Not long ago we’d have this innate reflex to sneer at the sight or even mention of topless versions of high-performance automobiles. The argument being that hacking off the roof causes all sorts of havoc with vehicle dynamics through a structurally compromised chassis.
With its R8 Spyder 5.2, Audi offers a different point of view. You have to drive the car, says Audi product specialist Chaz Murphy, pausing for effect. It can’t be put into words. You have. To drive. The car.
A dramatic delivery, sure, but it turns out he’s right. Because the R8 Spyder isn’t solely about performance, although it’ll perform at probably 95 percent of its coupe counterpart’s capacity. The point here is more sensory immersion.
We might have laughed at something like that long ago, but we’ve already driven other convertibles that have challenged the traditional perception in similar waysGallardo Spyder, Boxster Spyder, Maserati GranCabrio. Convertibles ain’t what they used to be, and that’s a good thing.
Maybe no other geographical location offers a better convertible experience than a sunny Southern California day on the coast. That’s where we climb into the 525-horse, V10-driven Spyder 5.2, drop the top, and hit the pavement.
The engine note was a talking point at the launch event, and in Audi’s view, it’s the main reason you want the top down. The point was well takenat full throttle this thing sings like a Germanic thunder god belting out war hymns as he casts flaming hammers from the sky. Normally a V10 would produce a tighter, much more mechanical sound, but this one has been tuned to have pipes. It growls at low revs, roars as revs climb. And with peak power occurring at 8000 rpm, you’re well encouraged to plumb the accelerator pedal to its depths and explore the upper ranges of the engine’s voice.
The Spyder weighs about 200 pounds more than the coupe. You might have expected it to be a lot more, but advanced use of the aluminum Audi Space Frame has honed the topless chassis while keeping the necessary rigidity to put the convertible R8 on a close level with the fixed-roof version. Even with its extra weight, the Spyder 5.2 will still run to 60 mph in about four seconds flat, and all the way up to a 194-mph top speed whether the top’s up or down.
You can opt for a six-speed manual or a six-speed R tronic automated manual. We’ll invariably choose the stick because it always ups the entertainment factor as you clang the shift lever around the naked shifter gate and attempt to match revs on downshifts. Rowing through your own gears has hardly ever been more entertaining.
Audi’s signature Quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard, driving power through all four wheels. The R8’s system is much more biased to the rear than the system in a typical front-biased Quattro Audi would be, with 80 percent of torque output going to the rear axle, although up to 30 percent can be directed to the front if the electronics deem it necessary. Therefore, the R8’s drive system allows a greater degree of lateral slip during spirited driving, which can be further exaggerated by pressing the Sport button.
Even so, unless you’re being a total meathead, the slip in most cases feels a lot more dramatic than it would look to an outside observer. Break the rears loose and it’s easy to catch and put back in line. But that’s the inherent beauty of Quattroincredible mechanical grip in nearly every situation. Break the R8 loose in a four-wheel drift and you’re a better man than me. Crazier, anyway.
If engine noise isn’t your thing, a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system also comes standard. We bet it sounds fantastic. But like the top, we never really used it during the drive, so it’s kind of hard to say.