Compelling rival for 911, with a surprising amount of everyday usability

What is it?

It’s the new, ‘entry-level’ version of Audi’s drop-top R8. First launched with only the top-whack V10, the Spyder is now available with the regular 424bhp V8 motor - and a useful price saving of more than £20k. A manual V8 Spyder will cost from £95,545 - or around £7k more than a Porsche 911 Carrera 4 S Cabrio.

The V8 puts out 424bhp at a heady 7900rpm, and although there’s a bit of a weight penalty because of the added stiffening required, the R8 V8 can still hit 62mph in 4.8sec and a top speed of 186mph.

What’s it like?

Fabulous. The arrival of the Lambo-derived V10 in the range has overshadowed the R8’s 4.2-litre powerplant a little - perhaps because the more modest motor was, in essence, available in ‘lesser’, non-supercar models.

But that’s dreadfully unfair. It’s got bags of charm, with decent low-down punch and a soundtrack that’s every bit as alluring as the 911’s six-pot. Beyond 4500rpm there’s some exhaust trickery that really cranks up the volume; it’s an utter hoot in tunnels, and the ability to lower the roof to hear it better is a real plus point.

The cabin is beautifully finished and nicely laid out, and the hood installation is first-rate. No, it’s not quite as civilised as a hard-roofed R8 at motorway speeds, but it’s far from uncomfortable. And in an open-air environment it does a decent job of protecting occupants from buffeting.

The particularly good news is that the excellent blend of body control and ride quality that makes the V10 Spyder such a star is still in evidence here. And if anything, the R8 feels a little more nimble, a little keener to dash toward apexes. The steering could use a teeny bit more feel around the straight ahead but it’s nicely weighted and very accurate.

And once again, the R8 amazes us by having one of the best ride set-ups of any Audi. The underlying feeling is one of stiffness, but it remains compliant and surprisingly forgiving over most poor surfaces. Only the worst potholes will intrude and even then, the body doesn’t seem to suffer from noticeable flex.

Downsides? There’s not much space inside for odds and sods. The seats could use a bit more lateral support to cope with the R8’s ability to cling on in corners. And Audi’s metallic gate gearbox cover seems like an aftermarket trinket. If anything, it only slows down shifts; the gearbox feels slicker than the cover allows.

Should I buy one?

Yes. Porsche purists will probably still disagree, but the R8 remains a compelling rival for the classic 911 - perhaps it falls slightly short of that car’s analogue brilliance, but it can match and beat it for charm in other areas. It retains a surprising amount of everyday usability, too. Even though it costs a few quid more, the R8 Spyder V8 should be firmly on your list for consideration before buying any drop-top supercar.

John McIlroy

Audi R8 Spyder V8

Price: £95,545; Top speed: 186mph; 0-62mph: 4.8sec; Economy: 19.6mpg (combined); CO2 emissions: 337g/km; Kerb weight: 1660kg; Engine V8, 4163cc, petrol; Installation: Mid, longitudinal, 4WD; Power: 424bhp at 7900rpm; Torque: 317lb ft at 4500-6000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual; Fuel tank: 80 litres; Boot size: 100 litres.

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chris 997 21 April 2011

Re: Audi R8 Spyder V8

I agree, it does look better, but then so do most ferraris and aston martins. The fact remains that when it comes to real life, I have to question the assertion that motoring correspondents keep on stating that the R8 is an "everyday" suopercar in the same way as a 911. Look back at my first post and you will see why i don't think it is!

simpleman 14 September 2012

Audi R8 Spyder R8

I own an R8 V10. Didn't give a damn about cars but have had a few  high powered german cars (no Italian or English makes).  Didn't even care about the R8s looks - thought it was an Audi wannabe.  By pure choice I got to drive one earlier this year and I was hooked.  

It seems to me 99% of the criticism of it are from armchair critics who have never driven it.  Btw, I had the 996 turbo as well - and it is so far below the R8 you cannot even begin to compare.  Most Porsche owners seem to buy the car because of its perceived image.  If it was powered by a donkey they would still sing its praises.  The fact is that Porsche has to work very hard to push a 40 year old technology, and try to address the huge weight behind the rear axle.  It is fun, it is idiosyncratic, can understand even its driving appeal but it is no R8.  That is just a fact from someone who has had both.

So it is not just motoring journalists who rave about the R8.  It is anyone who has driven it.  Those criticsing from a distance are usually fanboys of the Porsche.  You see all those criticisms on youtube.  You know they have never driven it.

Will86 16 April 2011

Re: Audi R8 Spyder V8

I might be in a minority but I'd take the V8 over the V10, I just prefer the noise. As for the 911, it may be a great car but the R8 looks so much better.

bomb 13 April 2011

Re: Audi R8 Spyder V8

Los Angeles wrote:
Pointless stating the obvious. Treating readers as intelligent gains respect.

Was that the written equivalent of a pat on the head? :-)

Not sure I'd take an R8 in brown. Despite these chastened times I can't see this V8 version taking more than about 15% of R8 Sypder sales.