This feels more like a eulogy for a great and adored hero than it does a Final Drive report.
The 2015 R8 V10 Spyder represents the end of an era for super cars. As computerized technology is now the answer to achieving better performance rather than adding more power, or (perish the thought!) increased driver skill, we will never see another new machine like this Audi halo car.
This R8 transcends the trivialities of on-paper performance figures and fashion for something far greater: a fully involved and immersive driving experience.
Before the R8 follows suit with the tech for efficiency and speed mantra – and be assured the new car will surely be quicker, faster, more efficient, taste great and be less filling – let’s celebrate what makes a car like the R8 a true super car.
There is the performance, of course, and in this case, the numbers are still formidable. 0-100 km/h in about 4 seconds and a top speed of 313 km/h remain very impressive and in line with other big-buck Euro sports machines. And the R8 still has the looks to turn a lot of heads, even when finished in the rather subdued Suzuka Grey hue of our test car. In Spyder format, the oft-controversial side strakes are omitted leaving just a low, wide and striking form. A bright orange Lamborghini Huracan or red Ferrari 488 will drop more jaws, but even after all these years, the R8 has not lost an ounce of its sex appeal.
This R8 transcends the trivialities of on-paper performance figures and fashion for something far greater: a fully involved and immersive driving experience. This is not the car one buys to gain the advantage over his or her wealthy friends in posting fastest laps at the local track. Nor is it even the car that will always be guaranteed the primo valet spot up front.
Rather, this is the car that conjures up images and sensations of what it might’ve been like to be a Le Mans driver decades ago. Or maybe you’d imagine being a spy in the coolest action film, making a getaway from the villains. Or just the rich playboy (or girl) going for a rip up the coast with your supermodel trophy seated next to you. It is so much more than a machine – it’s a device of passion that taps into your fantasies and directly into the driver’s nervous system.
The Next Generation: 2017 Audi R8 in Pictures
Take the steering, for example. It’s not the numbed experience we’ve grown to accept from modern electric units. It’s wholly and truly alive in the driver’s hands, buzzing and squirming and transmitting every single detail of the road surface and what the tires are doing there. Steering inputs are measured in imperceptible thoughts, a dimension far smaller and more precise than anything metric. It’s a throwback experience for those who have forgotten what purity in steering used to be in some of the finest sporting machines from an earlier time.
The mid-engine layout provides lightness to the front end that is unexpected for an all-wheel-drive car. This also helps add to the enjoyment since there’s no excessive weightiness or artificial steering heft, it is just purity. And yet, for as seemingly outmoded as this experience is, the R8’s handling limits are sensational. If this car is driven just inside the laws of physics – and sanity – it is unflappable, even at tremendous speeds.
Thanks to Audi’s Magnetic Ride Control, the R8 Spyder’s handling prowess does not equate to a spine-punishing ride. Smaller bumps are metered out while larger ones are softened considerably. The Spyder is in no way a supple-riding luxury car, but as far as high performance machines are concerned, its ride is among the best. This is one bit of tech kit that improves the driving experience without diminishing the engagement of it.
The R8 is also a car that should come with a strong warning from the Ministry of Health for a number of reasons. It’s highly addictive, for one, but its braking and lateral acceleration forces are enough to cause serious neck strain. Equipped with the optional carbon ceramic brakes, the deceleration forces are astonishing with a fierce initial bite. Truth be told, spending eleven grand on this option is surely overkill for a car that’s likely to see any real track time, but hey, maybe it’s worth it to never have brake-dust covered wheels.
Typically in sports cars, when a coupe and convertible are both offered, it’s the former that is selected by those most serious about their performance. The materials and mechanism required to retract a roof add weight and complexity to a car, and often the structural rigidity is hindered. With the R8, however, the Spyder is the right choice. Allowing your ears unrestricted access to the aural magic happening just behind the driver’s head from the 5.2L V10 is a must do.
That engine, very closely shared with the mill in the Lamborghini Gallardo, is far racier than other engines of its size. Those used to American V8s will be surprised by the free-revving and peaky nature of this V10. Although packing a 525 horsepower wallop, the maximum torque of 391 lb-ft doesn’t arrive until 6,500 rpms. By modern engine standards this is astronomical and might make you think the R8 V10 feels a bit soft compared to all those turbocharged and hybrid-supplemented engines that develop their twist barely above idle speed.
The reality is, the acceleration of the R8 V10 Spyder is ferocious, even when not revving to stratospheric levels. But much more importantly, it encourages the pilot to really engage the machine, keeping revs up all the time, which results in that musical howl that causes eargasms and weak knees.
There’s another musical element about this R8 V10 Spyder that’s much quieter, but even better and more significant than the engine wail. It’s the subtle “clink-clink” one feels as much as hears as the tall shift lever connects with the milled aluminum gate. And this, folks, is the part of the R8 that we need to celebrate the most because it truly is the last of its kind. Nothing about the R8 – or any other car for sale today – harkens back to the supercar bygone days the way this glorious work of art does. It’s splendid to look at, and even better to touch with the knurled aluminum knob having a decent heft to it.
The gear changes themselves are not as tricky as it might look, with the shifter wanting to go where it’s supposed to from gate to gate. The throws are long for a sports car and the clutch has significant travel before its engagement point on this car making smooth shifts something to work at. But that’s okay – this is supposed to be a car that not everybody can (or would want to) drive. A driver must learn and earn his speed with this machine, without simply flicking a paddle or relying on a computer to execute a no-brainer launch control leap into the next dimension. Within the first few hundred kilometres, it’ll all start to feel just right, and encourage the driver to press harder into the performance capabilities of the car, snapping off quicker and smoother shifts, and swinging the tach needle into stratospheric realms usually associated with motorcycles.
Plus, there is still the sensation of greater control over the car one feels with a proper manual transmission. If a quick pause in Neutral is required to give a gratuitous and noisy rev, so be it. Want to drop from fifth gear directly to a second gear crescendo? Go for it! Of course this sort of behavior also results in obscene fuel consumption. The government claims the V10 swills premium at a rate of 20 L for every 100 city kilometres driven, and 12 for every 100 highway.
I didn’t even bother to record my fuel consumption, partly because I didn’t want to feel guilty about pumping my family’s monthly grocery budget into the gas tank, and partly because I simply couldn’t figure out how to work the trip computer. Which brings to light the one down side of living with a car that is being celebrated for its old-school, analogue ways in a modern digital age: the R8’s electronics. The trip computer and infotainment system here remind us of just how far we’ve come in only a few short years in improving the ergonomics and functionality of these systems.
The Audi MMI Plus Navigation interface is miserably cumbersome; begging for the industry-best systems found even in Audi’s affordable A3 sedans these days; or at least a touchscreen affair. Instead, a small dial and four quadrant buttons force the driver to slowly scroll through options and the frustratingly obtuse menus trying to execute rudimentary commands. For what it’s worth, the Bang and Olufsen sound system sounds pretty good, especially when the well-insulated roof is up, but if you’re driving this car around to listen to music with the top up especially in good, there’s little hope for you as an enthusiast.
Heck, there’s not even a push-button start – a silly frivolity that started, what, a decade ago? Nope, the R8 expects you to slide the shank of the key into an ignition and turn it to ignite those ten angry cylinders.
Most cars by the end of their model’s life cycle feel tired, dated and best forgotten in light of the new model. With the R8, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Its driving experience and pure enjoyment is even more relevant and special today than when it first launched in 2008 given how digital even our supposed sports cars have become. The R8 is a machine that deserves special recognition in the history of the sports car, and should be revered as the last of its kind.
As the motoring industry continues to slide further into a science fiction future with decreasing human interaction in the driving experience, it’s the Audi R8 V10 Spyder that will be remembered fondly by enthusiasts, and coveted by future collectors as the end of an era.
Pricing: 2015 Audi R8 Spyder V10
Base Price: $182,800
Options: Suzuka Grey Metallic Paint, $890; Quilted Full Leather Package, $4,800; Carbon Sigma Interior Package, $3,400; Ceramic Brakes, $10,900; Optional wheels, $500
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $205,850
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance