Johannesburg – Any petrolhead will tell you there’s a lot more to creating a convertible than just sawing off the roof of the equivalent coupé model. And if the car in question is Audi’s V10-engined R8 supercar, this is what it takes and this is what you get – the R8 Spyder, released this week in South Africa in a one-model line up at R2 905 500.

The key to keeping it all together without a roof to stiffen the structure is a new multimaterial space frame combining aluminium with structurally integrated carbon-fibre sections. About 80 percent of the frame comprises an aluminium lattice made primarily from cast nodes joined by extruded sections – a technique commonly used in building high-performance motorcycles for exactly the same reason.

Extra reinforcements that you won’t find on the coupé are built into the sills, A pillars and windshield frame to compensate for the missing roof, while the centre tunnel, bulkhead, B pillars and the cover of the convertible top compartment are made from carbon-fibre, forming a strong, very stiff backbone for the tub, which weighs only 208kg fully assembled.

In fact the whole car weighs in at 1720kg ready for the the road, only 125kg more than the coupé.

The fabric roof of the R8 Spyder weighs just 44kg, including its frames and motors, which helps lower the car’s centre of gravity, with two long fins running to the rear stretching the fabric tight. A combination of electrics and hydraulics raises or lowers the roof in 20 seconds at up to 50km/h, folding it in a ‘Z’ into a flat, lidded compartment over the engine.

The glass rear window is set into the bulkhead and works independently of the roof, making it possible to drive with the roof down and all the windows up, for minimum turbulence.

V10 voomah

The 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 of the Spyder is the same as the coupé, rated for 397kW at 8250 revs and 540Nm at 6500rpm, giving the Spyder a power to weight ratio of 230kW per ton. It drives via a revised version of Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel drive system with a seven-speed S tronic transmission, a newly developed, fully variable multi-plate clutch built into the front transaxle and a locking rear differential.

Audi quotes 0-100 km/h in 3.6 seconds, only a tenth behind the coupé, and a top speed of 317km/h, two clicks slower than the tintop.

Up to 100 percent of the torque can be routed to either axleaas a function of the driving situation, driver input and ambient conditions, while the torque vectoring programme gently brakes the inside wheels as required during fast cornering to ensure accurate turn-in.

Suspension, as you'd expect from a performance car at this level, is by classic double wishbones all round, braking by 365mm front and 356mm rear steel discs – internally vented and perforated – with carbon-ceramic discs as an option.

The optional dynamic steering varies its ratio between 10.0:1 and 17.5:1 depending how fast you’re driving, and countersteers with tiny impulses at the cornering limit to future improve stability.

In addition, the performance leather steering wheel adds three more programs to the drive select system – dry, wet and snow – which modulate the quattro drive as well as the electronic stability set-up for the best possible lap times.

All the important functions can be controlled without taking your hands off the steering wheel or your eyes off the road; besides multifunction buttons for telephony, navigation, media and voice control, the steering wheel also has two satellite buttons – one for stop-start and one for drive select.

The virtual cockpit is displayed on a 31cm screen with a resolution of 1440 x 540 pixels and varies its colour according to context; you switch between pages by pressing the view button on the steering wheel.

There’s even a special track-day screen laid out around a central rev-counter, with colour-coded shift warnings, a lap timer that can store up to 99 laps for bragging rights and a g-meter.

Standard kit for the R8 Spyder in SA includes:

19 inch V spoke rims

Bluetooth interface MMI Navigation plus with MMI touch
Virtual cockpit

Bang and Olufsen sound system

Cruise control

Automatic aircon with sun sensor

Fine nappa leather seat trim

Seat heating

Seat belt monitoring

Park assist

Tyre repair kit

Inlays in anthracite paint finish

Side blade in ice silver metallic

High gloss package

Wind deflector

Five-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.

IOL Motoring

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