Five minutes with the Audi R8 Spyder

What is it?

The open-topped version of the scintillatingly sensational Audi R8 we drove last year.

In place of the aluminium roof of the Coupe, the Spyder – it’s a name derived from a spindly old lightweight carriage, which had two seats and a spindly, black, eight-legged roof mechanism – has a 44kg canvas folding affair that can be electrically lowered or raised on the move (at speeds of up to 31mph) in less than 20 seconds.

Further structural bracing increases the overall weight of the car by 125kg compared to its hard-topped brother and for the benefit of having that trick roof, Audi will charge you a premium of around £8,700 over and above its Coupe twin.

Not that any of that matters, of course. We mean, just look at it. What an absolutely stunning machine the R8 Spyder truly is to behold.

Why are you driving it?

The Spyder doesn’t come with the more powerful 610hp iteration of the 5.2-litre V10 that’s found in the R8 Coupe ‘plus’ model, instead using the R8’s ‘regular’ 540hp and 540Nm engine alone.

But it compensates for its lesser power output and increased kerb weight – resulting in slower, but still scorchingly quick performance stats of 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds and a 197mph top speed – by offering the added bonus of wind-in-your-hair motoring and a better chance, when the sun is out, to hear that soulful V10 screaming away behind you.

Nevertheless, despite Audi’s engineering brilliance, convertible cars are normally less capable machines to drive than the equivalent fixed-roof model, mainly because of reduced rigidity in their body structures. We wanted to know whether the Spyder could buck this trend and offer up all of the wonder of driving an R8 in open-top format.

What do you like about it?

Everything. Absolutely everything. Down on power it may be in this application, but the 5.2-litre V10 is still a glittering jewel of an engine.

It lacks for turbo – or superchargers, meaning it is relatively torque-light compared to some of its forced induction rivals, but the way it delivers its power so cleanly, in such a linear fashion, with everything backed up by one of the greatest soundtracks you’ll hear in the automotive game, means you soon forget about wanting that Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet any more.

All of the rest of the Audi’s brilliance – its super-sharp steering, its beautiful poise and balance, its astonishing ease-of-use and comfort levels – is preserved and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of body flex and scuttle shake introduced by the removal of the roof, either.

The result is that driving the R8 Spyder, hood down on a glorious warm day, is a driving experience that is practically unmatched by anything else on sale. Including the Coupe model of the same car. Wow.

Any issues?

Well, we still think the R8 has a rather-too-understated cabin for this exalted class.

It is exquisitely put together and incredibly intuitive to operate, no doubt, but it lacks for much in the way of visual flair – save for the magnificent 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster.

And while no genuine supercar is ever what you’d call practical, the R8 still doesn’t have a lot of storage space; there are no back seats at all, the cabin only has a few cubby holes and you’ll only get one smallish suitcase in the boot, which is mounted in the very nose of the car.

Despite being a physically smaller car, the Audi TT Coupe has more practicality than the R8.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

Erm, a business vehicle the R8 Spyder is not.

Sure, managing directors might be able to finance one and afford the colossal 37% Benefit-in-Kind tax (on a near-£167,000 vehicle, as tested, and its concomitantly exorbitant P11D value), but it wouldn’t look very good to clients or staff to be swanning around in a car as desirable as this.

It’s also in the most punitive road tax banding under the incomprehensible and ill-thought-out new VED legislation introduced on April 1 this year.

Where does it rank in class right now?

Brand loyalty counts for a lot in this rarefied marketplace, so if you want a Ferrari, you’ll have a Ferrari, no matter how good any of its rivals might be.

Some people, as a result, might be put off by the fact the Audi is related to vehicles as everyday as the A1, Q2 and A3.

Others will prefer the Lamborghini Huracan, with which the R8 shares practically everything, as the Italian car is ostensibly showier. And there will be some who can’t deal with the Spyder’s top-end power delivery, instead preferring the instant torque-shove of a turbocharged motor.

But, for us, this R8 Spyder is about as close to motoring perfection as you could possibly wish to find. Top down, that awesome V10 mid-mounted engine yowling away behind your head, the fantastic Bang & Olufsen sound system (with headrest-mounted speakers) playing your favourite tunes… it’s the very epitome of feelgood driving; and then, when the roads turn interesting, the Audi transforms into a snarling supercar with a thoroughly delightful chassis.

The R8 Spyder a mesmeric piece of engineering and possibly one of our favourite vehicles on sale today. Or, indeed, ever.

TECH SPEC

Model: Audi R8 Spyder
Price: R8 Spyder starts from £129,335; car as tested £166,580
Drivetrain: 5.2-litre V10 petrol, seven-speed S tronic automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
Economy: 24.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 277g/km – £2,000 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter; 37% benefit in kind
Top speed: 197mph
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Power: 540hp at 8,250rpm
Torque: 540Nm at 6,500rpm