First Drive: 2017 Audi R8 Spyder

Barcelona – We’re cruising through the pre-dawn darkness in a 2017 Audi R8 Spyder. Its fabric top is up and the cabin is as hushed at 130 km/h as many a true luxury car sporting a fixed lid. There’s nary a lick of wind rustle as we cleave the air, and the mighty 5.2L V10 politely hums away behind my shoulders – a far cry from the ferocity this 540-horsepower wedge unleashed just the day before as we blasted through the Montserrat mountains.

When it comes to cabin civility, there’s little to separate the R8 Spyder from the Coupe now.

And yet, this newfound top-up highway civility could very well be the defining trait of Audi’s redone drop-top super car. We know the R8 Spyder to be bloody fast, gorgeous and agile, and this second-generation car only expands on those attributes. The outgoing Spyder’s single-layer roof kept out the rain, but not much else. This new three-layer lid is a revelation. When it comes to cabin civility, there’s little to separate the R8 Spyder from the Coupe now.

As the morning light starts to filter through the darkness, a chap in an Audi S3 Avant pulls up alongside, making hand gestures that imply he wants me to open it up, put on a bit of a show, or make some noise. At least that’s how I take it. And bonus – we’re approaching a tunnel.

Time for a few quick adjustments. First, the vertical rear glass window comes down (it works independently of the roof) so we can revel in the racket. Then I switch from Comfort to Dynamic Mode via the new steering-wheel-mounted button. This activates the more aggressive Sport exhaust along with tweaking the steering, throttle response, adaptive dampers and transmission mapping. But there’s more. To unleash the R8’s full vocal repertoire one must press the button just below with the checkered-flag icon. This extra “performance mode” loosens the stability control’s reigns and adds spectacular burbles, spits and pops on overrun.

Okay, buddy. Get ready. A few flicks on the left shift paddle drops some gears and brings the revs up to about 5,000 rpm – right at the threshold of the kill zone. Have I forgot something? Oh yeah, mash the throttle.

Within seconds our comfy cruiser goes from benign to ballistic. The V10 charges to its 8,250 rpm redline and the tunnel fills with a howl that could be Axel Rose passing a kidney stone – followed by a volley of small arms gunfire. Was that the exhaust or did we just dislodge a bunch of ceiling tiles?

When our friend in the S3 catches up, he is the picture of gratitude.

So there you have it in a nutshell. The second-generation Audi R8 Spyder does it all, and oh-so-well. Assuming you have the self-control to keep yourself out of prison, I can assure you this is an excellent way to spend 200 grand, which is the expected starting price of Audi’s halo convertible when it goes on sale in Canada for the second quarter of 2017.

For this princely sum we’re getting the aforementioned naturally aspirated V10 that makes 540 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 393 lb-ft of torque at 6,500. It features port and direct fuel injection, and uses cylinder deactivation, auto-start/stop and a freewheeling function to claim up to ten percent better fuel economy. The other half of this powertrain is a brilliant seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that imperceptibly switches cogs when being polite, but also slams them home in the higher-performance modes. Response to paddle inputs is instant.

Like its coupe sibling, the Spyder gets a newly designed all-wheel-drive quattro system with a faster-acting electro-hydraulically actuated water-cooled multi-plate clutch at the front axle. This, in tandem with a mechanical locking rear differential, gives the Spyder unflappable poise.

All Canadian R8 Spyders get the magnetic adaptive damper system as standard, and these do a marvellous job of providing a uncannily complaint ride. Uncanny, because when you look at the R8 all hunkered down on its 19-inch forged alloys and rubber-band tires, it looks like it would shake your contacts out.

The quilted seats are supremely comfortable, and the redesigned cabin with its centerpiece – Audi’s configurable virtual cockpit – is everything we’ve come to know and love about the automaker’s interiors.

As mentioned earlier, the 2017 R8 Spyder plays hard. It absolutely ate up the twisting roads through the mountains here in southern Spain, showing an engaging rear-drive bias that seemed to call out for more at every turn. You know the front wheels are helping out, but they don’t really make themselves known as the R8 dives in and lasers from bend to bend. Grip is prodigious, the brakes are epic, and this second-gen’s switch from hydraulic to electrically assisted steering has not hurt the R8.

Above all, the R8 Spyder wires directly into your driving mojo and inspires confidence. There’s nothing intimidating, lairy or secretive about the car’s demeanour.

The core of this goodness comes from the new aluminum/carbon-fibre space frame that the R8 shares with the Lamborghini Huracán. In the case of the R8 Spyder, it has been strategically reinforced (sills, A-post and windshield frame) but only gains 8 kg over the coupe. Torsional rigidity has increased by 55 percent, and indeed, there was nary a hint of flex or cowl shake on this drive.

Taking a cue from Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche, many of the R8’s performance controls have moved to the steering wheel, now festooned with a quartet of round buttons below the spokes. On the right you’ll find a bright red starter button and one for activating the sport exhaust. On the left, the upper button cycles between drive modes (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual) while the smaller one below with rotary function selects three additional “Performance Modes” – dry, wet and snow.

If you like to keep tabs on your antisocial behavior, there’s a special performance view for the 12.3-inch TFT virtual cockpit that brings the tachometer to the centre and supplies information on power output and torque of the engine, g-forces, lap time and the temperature of the tires, engine and transmission fluid.

With the top down and the windows up, wind management in the cabin is excellent. We were able to easily converse at 130 km/h. A new feature for 2017 are a pair of speakers in the headrests that aid in your listening pleasure.

Will there be a Plus version of the Spyder (as there is with the Coupe) that gets 610 hp, harder non-adaptive suspension, fixed shell seats along with other hardcore tweaks? Stephen Winkelmann, the new CEO of Audi Sport (né quattro GmbH) is tight-lipped, but his smirk says yes.

Perhaps the bigger question is, why would you want it? Personally, I’d miss the comfort side of this intoxicating equation, and at no time during our sometimes furious assault on the Spanish twisties did I ever think, “Damn, I wish this thing had more power.”

As it is, the 2017 Audi R8 Spyder is an exceptionally well realized drop-top exotic that coddles (almost) as well as it thrills. And for the expected $200,000, it could be considered a bargain.

The second-generation drop-top R8 broadens its skill set 10/17/2016 6:30:00 AM