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Audi R8 Spyder 2017

  • By Andrew Chesterton
  • 25 August 2017

The National Parks worker manning the gates guarding the final climb to the Perisher car park couldn't have looked more confused if we'd turned up naked and riding a unicorn.

"Chains required past this point", the sign clearly reads, but the Audi R8 Spyder's tyres are noticeably naked, and it's not exactly swimming with places to store a packet of gum, let alone four thick and heavy snow chains.

"Ah, you might not believe this, but this is actually an all-wheel drive," I tell her. "And so, I think, that means we're good to go?"

I get a slow and uncertain nod in reply, but crucially, I also get a National Parks sticker handed to me, which is really all the confirmation I need.

Welcome, then, to a brutally cold morning atop the NSW Snowy Mountains - a winter wonderland of driving roads that twist up and over the Australian Alps like a giant silk ribbon has been draped across the peaks.

The only problem is you can't really drive them in winter, with anything even resembling a rear-drive sports car. It would likely spear you off the road and into one of the many, many trees that line these roads, quicker than you can say, "What's this I hear about black ice?".

And that means you're usually stuck driving some boring four-wheel drive. Cautious, practical cars that will transport you slowly and safety over the peaks.

Or, as it turns out, you could take an Audi R8 Spyder.

Okay then, let's talk about the convertible elephant in the room. Is it the most exciting, most aggressive supercar on the road? No. No, it's not. But you could hardly accuse it of looking understated, either.

Instead, it looks composed. It looks finished. And like it was designed by an adult rather than a teenage boy. If this was a proper Italian supercar, it would be a sea of weird angles or screaming "look at me" everywhere it goes. But the R8 Spyder doesn't do that.

The wheels are a sensible 19-inches, too, so they don't rattle you to death on city roads. And that means you can actually, genuinely live with it, rather than pull the covers off one Sunday a month before spending the next three weeks at the chiropractor.

The 19-inch alloys don't rattle you to death on city roads which means you can actually, genuinely live with it. The 19-inch alloys don't rattle you to death on city roads which means you can actually, genuinely live with it.

Drawbacks? It looks mean as all get out with the roof down, but it doesn't look quite so good with the fabric roof up. Because the engine bay is so long, the little roof looks perched on top, like it's wearing a yarmulke.

Inside, it probably doesn't quite feel special enough to justify the price tag. Understated is the order of the day, here, especially with our test car's grey-on-grey interior and simple - though perfectly executed - dash.

Most interesting inside, though, is the lack of a centre screen, with Audi instead directing all key functions to the digital driver's binnacle. It does take some getting used to, but once you do, it feels like the future.

It's as practical as a see-through change room, and as spacious as a coin purse, but if you're shopping for family friendly digs, you're at the wrong end of the market. 

The cabin is tight from the driver's seat, with the figure-hugging seats clinging to your sides and the driving position set closer to the wheel for better control. And neither of those are bad things here.

You'll also find two cupholders between the passengers, as well as a tiny storage compartment between the two headrests. The pocket in each door is comically hard to use, though, and the glovebox won't be winning any storage awards either. 

The boot is filled with engine, so external storage is found in the bonnet (112 litres), which opens to reveal a small-but-deep hole that will swallow two soft overnight bags without any problem.

It would take someone with pockets deeper than the Grand Canyon to think of the Spyder's $388,500 price tag as some kind of bargain, but in the high-flying world of drop-top supercars, it's a steal. 

Want that same V10 engine wrapped in the body of a Lamborghini Huracan? That'll be $471,000, sir. So you're already the best part of $100k better off in the Audi. Chump change at this end of the market, we'd imagine. But still.

Anyway, that spend will buy you a glorious V10 engine, all-wheel drive and the kinds of road-sticking thrills that are at times hard to believe. But we'll come back to that under our driving sub-head.

Outside, expect 19-inch alloy wheels that conceal black-painted calipers, remote unlocking and push-button start and LED headlights with automatic high beam which are framed by daytime-running lights. 

That fabric roof will open or close in in 20 seconds and at speeds of up to 50km/h, too, thanks to its electro-hydraulic drive system. The glass rear window can be lowered or raised, helping with buffeting in the cabin.

The glass rear window can be lowered or raised, helping with buffeting in the cabin. The glass rear window can be lowered or raised, helping with buffeting in the cabin.

Inside, you'll find two figure-hugging nappa leather sports seats and a beautiful flat-bottomed steering wheel which sits in front of Audi's 12.3-inch digital driver's binnacle - what it calls its Virtual Cockpit - that takes care of every possible entertainment, navigation or driving function. So much so, that's it's the only screen in the cabin.

Navigation is standard, as well as seatbelt-mounted microphones, and there's a 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, complete with two headrest-mounted speakers, to help compete with the world outside while the roof is down.

What a glorious, howling beast this 5.2-litre V10 engine is, spitting 397kW at 7800rpm and 540Nm at 6500rpm to all four wheels, with a vaguely terrifying ferocity. It's enough to see 0-100km/h whip past the windows in 3.6 seconds (and it feels every bit that fast), and will push the big Audi onto a flying top speed of 318km/h.

That screaming power is fed to the wheels through a super-fast, seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic,  and its water-cooled, all-wheel clutch can shift up to 100 per cent of drive to the front or rear wheels as required.

Driving modes are standard fit, too, with Audi's 'Drive Select' able to flick between four defined driving modes, impacting accelerator mapping, steering weight and speed, the gearbox and the adjustable suspension (what Audi calls 'Magnetic Ride').

The official claimed figure is 11.7L/100km (10 per cent less than the last model) on the combined (urban, extra-urban) fuel economy cycle, and that number is achievable enough if you're stretching the Spyder's legs on plenty of freeways. But drive it the way you will absolutely be driving it, and you can wave those numbers goodbye.

Emissions are a claimed 277g/km of C02.

Full disclosure, I've always been a huge fan of the R8, but not for the reasons you might think. See, most supercars are these loud, shouty things that are huge barrels of fun for about 10 minutes, and then you need to climb out of them with burst eardrums and a shattered spine. 

But not the R8. This is genuinely an everyday supercar. It's comfortable, it's convenient, it's not so ridiculously low that you scrape it's nose on every tiny bump in the road. Leave it in Comfort mode and it will cruise around the city like any old Audi. 

But it's not any old Audi. Because when you hit engage Dynamic mode, that exhaust takes on a deeper note, and the big V10 engine kind of primes itself for what comes next. And what comes next is something pretty damn special.

People don't reckon this thing’s a real supercar? Try unleashing one on the twisting bliss of the NSW alps, and then we'll talk. 

The acceleration is just brutal, the tyres sticking to the road below and sending the R8 catapulting into the future, your flat-footed blast accompanied by the most intoxicating bark from the exhaust, which has stepped up the volume in the R8's sportiest setting.

The R8 truly comes alive, shedding its calm and comfortable German alter-ego and unleashing the fiery Italian within.

They'll one day sing songs about the roads that surround Jindabyne, and while some - like the Alpine Way - are locked inside a cage of snow and ice throughout winter, others are just crying out to be driven in the colder months.

And so after our sprint to Perisher, we head for the Snowy Mountains Highway, which climbs from outside Cooma through Adaminaby, all the way up to the Mount Selwyn ski fields.

And it's here that the R8 truly comes alive, shedding its calm and comfortable German alter-ego and unleashing the fiery Italian within. The grip is genuinely staggering, so much so that you soon forget worrying about ice patches and instead focus on carrying more and more speed through the increasingly tight bends as the road climbs into the mountains. 

The R8 laughs heartily in the face of 35km/h corners (rule of thumb, double the suggested speed, and then add some more), and though its carrying more than 100 bonus kilograms over the coupe - owing mostly to the reinforcements to counteract the fabric roof - I can't for the life of me figure out where they've gone. But it's the way it tenses and pounces through the other side of bends that truly paints a smile on your face. 

Soon enough, the sun sets on one the great driving days, and with a long drive ahead we set off for home. Roof up, Comfort mode selected and the Audi packs Mr Hyde into its tiny boot and swaps back into a comfortable Jekyll for the freeway cruise back to Sydney.

Expect four airbags (dual front, front-side), as well as a sport-tuned ESC system, and all the usual braking aids. A reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors and cruise control round out the safety kit. 

ANCAP has not tested the R8.

The R8 Spyder is covered by Audi's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and will require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km. It doesn't fall under Audi's 'Genuine Service Care Plan' (allowing you to pre-pay service costs), but Audi's website does list the kilometre intervals for all major works.

So is the Audi R8 Spyder the everyday supercar? Certainly for days like this, it's hard to think of anything more fun.

Where does Audi's new R8 Spyder rank on your drop-top supercar hit-list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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