Published on Friday, March 19, 2010
Audi opens the R8 to the sky and sacrifices little in doing so.
It’s well documented that chopping the roof off a car usually includes a list of sacrifices made in exchange for open-sky motoring. This is not the case with the 2011 Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 V-10 FSI Quattro. The biggest compromise is doing without the kidney you’ll have to sell to afford the estimated $165,000 base price when the car arrives here in late fall. (Or you can wait an as-yet-unspecified period for a more affordable version with the standard R8’s 4.2-liter V-8.) But specifically compared with the R8 coupe, all the usual convertible penalties—excessive weight, reduced performance, a floppier chassis, cramped luggage space—are minor or nonexistent in the R8 spyder. As to rigidity, thicker A- and B-pillars together with added braces and panels in the floor make up for some of the stiffness that is lost when the roof is cut. The body-in-white is only 13 pounds heavier in droptop form, and factor in the 93-pound softtop and the electrohydraulic hardware that powers its operation plus pop-up rollover protection, and the total weight gain is kept to 220 or so pounds. Mitigating the weight gain, however, is new bodywork in the rear. Instead of aluminum panels, the rear quarter-panels and the section that covers the stowed top are made of carbon fiber. Still Looks LusciousThankfully, the R8’s styling has been preserved in the convertible conversion. The distinctive “sideblade” air intakes from the coupe have been subbed out for more conventional scoops in front of the rear wheels, and the upshot is that the V-10 convertible is an inch narrower than the coupe, equal to the V-8 coupe’s 75.0-inch width. The windshield is lowered slightly, and height drops 0.3 inch. When tucked away, the top sits above a large portion of the V-10, making an engine-viewing window impossible, but two slotted silver vents running along the rear deck add some visual pop. Like the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 that the R8 has much in common with, the rear window operates independently of the top. Raised to a maximum of six inches with the top down, the window acts as a wind blocker and helps reduce turbulence; lower it with the top up, and the opening allows engine noise to flow into the cabin for increased aural pleasure. Luggage space, a four-cubic-foot trunk in the nose, is unchanged, although some might say such modest volume is already a compromise. The interior is almost identical to that of the coupe with enough head- and legroom to comfortably fit six-foot-plus types, at least as far as your five-foot-nine test driver can guess. Audi added a three-bin storage compartment in the back of the cabin between the seats. This is where the CD changer and the iPod-friendly Audi music interface are located in the spyder, which frees up space in the glove box. One innovation that comes with the spyder is a set of microphones in the seatbelts for the hands-free Bluetooth phone connection. There are three discs along the length of each shoulder belt, and the system automatically recognizes which is closest to the speaker. We tried it with the top and windows down at about 45 mph, and it works amazingly well. It’s an option on European models, but we’re hoping it will be standard for our market. So, Yeah, Not Much DifferentThat’s about it for changes and compromises in going from coupe to convertible. The R8 has always been the most user-friendly supercar of the current era, and the spyder variant is no different. Take the fully automated top, for instance. It goes up or down in 19 seconds and at speeds of up to 31 mph, and it works at temperatures down to five degrees. With the roof sealed, the cabin is quiet. Audi claims it’s barely louder inside at highway speeds than the coupe’s. Top-down wind buffeting is minimal, even with all the windows lowered. The 5.2-liter V-10 is unchanged, with 525 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. Audi estimates that the added weight adds about 0.2 second to the 0-to-60 acceleration performance. Based on our R8 5.2 coupe test results, we expect a 0-to-60-mph time of about 3.7 seconds for the convertible. Top speed drops a mere 1 mph to 195. The high amount of carry-over also means the R8’s faults remain, although those primarily center on the balky six-speed R tronic automated manual transmission. Shifts at less than full throttle are about as subtle as Glenn Beck, pulling away from a stop is rarely smooth, and the steering-wheel-mounted paddles are too small to find during aggressive steering maneuvers. The six-speed manual with a beautiful gated shifter is much more rewarding and avoids the multi-thousand-dollar stupidity tax ($9100 on the coupe) for choosing the two-pedal transmission option. Driving the R8 spyder feels remarkably similar to the coupe, and we didn’t find a rough enough road on our test drive to reveal any real-world loss of rigidity. The steering is light but direct, and the standard Quattro all-wheel drive helps keep the handling predictable and increase driver confidence. Push the R8 spyder too hard, and it will reassuringly understeer. It might not be as primeval an experience as driving a mid-engine Ferrari or an early 911, but the R8 is easy to drive incredibly fast without worrying about a perilous fall from a roadside cliff if speed should surpass talent. R8 production for our market is currently limited to 1000 cars annually, split about 50/50 between the V-8 and V-10. Volume won’t increase to make room for the spyder, which will take out about 200 units of the V-10 production.
Like the R8 5.2 coupe, the spyder comes loaded with features, including magnetorheological shocks (a.k.a. Audi magnetic ride), LED headlamps, navigation, and a crystal-clear Bang & Olufsen stereo. We’re expecting some news from Audi in the next few days about whether or not ceramic brakes will be available in the U.S. Customers can choose among three roof-fabric colors (red, black, and brown) and 11 standard exterior paints. Audi also is happy to paint the car hot pink, or any other hue, provided you have the cash. So there you have it: all the fun and prowess of the fixed-roof R8 5.2, while also able to enjoy the warm summer sun. That’s the sort of deal we can live with. (Hey, speaking of deals, anyone want to buy a kidney? There’s a red one of these that we have our eyes on.) Source: caranddriver.com