By Micah Muzio - Updated Date: 2/25/2011
By all accounts, the Audi R8 is a supercar, but that doesn't mean it's uncompromising and hard-edged. It's an incredibly capable performance machine, yet every bit as luxurious as it is sporting. The posh interior is loaded with electronics and bathed in leather and Alcantara. For 2011 the R8 is available with a new convertible body style, called the Spyder. Offered, at least for now, exclusively with a 5.2-liter Lamborghini-derived V10, the R8 Spyder 5.2 Quattro brings real exotic-car performance and style to the world of open-air motoring.
Audi's R8 is styled unlike anything else on the road, with sweeping arcs and muscular lines that are more suited to a concept car than one from a production line. More than that, the R8 delivers an intoxicating blend of performance and comfort that is perfectly complemented by the breezy pleasures of a convertible top.
If you opt for the R tronic transmission, know that this is not the same unit as Volkswagen/Audi's dual-clutch DSG gearbox. Shifts do take some time, and there is some computerized indecisiveness that can be annoying in traffic.
With the addition of a convertible to the lineup the Audi R8 is better able to compete head-to-head with its most direct rival, the Porsche 911.
On the road the chassis responds very quickly to steering inputs and the all-wheel drive-system is almost completely imperceptible, giving the R8 the feel of a rear-drive car. Although the fixed-roof R8 features a standard V8, the R8 Spyder is currently available only with the V10. That's fine by us because, despite the V8's charms, we are absolutely enamored with the prodigious power, brutal acceleration and inspired sound of the Spyder's V10 engine. In terms of transmission choices, anyone capable of actuating a clutch will find the manual transmission, with its stylish metal gate, a far more satisfying drive than the surprisingly unrefined optional R tronic sequential transmission. With either transmission the Spyder sprints from zero to 60 mph in around four seconds and has a top speed of 195 mph. As expected, the brakes are up to the task, with 14.4-inch discs with eight-piston calipers in the front and 14-inch discs with four-piston calipers in the rear.
Retractable Rear Window
Naturally, the Spyder's rear window retracts when the top is dropped but it can also be lowered with the top raised, a feature we don't recall seeing since the long-departed Honda del Sol. It's great for when you want a little fresh air along with perfect hair.
Metal-gated Six-speed Manual Transmission
The transmission itself has well-chosen ratios, but it's the metal gate surrounding the shifter that makes shifting so much fun, providing a satisfying "clink" as each shift is completed.
Despite the R8's clear performance intentions, not a stitch was spared in making its interior every bit as luxurious and accommodating as those of Audi's high-dollar sedans. Material quality is excellent, interior space is generous – even with the top raised – and the controls are exceptionally easy to reach and operate. We especially like the seats, which are comfortable, supportive and feature thermal-resistant leather that greatly reduces their temperature on hot days. The convertible design results in reduced storage space behind the seats compared to the hardtop but, overall, the R8 Spyder remains an exceptionally user-friendly exotic.
Unquestionably sporting in intention, the Audi R8 Spyder sits wide and low, with its cabin far forward and its engine behind. From the front, LED daytime running lights add an especially sinister look and sit flush with giant air intakes below. However, viewed from the side, the R8 Spyder actually looks more subdued than the fixed-roof sibling, largely due to the omission of the hard top's iconic contrasting "sideblades." The Spyder 's light-weight soft top is triple insulated to reduce interior noise and can raise or lower in 19 seconds at speeds up to 31 miles per hour.
Like most Audi offerings, the R8 comes standard with quattro all-wheel drive (AWD) with a unique 10/90 front-to-rear torque distribution. Other standard features include heated 10-way power-adjustable seats, automatic climate control, navigation, parking sensors and a 12-speaker 465-watt Bang and Olufsen audio system. Among the standard safety features are stability and traction controls and six airbags, including driver and passenger knee airbags.
With a fairly long list of standard equipment, options for the R8 Spyder are limited mostly to aesthetic enhancements. Buyers can add carbon fiber exterior pieces, illuminated door-sill inserts, metallic and pearl paint and various wheel and tire packages to make the Spyder look even racier – not that it needs the help. Other options include a six-speed R tronic sequential transmission with Audi launch control and an enhanced leather package for the interior.
Sitting behind the driver and passenger is a 5.2-liter V10 good for 525 horsepower and mated to either a traditional manual transmission or Audi's R tronic sequential-shift gearbox, which adds about $9,000 to the bill. Either way, six ratios are available and the engine's redline is a lofty 8700 rpm. Audi's quattro all-wheel drive is standard on the R8, and offers a performance-oriented torque distribution of just 10 percent to the front wheels and 90 percent to the rears, as compared to the 40/60 torque bias in most new Audi models.
525 horsepower @ 8000 rpm
391 lb.-ft. of torque @ 6500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 12/19 (manual), 13/19 (automatic)
The 2011 Audi R8 Spyder starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of roughly $167,000 with the manual transmission or a little over $176,000 with the R tronic. Given the high entry price, supercar fans who also happen to be budget conscious might want to wait for the V8-powered version. Compared to the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, the R8 Spyder is around $17,000 more expensive and slightly slower in acceleration. Because the R8 is a limited-production vehicle, we recommend checking the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price for the most up-to-date pricing in your area. Over time, we expect the R8 to not retain resale value as well as the Porsche 911 Turbo.