Considering our infatuation with the fixed roof Audi R8, we had a good feeling heading into this appraisal of the topless version. Still, nothing can be taken for granted, so we (sacrificially) strapped into the mid-engine supercar for another round.
Coupe v. Spyder
Audi’s second generation R8 debuted in 2016 with evolutionary styling tweaks, more power, improved interior technology, and an all-new platform. The R8 Spyder V10 shares an engine, platform, and bodywork with the V10 Coupe, but modifies the supercar’s silhouette with a folding soft top. As of this writing, only a base V10 Spyder is available, though a 610-horsepower version (to match the V10 Plus Coupe) is due early next year.
As a general rule, convertibles forfeit some of the aesthetic grace of their coupe counterparts. Something about the panel gaps of a folding hardtop or the bunched fabric of a ragtop just looks…off. In clear violation of this trend, however, is the Audi R8 Spyder.
While drop-top versions of most sports cars seem like afterthoughts (“just lob the top off here, Bill”), the R8 Spyder feels like a ground-up redesign of an already handsome car. In particular — whether its fabric roof is raised or stowed — the R8 Spyder showcases its carbon fiber-trimmed louvers, low profile, and elongated rear end. Why hide stylized bodywork beneath a folding roof, only revealing the best angles post-conversion? The R8 Spyder is fetching 24/7.
As a design progression from first to second generation, we most appreciate the R8 Spyder’s profile and rear views. The jury is still out on the updated supercar’s ultra-sharp nose, but those striking LED headlights are universally bad-ass. Our Vegas Yellow tester (which fluctuates between a Pantone and Mustard tinge based on lighting) draws plenty of attention, yet is still more conservative than its Lamborghini Huracan Spyder cousin.
Supercars tend to be ‘super’ from the outside in, meaning their exterior design and vehicle mechanics steer the conversation. While the R8 Spyder has definitive road presence and scintillating performance, much of its wow-factor can only be experienced from within the cockpit.
Interior technology takes center stage from the moment you trigger the R8’s blood red ignition button. Instead of a poorly integrated center monitor, an undersized TFT monitor, and analog gauges, Audi consolidates all information within one 12.3-inch digital display – positioned directly in front of the driver. Audi’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’ is equal parts sophisticated and intuitive, with a reconfigurable interface to increase or decrease the prominence of Google Earth maps/navigation, performance data, media, music, and telemetry data. So impressive is the driver module that we don’t even miss Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality.
Complementing the R8 Spyder’s visual intrigue is a killer audio system. 13 speakers and 550 watts of Bang & Olufsen goodness transform the R8 Spyder into a concert venue — for you and surrounding traffic. A pair of USB ports, dual SD card slots, a single aux jack, Bluetooth audio, HD Radio, and Sirius XM provide ample charging and music playing options. Then again, with an on-demand V10 soundtrack, you may forget about alternative audio entirely.
Beyond its cutting-edge gadgetry, the R8 Spyder’s cabin is a visually stimulating, supremely comfortable room for two. Interior design flows from the driver’s compartment, following a downward sloping panel on the dashboard into a wraparound layout. Each detail is oriented towards the pilot, including the air vents, climate control nubs, and center stack. This affords the driver a sense of complete command, emphasized by his or her ability to control nearly every convenience and performance adjustment without lifting a hand from the flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Soft leather adorns the seats, steering wheel, door panels, gear selector, center tunnel, and (if so optioned) the dashboard to drive home the R8’s premium positioning. Anthracite or carbon fiber inlays, along with brushed metal accents look and feel spectacular. Standard heated, 18-way adjustable sport seats provide excellent lateral support while prioritizing comfort. Optional diamond-patterned stitching on the seats and accent stitching elsewhere brings the dark colored leather to life.
A supercar is, after all, a selfish indulgence; why not choose one with interior and exterior spoils?
The 2018 Audi R8 Spyder will not try to kill you. If your criterion for a supercar purchase includes regular near-death driving experiences, may we suggest the Dodge Viper or equivalent lunacy. Certainly, the world has need for “bite the hand that feeds” performance machines, but the R8 champions a more livable side of supercar ownership.
Ride quality is that of a luxury car first and a performance vehicle second, front and rear overhangs don’t scrape on anything with an incline, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is smooth as silk in automatic mode. These refinements culminate in a perfectly reasonable daily driver. Sure, not everything is family-sedan practical. Like any other mid-engine supercar, the front trunk or “frunk, if you will, is scarcely large enough for a small suitcase, and extra long doors mean an awkward exit in a crowded parking lot. So, you know, maybe buy a second car to haul stuff?
“Livable,” you scoff. “Another way of saying ‘boring,’ you mean!” Only if you consider motor sports boring when no one crashes. As much as the R8 Spyder is designed to accommodate, its marching orders are to thrill. Directly behind the cockpit, a 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V10 engine converts combustion into eye-watering acceleration and ear-phoric sound (we ran out of real words to describe it). Numbers: 540 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque; 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, 198 mph top speed; 8,500 rpm redline; 17 combined mpg.
Unlocking the engine’s music box is as simple as hammering the throttle, but accessing the R8’s performance potential takes a couple more steps. Audi’s drive select system tunes steering weight, throttle response, and suspension damping according to three pre-set drive modes and one custom selection. Additionally, the seven-speed dual clutch gearbox features standard drive mode, sport mode (faster shifts, longer gear holds), and full manual mode. Shifting on your own is possible via the gear selector itself or via the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is a marvel. Even with traction control in less restrictive “Sport” mode, the car’s unflinching grip and stability creates boundless confidence. Amplifying the assurance and engagement is a hyper-responsive steering system and muscular braking. Other supercars may have higher cornering limits, but only a professional driver on a racing circuit would be qualified to achieve them. In the wild west of public roadways, the R8 is best suited for your lead-foot shenanigans.
The R8 Spyder will have you grooving to its performance beat, but the real jamfest starts the moment you drop that top.
Until the V10 Plus version hits showrooms, the 2018 Audi R8 Spyder is pretty cut-and-dry. At $177,100 to start, the ragtop model is $12,200 more expensive than its fixed roof counterpart. Standard feature highlights include Nappa leather 18-way heated sport seats, 19-inch forged alloy wheels wrapped in Summer tires, LED headlights, automatic climate control, MMI Navigation, Audi Virtual Cockpit, a 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, and a rearview camera.
To set your R8 Spyder apart, Audi offers a black optic package ($3000), carbon exterior trim ($4800), carbon interior package ($3400), diamond stitch leather ($3500), contrast stitching ($500), 20-inch 10-spoke forged alloy wheels ($1500), and red painted brake calipers ($700). On the performance end, Audi’s variable ratio steering system adds $1400 and carbon ceramic brakes bolster the bottom line by a whopping $9,900.
Our Perfect R8 Spyder
Thanks to a generous list of standard features, we would keep our 2018 Audi R8 V10 Spyder build fairly simple. While cool, carbon fiber trim does little to impact the vehicle’s weight, thus we’d forgo those exterior or interior packages. Standard silver painted exterior accents balance our preferred Vegas Yellow paintjob nicely. Our sole exterior option would be the stunning 20-inch Y-design forged alloy wheels ($1500). Inside, we’d add on the diamond-stitched leather package ($3500). Including these extras, our perfect R8 Spyder would set us back $182,600 plus destination and handling.
We’ve often wondered, if there wasn’t a dedicated group of convertible consumers, would automakers even go through the effort of designing, engineering, and producing another model variant? Considering coupes are often better looking, more practical, and more affordable — perhaps not. If not for the 2018 Audi R8 Spyder, we might tolerate a fixed roof mandate, but a world without this dashing drop-top is a world we never want to see. As it turns out, taking the lid off perfection only lets us admire it more completely.
The 2018 Audi R8 Spyder competes most directly with the McLaren 570S Spider and Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet. Among these, the McLaren is the most powerful, the Porsche is the quickest to 60 mph, and the R8 Spyder is (in our eyes), the most fetching. Buyers who want a raw performance experience, sans roof, will prefer the $208K McLaren, and those who want to veil their car’s potency in a regular ol’ sports car body will choose the Porsche. Everyone else will find more than enough visual and sensory delight in the R8 Spyder.