Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
Audi R8 Spyder V8 review (2011 onwards)
Model: Audi R8 Spyder 4.2 FSI Quattro
Bodystyle: two-door convertible sports car
Engine: 4.2 litre V8 petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual
Date of test: July 2012
What is it?
The Audi that teenage boys put on their wall and reminds them to buy an A3 as soon as they can afford it. Every posh car brand needs a halo car and in the R8 Audi has probably the best of the lot. Its drop-dead 'look at me' looks have remained fresh even six years on from the car's stunning unveiling at the Paris Motor Show.
This is the 420hp V8 convertible version which costs in practicality but is a must for anyone who likes their motoring experience visceral and, er, expressive. The list price is currently £96,625 OTR. With a few mostly well chosen extras, our press car came in at £101,845.
Where does it fit?
It's nearly the top of the Audi range, trumped only by the 520hp V10 version whose base price is a cool £117,740. The key rivals for the car are the long-in-tooth Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (£98,995), the new Porsche 911 (991) Carrera S convertible (£89,740), new BMW M6 convertible (£99,020) and Jaguar XKR-S (£103,430) which is a newish model based on a car that is now six years in the market.
Is it for you?
If driving very fast with the wind in your air is your thing, most definitely. I had it on Goodwood Festival of Speed weekend and there can be few better cars for such an occasion, be it thundering down the A3 or feeding in the power exiting a curve on one of the (wider) B-roads as you approach the festival. It looks amazing and, with the roof down, sounds glorious with the mighty V8 roaring away behind your head.
And this car will be very reliable and can be used everyday, as long as you don't have to transport very much stuff at least...
What does it do well?
Drive. With the sun out and roof down, screaming down the A27 to the festival from our hotel near Southampton all seemed well with the world. Sure we couldn't really hear each other or the stereo, but it didn't matter; powering down every slip road became a pleasure to look forward to.
There is simply no messing about with this car: it is very fast. 0-62 is polished off in 4.8 seconds off to a 186mph top; no namby-pamby PC limiters on this bahn-stormer, thank you very much. And with the roof down, it is very raw too. The wind-deflector is easy to install and helps a bit, but you don't rag this car in the sunshine to worry about your hair-do.
The small flat-bottomed steering wheel is a delight to handle, urging you to push the car on. It strongly communicates feedback, begging the question often asked: why can't all fast Audis steer like this?
Pressing on into the bends the car is delightfully balanced with its quattro four-wheel-drive delivering great grip and confidence, urging you to press on as the engine's throb turns into a roar at 4,000 revs onto the 7,900rpm red-line - at which point you will be driving very fast indeed.
The normal aspiration engine is not exactly torquey - at 317lb ft from a heady 4,500rpm - but the engine is hugely flexible in reality and even those used to muscular turbo-diesels won't find this marvellous, refined unit wanting. Sure the V10 version is even more spirited, but is a full 60kg heavier - the equivalent of an average-sized woman. And that makes a difference; in true pure pointiness, the lighter V8 has the edge.
What doesn't it do well?
The R8 has remarkably gone unfacelifted since launch (though this is about to change), so owners may be surprised to find a dashboard akin to the outgoing £20,000 Audi A3. Though there is an Ipod connection between the seats, you can't listen to a CD without ejecting the sat-nav DVD, which of course means no sat-nav, itself a £2,000 option and frankly out-classed by an Audi A1's unit nowadays and - grrrr - doesn't support full postcode entry.
This car's optional magnetic ride (a £1,380 option) offers switchable suspension, but I found the sport setting very jarring and adversely affected a key positive about the car: its surprising comfort levels.
The six-speed manual uses a metallic metal gate and this feature together with its clickety-click sound is very much an R8 signature; but it doesn't make for very quick gear changes. But don't even think about the R-tronic automated manual alternative, which is horrid and at £5,000 extra, very expensive.
Pack wisely: a small suitcase, a hold-all, a book, and an iPad - and not much more...
What's it like to live with?
The Spyder does have a very cool switch that lowers the rear window even when the roof is up, so you can listen to that glorious V8 soundtrack practically all the time.
The primary problem with this car is practicality; most of its rivals have rear seats and a fair-sized boot which means they can be GT cars when you don't want them to be sports cars, but the mid-engined R8 moves the boot to the front of the car and it is tiny: 100 litres. Also, the Spyder lacks the very handy space behind the seats that the R8 coupe has.
As a result, packing for our weekend away meant decisive planning and proactive choosing and discarding. My wife does not find packing lightly very easy and I have noticed this can be a wider problem. You can get a bespoke five-piece R8 luggage set that utilises every spare cubic centimetre, but this will cost you £3,830.
The standard stereo isn't loud enough when the roof is down at speed; I insist on loud music when pressing on in a convertible and if you do too, forking out an extra £1,225 for the Bang & Olufsen upgraded system might be well worth it.
How green is it?
Fuel economy is an area where the R8's age is really catching up with it; at 19.6mpg overall and 337g/km CO2 it is really very poor compared to say the Porsche 911 Carrera S's 29.1mpg and 229g/km CO2 - and the 911 has only marginally less power, more torque, and is equally fast.
For once though my mix of real-world driving returned me a figure slightly better than the official number. But even with a healthy 80-litre fuel tank, you will find yourself at petrol stations with tiresome regularity.
Doesn't look quite so good with the roof up
Would we buy it?
After I tactfully dropped off my wife at Chichester station towards the end of the Goodwood festival, I took off back onto the frequently excellent A27 (which runs along the southern part of England from Wiltshire due east). During the journey eastwards I concluded there were few better ways to spend a sunny weekend; passing another R8, we exchanged cheery waves: like the Ritz, the R8 club is one that is open to everyone.
Peeling off the A27 when it ends near Eastbourne, tackling twistier B-roads the car's width becomes apparent; at 1.9m, it is full 10cms wider than the 911. This factor denies it b-road blaster status, but for fast trunk roads, there can be few convertibles that beat it.
And then on my sunny drive so far it suddenly started raining, something for which the summer of 2012 will be remembered. At least this car cunningly allows you to put the roof up to 31mph, at which point it is disarmingly happy to trundle off home in a docile fashion in heavy traffic.
There are few cars with the sense of occasion as the R8; the roof-off version just extends this enviable quality in a very fluid and poised fashion and reminds you that the R8 is the best car Audi makes by a long way. Just don't let the lady in your life pack too much.
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