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Packing a punch

The Audi R8 V10 has been well-regarded since its launch, but how will the convertible version fare?

The latest generation Audi R8 coupe has been on the market for a year now, so aside from the Spyder’s retractable roof there’s nothing particularly new to shout about.

That’s not a problem, though, because the roof’s opening and closing mechanism is certainly worth a mention. It takes 20 seconds to complete its movement, with the rear deck lifting up as arms twist and turn to accommodate the cloth canopy.

What’s new compared with the previous generation R8 Spyder? Well that’s where things start to get a bit more interesting. It’s 25kg lighter but 50 per cent more rigid thanks to the new aluminium-intensive chassis. Extra stiffness comes from reinforcements in the sills, A-pillar and windscreen frame so the car doesn’t tie itself in knots when the road gets fun.

Just one of the Audi R8 Spyder’s many key selling points is its gorgeous styling. It somehow manages to look understated, imposing and elegant in equal measure, especially in the Daytona grey pearl-effect paint our car was daubed in. Quality exudes from every inch of the car, from the perfect shut lines of the body to the minimalist interior.

Every R8 is handmade on its own plinth in a dedicated factory, and the attention to detail that affords is immediately evident. The only bugbear is the driving position, which is hindered by the roof mechanism’s packaging. The seat doesn’t slide as far back as it does in the coupe, meaning drivers more than six feet tall will struggle to fit.

That aside, there are few cars that pack quite such a performance punch into such an exquisite package, and coupled with the purity of the glorious naturally aspirated 5.2-litre engine, few keen drivers will be left anything other than overjoyed by the experience.

Steering is a little on the light side, which makes driving it near the limit a lesson in trust, but it doesn’t take long to gel with the car – you’ll never have to worry about finding the limit on the road, there’s that much grip.

Once you’re behind the wheel you start to forget about any impracticalities

Supercars aren’t known for being spacious and practical, and so the R8 Spyder struggles here. The driving position makes it less comfortable for tall folk, particularly on long-haul trips, and the low-slung seats require learning an undignified slide and drop on entry.

With the engine located in the middle of the chassis and behind the driver, the only place to put luggage is in the front trunk. It’ll easily hold a small weekend bag but you might struggle to squeeze a family’s weekly shop inside. As far as family appeal goes, the kids will love it for the occasional outing, but with only two seats and limited luggage space it won’t replace the family hatchback.

Once you’re behind the wheel you start to forget about any impracticalities. Thumb the big, red wheel-mounted starter button and the motor stutters for a moment before unleashing the sound of 10 glorious cylinders on your eardrums. It’ll stir something deep within even those who claim not to care about such things.

Out on the road, the R8 Spyder is something of a battering ram, offering searing performance whenever you stamp the throttle.

Even with the gearbox in full auto mode, there’s only a moment’s hesitation as the S tronic system dives down the cogs before dumping all 532bhp and 540Nm of torque through the all-wheel-drive system and pinning you to the seat.

That pinprick on the horizon will scream past the window alarmingly quickly. The light steering and wide stance make it a less-than-ideal companion for a back-road blast but, particularly with the optional sport exhaust, it can still be fun at sane speeds.

Its party piece is how docile and easy to drive it can be when you’re not stamping on the loud pedal at every opportunity. Use the drive select toggle to put the car in comfort mode and you’ll cruise about unassumingly. Parking can be tricky, again because of just how wide this thing is – it’ll barely fit in most bays width-wise – but thanks to a reversing camera and parking sensors the job is made a little less stressful.

Audi’s stunning virtual cockpit, which replaces the traditional dials with a configurable 12.3-inch screen, comes as standard. Also fitted at no extra cost are 19-inch alloy wheels, LED front and rear lights, Nappa leather interior upholstery and a complimentary Audi R8 driving experience.

This car is ideal for those with a lot of expendable income who want a weekend performance car that doesn’t scream ‘look at me’. Mind you, people will still look at you, but the R8’s relatively understated styling makes it a less shouty option than others.

While those who buy the coupe could just about use it every day with a little compromise, the R8 Spyder’s more cramped interior makes it more of a weekend special. For people who just want to enjoy the performance and aural pleasure of a V10 screaming towards the redline, the Spyder should win out over the coupe.

At a glance

Engine
5.2-litre FSI

Transmission
Seven-speed S tronic
dual-clutch automatic

Performance
0-62mph, 3.2 seconds

Top speed
197mph

Economy
24.1mpg

Emissions
277g/km

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