Audi R8 Spyder - the perfect 10?

In a world of downsizing and turbocharging this naturally aspirated roadster’s engine is a masterpiece

Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance

Doing this job I test all manner of cars, from city runarounds to family SUVs and the odd sporty number.

For the majority of them my drive to the office provides the sort of real-world test that reflects their everyday use.

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For others, the glorious country roads around my home are better for getting a true feel for their abilities.

The Audi R8 Spyder looks great with or without its fabric roof in place

Common sense would dictate that a machine like the Audi R8 Spyder with its 612bhp V10 was obviously one of the latter examples.

I certainly thought so, which is why I had plotted a multi-day road trip around some of the wilder parts of the country for its arrival.

Circumstances change, however, and my grand plan for an epic tour of the beautiful Highlands was stymied by the reliably unreliable Scottish weather. Torrential downpours and appalling visibility aren’t happy bedfellows for a 612bhp convertible.

So instead the R8 was pressed into everyday use including that dreary commute, which revealed a great deal about it before we took a truncated wander along the equally stunning roads around the Borders and Northumberland.

The R8's cabin is compact but comfortable and surprisingly refined with the roof up

The route down the A68, across the border at Carter Bar and on towards Newcastle is a spectacular stretch of climbing, dipping, twisting Tarmac that offers everything you might hope to encounter in a full-blooded supercar. Long sweeping curves blend into tight knots of S-bends before the road opens out and sweeps through the Whitelee Moor nature reserve and Northumberland National Park.

Across it all and through occasional brief squalls of rain the R8 felt imperious. Some performance cars feel edgy and twitchy, darting around with dramatic responses to minute inputs. The R8 isn’t one of those, rather it scythes along smoothly, reacting instantly but with utter composure.

The feeling of precision and balance is constant with just the right weight to the steering, utterly flat body control, progressive throttle and brakes.

Under most conditions, the drive is sent to the rear wheels but, should it be needed, the quattro system can distribute up to 50 per cent of it forwards. That means it feels lively yet secure, with prodigious grip from its foot-wide tyres.

The R8's crowing glory is its 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10

Powering all of that progress is the R8’s crowning glory - a 5.2-litre, naturally aspirated V10. In a world of downsized turbocharged motors the Audi is wonderfully old-school. The noise is nuanced, varied and spectacular. It starts as a mellifluous burble that grows harsher as the revs rise, turning to a Brian Blessed-rivalling roar and then a mechanical howl as it fully hits its stride.

Accompanying that noise are eye-widening reserves of power. The engine’s shove is huge, relentless and linear but when you hit the 6,000-7,000rpm sweet spot there’s a sudden thrilling extra urgency that’s enough to take the breath away.

You can manage that urgency a little using the selectable drive modes which adjust throttle sensitivity as well a steering and damping but these feel almost unnecessary. Comfort mode definitely softens the magnetic dampers but the car still feels poised and potent. Yet, set it to dynamic and the extra edge to the throttle and steering don’t come with a punishing ride.

And that’s what impresses as much as the staggering performance. Here is a supercar that doesn’t ask you to put up with a back-breaking ride in the name of fun. The trick suspension does an almost unbelievably good job of smoothing out rough roads given its amazing body control. I’ve driven SUVs that ride worse over broken city streets.

Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance

With a ride as supple as this you could genuinely use this car every day – a view furthered by the fact that when you’re not wringing its neck, the R8 is as docile and easy to drive as any other Audi. The throttle isn’t overly sensitive so you can crawl in traffic without fear of surging into the car in front. The steering weight isn’t unwieldy around town and, even with a canvas roof, it’s not so noisy that you couldn’t live with it.

Furthermore, the cabin is comfortable, with supportive but not overly grippy seats, reasonable space for most people and controls that are as simple to use as in any other Audi.

Of course, even pootling around you’re going to get attention. The looks are head-turning at any speed and the R8 is one coupe that doesn’t suffer from having a roof chop thanks to its cab-forward shape, short overhangs and flying buttresses behind the cabin.

And that glorious engine muttering away over your shoulder is a call to anyone nearby that something special is approaching.

There are questions as to how Audi will replace this R8 when it reaches the end of its production cycle, with rumours of an electric drivetrain in place of its V10.

Whatever decision the bosses make, for the moment the R8 stands proud as a phenomenal machine that manages to be at once a ferocious, full-blooded supercar yet something you could genuinely use to get to the office every day.

Audi R8 Spyder Performance

Price: £149,890 (£169,120 as tested); Engine: 5.2-litre, V10, petrol; Power: 612bhp; Torque: 428lb/ft; Transmission: Seven-speed DSG automatic; Top speed: 204mph; 0-62mph: 3.2 seconds; Economy: 20.9-21.1mpg; CO2 emissions: 302g/km