No surprises as the Spyder follows the Coupe in the Audi R8 line-up, bringing with it an open airing of the R8's spectacular, naturally-aspirated V10 engine soundtrack and few real compromises. There's not a full-bore 'plus' version as yet, but the R8 Spyder's sweet enough with 'just' 540hp.
In the metal
The Audi R8 Coupe is a striking visual feast of Audi's current design language, dialled right up as it should be in its supercar billing. Here in Spyder guise it's even more glamorous; dropping the top on Audi's mid-engined V10 sports car opens it up to many markets where the sun's more of a familiar sight than it might be here in Ireland. The folding roof cannot quite follow the R8's graceful coupe profile, as it's shorter and the rear deck is longer as a result, and the engine cover doesn't offer the view of the 5.2-litre V10 and the bracing above it that's part of the coupe's eye-candy.
Unsurprisingly, however, the Spyder's interior is little different, save for the additional button that allows you to drop the canvas hood in just 20 seconds. And it's possible to do so at up to 50km/h so you don't end up looking like an eejit (and holding up traffic) if you decide to do so around town. The R8 Spyder's cabin comes with the full complement of Audi's styling and technological mix, the materials, switchgear and fit and finish are all exemplary. There's Audi's Virtual Cockpit, of course, with its fancy instrument-replacing screen, and it's configurable. It does take a while to learn how to use it effectively, but once you've got it mastered it's a cinch. Nearly everything can be done from the steering wheel without taking your hands off it, including starting the engine. Press the big red button to rouse that 5.2-litre V10 with a hugely enjoyable and rousing bark. Fine for you, if not your neighbours...
To hell with your neighbours, as the Audi R8 is something of a last hurrah for naturally aspirated sports cars and it sounds magnificent. There's little obvious difference in the aural signature between this regular R8 Spyder and the coupe-only plus version, as the 70 additional horses are not more vocal. If you can live with a mere 540hp then you're not going to be disappointed with the sound they make, especially if you've gone for the Sports exhaust, which brings the option to turn it up - you'll not be able to resist it. You might be robbed of the visual treat of seeing the engine that creates the power and sound in the open-topped R8, but the sizeable trade-off is the enhanced ability to hear it at work. Not that the coupe's a quiet car, but the Spyder inevitably sees the engine's sound being more dominant, the fabric roof letting more of it in more of the time, with the added option to open the rear window of the folding top independently, giving you direct access to that exhaust sound even when the weather's not playing ball.
That alone is enough reason to consider the R8 Spyder over its coupe relation, the fact it comes with few real compromises elsewhere also adding to its appeal. Losing the roof has inevitably lead to an increase in the weight, but it's not so much as to really dent the performance. Pin it and the Spyder reaches 100km/h in 3.6 seconds, which is a whole 0.1 seconds slower than the coupe. If you can really feel that then your buttocks must be calibrated by NASA, as the Spyder's more vocal character means it sounds faster still, even if the stopwatch says not. As sports cars and supercars go the R8 might play the role of 'my first supercar' exceedingly well, but its incredible day-to-day civility doesn't mean it's not genuinely imbued with a hell-raising side when you want it.
Yes, it'll trickle through traffic, but find a quiet, open, testing stretch of road and the R8 Spyder's ability to cover it is unimpeachable. There are masses of grip and huge traction; the chassis balance is superb, driving with a hint of rear bias, but safe in the knowledge that there's drive to those front wheels if it's needed. The steering is among Audi's finest, offering great weighting, supreme accuracy and even a modicum of feel at the chunky, perforated leather rim. Sampled here with the optional Sport Plus Pack it gains that more vocal exhaust, as well as Audi's Magnetic Ride and Dynamic Steering, which offers configurability via Drive Select. Comfort modes on both the steering and suspension suits our less than perfect roads, though selecting the more extreme settings on all the various elements of the R8's make-up does reveal that even so set-up it's not too compromised. The engine and automatic transmission in their most fire-cracking modes are something to be savoured indeed. The speed of the shifts from the seven-speed paddle-shifted gearbox is sensational, though it's a shame the paddles themselves feel a little small - there nothing wrong with the response they ultimately deliver, even it they're lacking in a bit of immediate physicality.
The engine remains one of the greats; the way it chases its redline is a real event, wringing it out being a joyous, if licence-threatening experience. Do so in anything more than first or second gears and you'll be deep into three figures, though the Spyder's ability to allow you to enjoy its pace and sound at lower speeds is a large part of its appeal. There's little obvious corruption to the car dynamically as a result of its loss of roof, perhaps the very faintest shimmy through the steering, but we're talking faint infinitesimal messages from other solar systems here rather than hand-wrenching shakes that blighted open-topped sports cars of the past.
What you get for your money
The Audi R8 Spyder starts at €257,900. Yes, that's a huge amount of cash by any measure, but it buy about the easiest to live with super/sports car this side of the all-too-obvious Porsche 911 Turbo. That Porsche is a more sensible choice, thanks to its four-seat billing, but the Audi feels way more exotic, and no less quick in the real world.
Audi's R8 is a hugely engaging and exciting car that's lost none of its magic in transformation to a Spyder. Indeed, for many it's gained so much more, the greater access to the sound it makes being a core to its appeal, as much, in our opinion, as is the ability to open it up to the all-too infrequent sun. We'd still opt for the coupe all told, but the Spyder's an epic thing.