurally, is never going to be a bad thing, and the ability to listen to it in the open air marks the R8 Spyder out as something special.

In our experience, when the V10 engine is new it has a whip-crack response that is excellent when accelerating, but it can make it hard to match engine revs to downshifts. We’ve found it becomes slightly more predictable over time as the engine loosens, developing into what is one of the most pleasingly responsive powerplants currently in production.

Less convincing are the R8’s brakes. They will stop the car quickly from high speed a number of times and are very unlikely to cause consternation on the road, but they run out of answers after relatively few laps of a track, even in sub-10deg C temperatures.

Those intending to take their R8 Spyder on a track day would be wise to invest in the optional ceramic brakes.


Audi R8 V10 Spyder cornering

In the hard-top Audi R8, this is where the downside of installing the 5.2-litre V10 in place of the V8 makes itself felt. There is a further compromise here, of course, because in addition to the weight of the motor there is the additional weight of the body and a 20 percent decrease in torsional rigidity.

Do you feel the loss of stiffness? Of course. But to Audi’s credit, only subtly. The R8 coupé is a car that rides well by supercar standards and the springs and dampers have been softened slightly on the Spyder, so that remains the case. 

The R8 Spyder is a car that rides well by supercar standards

Certainly, those stepping out of a Mercedes-AMG SL63 won’t be disappointed with the Audi’s high-class ability to deal with bumps and road scars.

Only over a series of bumps does the R8 Spyder’s lack of a metal roof generally make its presence felt. The rear-view mirror barely wobbles, however, as it can in some roadsters.

As standard, the R8 Spyder has magnetic dampers. For the road their soft setting is very well judged. You’d need to be on a dead flat Continental road or an extremely well surfaced race track to want to swap to the firmer of the two settings.

But for all the extra weight and loss of stiffness, remember that the R8 coupé is a car that has agility and poise to spare, so the resulting Spyder, even though it is inevitably less sharp than its sister model, is still an incisive car to drive — more so than an SL63 or, for that matter, a Ferrari California.

There is more roll than in the R8 coupé, sure, but its rate is contained and it isn’t excessive. The Spyder will punish its front tyres more quickly than its sister model, too, in steady-state cornering.

And when it does fall into oversteer, that transition is now even quicker than in the V10 coupé, which in turn is faster than the V8. 

Which leaves the V8 coupé as still the most exquisite-handling R8, but it was inevitable that this would be the case.


Audi R8 V10 Spyder

The further you push into six figures, the harder the case looks for a car with an Audi badge wearing a relatively conventional Audi interior.  To be blunt, the R8 Spyder is unfortunately too clearly derived from lesser Audi models.

However, equipment levels are high and residual values — which we’d expect to stay very firm indeed in the short term, because the Spyder sells in smaller numbers than the coupé — are predicted to be as good as those of most rivals.

One presumably does not spend the thick end of £120,000 on a two-seat roadster with very little luggage room while worrying too much about economy.

A touring figure of 24.9mpg is reasonable and the overall average of 16.6mpg is what you could reasonably expect in general use.


4 star Audi R8 V10 Plus

There’s no denying that a degree of agility and poise has been taken away from this car, so Audi has had to add something else to maintain its appeal.

No, the R8 Spyder is not the driver’s tool it is with a fixed roof, but that’s no more surprising than finding that it gets dark at night.

The R8 Spyder is a success

The hood and its mechanism are exceptional and allow greater interaction with an engine that’s borderline sensational.

What’s impressive is that the torsional rigidity has fallen as little as it has and that the revamped suspension settings have left most of the coupé’s driving characteristics intact.

The R8 Spyder is not just a car for comparison with the coupé, though. That, dynamically, it has little to fear from a Mercedes-AMG SL63 or a Ferrari California tells you much of what you need to know.

The R8 Spyder is a success.