The supercar universe resounds with names like Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini. Despite an enviable pedigree in motorsport, Audi still seems like a newcomer to this exclusive party. The R8 coupe only came out in 2006, but to immediate and loud acclaim. Each subsequent variation serves to cement the car into the panoply of the world’s most desired machines. Perhaps none more so than this one: the 2011 R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI Quattro.
First seen as a star performer in the Iron Man 2 movie, to say the R8 Spyder has presence is to make an understatement along the lines of: "that Mozart fellow was quite a good composer." Its lines flow, its proportions harmonize. It looks like it means business just standing still, but it also looks like a lot of fun.
That same attitude is present in the cabin, from the race-style flat-bottomed steering wheel to the supportive and comfortable leather-covered sports seats, by way of the high-tech dashboard. All this becomes visible in 19 seconds as silent motors fold the triple-layer cloth top into the aluminum body.
Once driver and passenger are exposed to the elements (although buffeting is kept to a minimum, even with the windows down), that also means they can appreciate the intoxicating induction snort and exhaust note of 10 pistons on a crankshaft spinning at 8,000 rpm to develop maximum horsepower of 525. This 5.2-liter V10 is boiling away just behind those two seats and driving all four wheels, hence the "Quattro" in the name. The "FSI" in the name, incidentally, stands for fuel stratified injection, basically a highly efficient form of direct gasoline injection.
The standard transmission is a six-speed manual, but there is an automatic option called R tronic. This still allows the driver to change gears using steering wheel-mounted paddle shifts, but is a kind of race car-type sequential shifter that can sometimes feel jerky in operation. For track work, it's outstanding. For swanning around the swisher parts of town, not so much. The manual transmission seems to provide a more direct connection between driver and engine. Each one has launch control for perfect sprints.
That pace works out to 60 mph from standstill in four seconds dead, with a top speed of 195 mph. And this most powerful version of the R8 Spyder does it in such an agile, all-conquering way, with an almost perfect balance and uncanny grip.
Magnetorheological is not the kind of word bandied around every day, unless it's on the R8 production line where someone might say: "Hey, Hans, pass me that magnetorheological damper." This is indeed the secret behind the R8's ability to keep flat and unruffled by anything so primitive as a rough road surface. Inside the dampers is a magnetic fluid that can react to conditions in milliseconds.
Converting a coupe into, um, a convertible means doing away with an important part of a car body's structure: its roof. That's why many open-top cars suffer from body flex. Most of them have some kind of reinforcement to compensate, which means extra weight. The R8 Spyder is only around 220 pounds heavier than its coupe counterpart, thanks to a clever design in the first place and the use of exotic metals like super-light and super-strong magnesium.
So the price of $161,000 – or $170,00 with the R tronic transmission – seems quite justifiable. Especially considering it takes 70 workers to hand-assemble a car which is then inspected by 95 lasers to check for tolerances within four-thousandths of an inch. Not that anyone buys a supercar because it is priced sensibly. They buy it for almost any reason but.
Here's one of the best ones. Racing driver Jacky Ickx used to drive in Formula One for Ferrari and he has won the famous Le Mans 24-hour race six times, so he knows his stuff. And he is on record describing the R8 as the best-handling car on the planet. It’s the R8 Spyder’s combination of talent, looks and sound that make it a supercar to lust after.
Ron Moorhead is a veteran of the automotive industry who spends hundreds of miles behind the wheel of each new vehicle. Ron's work has appeared in major automotive and life style publications and web sites, such as Motor Trend, Popular Mechanics , Auto World and Kelly Blue Book.