Pictures: Francisco Nwamba.
Pictures: Francisco Nwamba.
Johannesburg - When Audi served up its all-new second-generation R8 Coupe last year it did so with a double helping - both the 397kW normal version and the 449kW Plus were delivered at the same time.

But for the Spyder, which arrived just over a month ago, it’s easing us into open-air supercardom with only the less powerful model on the menu. For now. The Spyder Plus will come next year. Is it worth waiting for?

Unless three tenths at the dragstrip and a minuscule amount of longitudinal G-force under acceleration matter, then not at all. The 397kW Spyder may be considered an R8 “lite” but it’s certainly not lacking in performance or excitement departments.

That V10 at the back, even in its turned down state, still packs plenty of aural stimulus and, because this is a drop top, it offers an unrestricted path for one unfathomably beautiful (understatement) song to pour into ear canals.

The Spyder’s cloth top folds in 20 seconds and at driving speeds up to 50km/h, and when it’s tucked away this two-seater’s cabin becomes a golden circle at a heavy metal concert. With no sound-suppressing turbos to inhibit its 8700rpm vocal range, this 5.2-litre big block surely deserves a spot in the Naturally Aspirated Greatest Hits album. The Spyder’s back window also slides electronically into the bulkhead, offering frostbite-free access to the tunes on a winter’s day. Brilliant.

It’s no slouch either. If the Plus version didn’t exist it’s unlikely anyone would accuse this R8’s 397kW and 540Nm of any insufficiency, and with foot flat there’s plenty of pull on your neck muscles. Audi claims a sea level 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds (versus 3.3 in next year’s Plus) and a top speed of 318km/h, though I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near there with the roof down for fear of aggravating my already receding hairline. But how did it perform against our Vbox at Gauteng altitude? Watch our test runs in the video below:

Our test equipment showed a best 0-100km/h time of 4.16 seconds, which is understandable given the reef’s thin air and a lack of altitude compensators. It also covered the quarter mile in 12.35 seconds, matching the more powerful but heavier first generation R8 Plus’s time.

Like the Coupe there’s an aluminium and carbonfibre spaceframe hidden beneath the Spyder’s body, so the absence of a roof has had little effect on structural rigidity. Audi’s chassis engineers certainly didn’t have South African roads in mind when they set out designing this car, but even Gauteng’s most neglected surfaces (driven Hennops River Road lately?) failed to fluster the Spyder. Scuttle shake? Never heard of it.

A revised quattro drive system can now apportion all engine power to either front or rear axle depending on the driving situation, though it would take some seriously interesting conditions to prompt a fully front-wheel drive R8. But, get it into an angle where bias is sent rearward and the back diff locks up, and it’s possible to get some drift on. And that’s saying something considering quattro’s renowned understeery nature.

Our handling track at Gerotek is a short and relentlessly twisty circuit, but here the Spyder revelled in direction changes, tossing its rear end out on corner entries and banging apexes with a touch of opposite lock. It’s nowhere near as tail happy as a pure rear-driver, and it takes some skill to make countersteer happen, but the fact that a quattro car can get tail-playful is impressive indeed.

But the R8 can tone itself down to easy listening soft rock level too. I said it after testing the Coupe, and the same applies here. Dial the drive modes back to Comfort and switch off the active exhaust flaps (both accessible on the steering wheel) and this so-called supercar transforms into a genuine everyday driver. Well, an everyday driver that costs R2.9-million before options and has a pathetic 112 litre frunk (front trunk).

In softer settings there’s always a gentle rumble behind the seats and the suspension will constantly remind you it’s tuned more for lap times than sponging up potholes, but the R8, in either body style, is possibly the most easy to drive supercar, ever. Sure it’s firm when roads get rough, but expectedly and acceptably so.

VERDICT

The R8 Spyder seems immune to the compromise normally associated with hacking the roof of a sports car. There’s zero jiggle in the chassis when under pressure, its performance is worthy of its seriously saucy looks, and the best part is you can peel the lid back to get closer to the 10-cylinder symphony happening behind your head.

Wait for the Spyder Plus if you need a bit of extra shove, and can afford it. Otherwise, the regular version suffices nicely.

FACTS

Audi R8 5.2 V10 Spyder quattro

Engine: 5.2-litre, V10 petrol
Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 397kW @ 7800rpm
Torque: 540Nm @ 6500rpm
0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng):4.16 seconds
Top speed (claimed):318km/h
Price: R2 905 500
Warranty: 1-year/unlimited km
Service plan: 5-year/100 000km

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