Audi R8 GT Spyder review (2012 onwards)
Summary: The everyday supercar finds added focus but loses little of its all-rounder appeal - and retains its placidly engaging abilities despite the soft-top roof.
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We like: looks the part, engine has a real racecar spirit, added aural spirit due to lack of roof, engaging yet totally viceless handling that thrills but doesn't intimidate
We don't like: transmission is far from intuitive in auto mode, steering is too light, apparent variation due to choice of tyres, very expensive
The Audi R8 GT is the ultimate R8: the most extreme version of Audi's hit supercar for the everyman. With more aggressive styling and interior, revised suspension and a 40hp power boost for the 5.2-litre V10, it's Audi's 'R8 ultra', and the perfect link between road and the Le Mans racetrack dominated by the firm for the past decade.
The GT Spyder is a striking open-top car that looks far more stand-out in the metal than Audi's description of the visual alterations suggests. Low, wide, with ample bodywork detailing in carbonfibre trim and THE most fantastic lift-reducing rear spoiler (complemented by brilliant aero winglets on the front bumper edges), it's more GT racer than road car.
Despite the price tag, almost sold out
Audi has form here. It's previously sold the GT in coupe guise - and despite the UK being allocated a healthy 33 of the limited-run 333 cars produced (each one's build number depicted by an inscription in the gearlever), they still all sold out before it even went on sale. Despite an eye-watering price.
This time round, Audi HQ has rewarded Brits' love of the R8 with an extra 10 cars. On sale now, the R8 GT Spyder is, once again (and, yes, despite an incredible £156k price tag), almost sold out - but this time, casual supercar buyers do still have the opportunity to secure one of the limited-run models, if they're quick, from a dealer. Would they want to, though?
With 560hp, the V10 R8 GT Spyder has an additional 40hp which, combined with an impressive 85kg reduction in weight, adds up to some impressive performance figures. This Audi hits 197mph all out: more importantly, it scrabbles to 62mph from rest in just 3.8 seconds, easily repeatable thanks to quattro traction and the R tronic automatic's simplicity.
The engine is, on the track, amazing. Despite its ample capacity, it can rev to an incredible 8,700rpm, with the 560hp peak delivered at a wailing 8,000rpm, the point at which you change up in most supercars. Let it sing and it's a real thriller, seemingly never wishing to stop revving. Good: peak torque of 398lb ft is both relatively meagre and, at 6,500rpm, delivered far too high in the rev range.
Noise plays a significant role
Noise plays a significant role in this R8 GT's appeal. The added interaction brought by the Spyder's open roof makes it feel even more like a single seater racecar. The lack of soundproofing in a competition car is replicated here when you lower the top - in this respect, it's more exciting even than the coupe.
And the default-choice R tronic automated manual gearbox? Leave it in automatic and it is clumsy, changing up unintuitively and feeling frustratingly slow-witted. Take over with the paddles, though, and it gives a direct, mechanical feel that's somehow in keeping with this car's nature. Shifts aren't DSG-fast (nor as smooth) but the fact you can control when they occur is important - and the throttle-blipping downshifts are superb.
Ride and handling
The R8 GT immediately feels focused thanks to a stiff suspension setup. It seems purposeful and more track-ready than the standard car, with a firm and roll-free feel even on the racetrack. We'll have to wait until we get it out onto the public highway to see how this affects ride quality.
It certainly delivers a more exciting driving experience. The R8 GT is beautifully balanced and far more approachable than you'd ever think a 560hp supercar could be. It inspires confidence to really chuck it into corners with commitment, feeling it rotate about its centrally located mass, rather than intimidating drivers with nasty traits near its hypercar limits.
A very agile, sharp and dynamic car
It's thus satisfying rather than fearsome to drive quickly, and an opportune comparison with an R8 GT coupe revealed the Spyder to be barely any less stiff than its hard-top sibling. However, it also showed the Spyder understeered a lot more, particularly at slower speeds. Why's this? Mainly because of tyres, said the engineers: the coupe was on Pirellis, the Spyder was on Continentals.
Pity about the steering, too. This is both too light and lacking in feedback for true involvement: the R8 GT Spyder is a very agile, sharp and dynamic car, but some of this is masked by the dilutive steering. Maybe this was because of the tyres, too. Buyers of a Spyder, insist yours comes on Pirellis...
Two hard-shell Alcantara-clad bucket seats are sufficiently racing-spec to not even offer any backrest recline. They're all the more brilliant because of this, and make the R8 GT Spyder feel bespoke behind the wheel (their GFRP construction also cut a hefty 31.5kg from the car's overall mass).
It's largely similar to the regular car, only more purposeful. There are darker trims, more moody Alcantara trims (including the steering wheel) and a set of white dials that sound a bit 1990s but actually work really well. Buyers have the full breadth of Audi's personalisation and trim service open to them, too.
Even getting in and out is an event
As you'd hope from the racing-inspired range-topper, even getting in and out is an event. Sitting 10mm lower than standard, with huge side sills to step over, you drop down low into the R8 GT, which may make some passengers question whether they're not actually in a real track car.
We've previously noticed the R8 interior is starting to show its age, but although the same is true here, it's somehow less of an issue. What we do mind is the fact the seats can't quite go low enough, with the slightly perched driving position spoiling the racecar effects a little.
Economy and safety
Best not ask. The 5.2-litre engine may have direct fuel injection, but it's not really used to save fuel here. It officially averages 19.9mpg but if you use it as the power delivery demands, you'll halve this with ease.
The limits are high and there's perhaps no more useable supercar on sale. The real genius of Audi's approach has been to make a clearly more focused and involving car drive just as safe, secure and viceless as all other R8s.
The MSN Cars verdict
The R8 GT Spyder is expensive but that's the price you pay for exclusivity - and while it's still not the engaging equal of a Ferrari 458, R8 loyalists will nevertheless be able to justify the expense.
This limited-run car looks great, goes faster, sounds more special, drives with more purpose and feels more like a sanitised Le Mans racer. Even the very fact it's not as extreme as a 458 actually proves to be of appeal: the ultimate hardcore special that's as friendly to drive as a TT.
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First drive: Audi R8 GT
|Need to know||Audi R8 GT Spyder|
|Engines, petrol||5.2-litre V10, 6-speed R tronic semi-auto with paddleshifts|
|Torque, lb ft||398|
|0-62 mph, secs||3.8|
|Top speed, mph||197|
|CO2, tax||332, 35%|