Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Audi R8 Spyder

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Some cars are just works of art, and this 2017 Audi R8 Spyder is one of those. Performance art, courtesy Bavarian technology and not-so-distant Italian roots. It shares a platform, engine architecture and all-wheel drive system with its wilder Italian corporate cousin – the Lamborghini Huracán Spyder – yet tames its more raging tendencies.


In fact, having spent some time with a 2017 Lambo Huracán Spyder, it’s fascinating to see how the R8 Spyder offers a more mature overall personality on the style front, a more technologically advanced interior, and still manages to undercut the Lambo’s price by a significant margin. A $200k sports car bargain, if there is such a thing.


The R8 droptop’s Teutonic looks is confidently carved, in equal parts aggressive and artistic.


Okay, let’s not get quite ahead of ourselves here on the ‘bargain’ front. First off, $200k is just a starting point for the R8 Spyder. For this particular 540 hp German thrill machine, its official $198,100 starting base price ballooned to more than $230k after options and freight. And this unit didn’t have the fancy optional sport exhaust that adds an extra button on the steering wheel hub that lets loose the hounds at the rear baffles, nor the available performance mode symbolized by a checkered flag on another steering wheel-mounted button that loosens up the stability control system as well.


That Lambo Spyder started north of $289k, but also came with plenty of options, pushing its as tested price well up to over $344k. These two wouldn’t be the closest competitors, as that Huracán had a more powerful 602 hp engine V10 engine that’s largely the same unit as the R8 Plus Spyder’s 610 hp V10. That top R8 Plus Spyder starts at $229,500, so there’s still a $60k difference in base prices for vehicles there with essentially the same drivetrains and dimensions.


And thus the ‘bargain’ argument.



The view from the outside




This regular R8 Spyder may not have been quite as powerful as those pricier beasts, but it certainly is right up there with them in visual kick. Granted, this particular example was subtly coloured, officially called Daytona Grey, which seemed to pick up subtle hints of mocha chocolate in the shade, but still attracted tons of attention everywhere it roamed, especially with the top down and its bright red interior on display.


Not nearly as much as a brighter exterior shade would, perhaps, but the more subtle colour and familiar Audi shield grille seemed to speak to the more mature personality of this car. Whereas its Huracán Spyder cousin features angular creases throughout the body and a sharply angry snout, the R8 droptop’s Teutonic looks seem more confidently carved, but still equal parts aggressive (like the windswept lines that visually usher in wind to the large side airblade intakes) and artistic (such as the rear aluminum gas flap cover embossed with an R8).


One visual disappointment is that there is no way to see any that lovely V10 engine proudly on display, top up or down, a long time signature of the R8 coupe. Even with the top closed, if you pop the rear deck behind the folding soft top’s cover, all you see are a couple of fans and not much else.


On the plus side, you can open or close the roof while standing next to the R8 Spyder with the remote by just holding the unlock or lock button, respectively. And unlike when you close the top from the driver’s seat, all the windows and even the rear glass windscreen behind the driver are automatically closed.





Interior continues refined theme, with high-tech edge




Passengers unfamiliar with Audi’s latest generation virtual cockpit may step inside and wonder ‘where’s the centre console?’ With no screen in between occupants, and only a few climate control buttons hanging down under the centre vents above what is normally a dash wall, this is not the car for passengers who like to fiddle. Instead there’s an open cubby bin as well as a few buttons just ahead of the shifter.


But for the driver, the entire binnacle in front of them is now a modular digital dash, where the tach and speedo can be adjusted in size along with a multitude of display choices. The most stunning visual setting is when the navi map wraps around the gauges, as in the smaller and tamer Audi TT that debuted the new generation system (and Audi interior) in 2014. But the high-tech mapping plus airy centre console area seems right at home in the R8’s vein of modernistic minimalism. 


There’s a bit more comfort in the R8 than the Lambo, though that’s like saying Black Friday shopping is more relaxed than on Boxing Day. The seats are super low to the ground and snug, hugging driver and passenger alike. The R8 offers a steering wheel mounted button for its Drive Select system, which defaults to Comfort mode, providing the most relaxed suspension settings and the least engine noise in cruise mode, for those early morning tee times when you don’t want its sharper Dynamic mode that perks up engine, transmission and suspension response to wake up the neighbourhood.


Unfortunately, those clubs will have to go in the passenger seat, because the R8's tiny front trunk’s meagre 112 litres of space would have a tough time fitting in the tiniest of starter sets. 


The optional $2,300 Bang & Olufsen sound system adds extra speakers, including one integrated into each head restraint, providing amazingly vibrant and clear music even on the highway with the top down. Conversation at highway speeds is possible, if there aren’t any semi diesel trucks in the vicinity.


On really hot days, you may miss the ventilated seats available on some cushier rivals, though Audi says its leather is specially coated to reflect sunshine and therefore repel heat. In cooler weather, it’s the neck vents you'll wish were available, available on rivals like the Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster.





Multiple on-road personalities




Hit that Dynamic button while on the road, and the engine nestled inches behind your lower spine roars in response. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that’s so well behaved in traffic also notably sharpens up the shifts for maximum speed, seeming to shift faster the more revs you feed that glorious V10. No turbo or supercharging here, this is old-school brute force that’s throwing you back ferociously into those sport seats.


How ferociously? Audi says the 0-100 km/h sprint comes up in 3.6 seconds for the 540 hp Spyder like ours, or down to 3.3 seconds for the 610 hp R8 Plus Spyder. Top speed for our R8 Spyder is 328 km/h, though your local track steward may insist on a roll cage to let it run anywhere close to that speed.


Onramps in the R8 Spyder become rollercoaster rides, its all-wheel drive and total lack of body roll allowing ever-increasing speeds around even tight onramps, before snapping off another lightning quick downshift in anticipation of the apex, straightening the wheel and a full on launch into a cacophony of wind and engine revs. 


And yet back in Comfort mode, the R8 Spyder is ready to cruise in quiet, relative comfort too – for a mid-engine sports car. The top can open or close at up to 50 km/h, which is perfect to avoid folks honking behind you when the light goes green, though the chances of that are slim, as the roof does its mechanical dance up or down in a fleet 20 seconds.


As noted above, closing the roof from the driver’s seat doesn’t automatically close the windows or glass windscreen behind you, so until you become used to the routine, it’s easy to forget to put up the rear glass screen as well.




Impressive overall on throttle or off




It’s this overall dual personality that truly marks the Audi R8 Spyder: it’s aggressive, yet refined. Eye-catching, yet subtle. Performance-oriented, yet more than comfortable, with all-wheel drive and a sound system that’ll blow your mind, with a speaker as close to your brain as your back is as close to the engine. It might not qualify as a bargain, but it’s certainly impressive Italian-accented performance art.



Engine Displacement 5.2L
Engine Cylinders V10
Peak Horsepower 540 hp @ 7,800 rpm
Peak Torque 398 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
Fuel Economy 16.5/11.2/14.1 L/100km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 112 L
Model Tested 2017 Audi R8 Spyder
Base Price $198,100
A/C Tax 100
Destination Fee $2,895
Price as Tested $234,080
Optional Equipment
Total: $29,990 – Daytona Grey Paint $890; Ceramic Brakes $11,300; B&O Sound $2,300; 20" 10-Spoke Y Design Silver $1,500; Carbon Exterior Package $5,500; Carbon Interior Package $3,800; Diamond Quilted Leather $4,300; Contrast Stitching $400