Photographer: Cesar Soto
Cars

For $175,000, the 2018 Audi R8 Spyder Puts You in the Cockpit

Troubles in Germany at the parent company haven't touched the supercar drop-top. Yet.

The 2018 Audi R8 Spyder is the first car I've driven that has caused a passerby to face-plant onto a concrete sidewalk.

He was so distracted, craning his neck to look at the canary-yellow supercar, that he fell face-first into the pavement. The sequence was so bad, so complete, it looked like a scene from a movie.   

It felt appropriate, not just because it is such an eye-catching car. Recently Audi itself has had a bit of a face-plant. Last week German authorities announced they had uncovered more Audi vehicles equipped with systems rigged to cheat emissions tests. It’s the first time prosecutors have investigated Audi cars sold specifically in Europe as part of parent-company Volkswagen AG's “dieselgate” scandal.  

The R8 Spyder is a 540-horsepower V10 convertible.
Photographer: Cesar Soto

The announcement widened the ongoing criminal investigation that started in 2015 and most recently involved office raids at Audi in March. VW’s scandal has cost it more than $25.4 billion so far. The emphasis for the next few years is going to be on making sure drivers still trust Audi's excellent if bland sedans and appealing SUVs—the brand's bread and butter.

But anyway, let's talk about spending $175,100 on an Audi convertible!  

The headlights on the new Spyder are new for 2018.
Photographer: Cesar Soto

The Humble Halo

This is the soft-top version of the R8 V10 coupe. Audi first unveiled it in 2009. Today, both of those cars are humbler cousins to the Lamborghini Huracán, also produced by VW. In fact, both the R8 coupe and the Spyder share an engine (540 horsepower for the Audis, 602hp for the Lambo), seven-speed transmission (AWD for the R8), and track-ready chassis with the decidedly more expensive, aggressive Huracán.

The top deploys in fewer than 20 seconds at up to 30 miles per hour.
Photographer: Cesar Soto

Some new elements on the Spyder are worth noting. Audi has pushed the driver’s cockpit in the Spyder farther forward in the car, echoing the command position in the R8 LMS GT3 race car on which it’s based. Audi has also integrated the Bluetooth microphone into the seatbelt, rather than the dash, so a driver may take hands-free calls with the top down without the wind obliterating every word.

The $192,000 R8 that I tested easily passed the open-air phone-call test on a weekend errand to Montauk, N.Y., with the designers and owners of Double Rainbouu and the head designer for DVF. I also drove it back and forth for the week to the office and on sundry jaunts around Manhattan's East Village. It’s equally at home in highway and city settings, though the tight suspension wore on us after a few hours at cruising speed, and the ramrod-straight seats, combined with stingy legroom, forced my 6’3’’ cyclist friend to fold his lanky frame like origami.

The R8 Spyder can hit 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. 
Photographer: Cesar Soto

(The seats won’t move back very far because, well, that automatic top is stored under the shell at the rear of the car, right behind them. The storage space in the R8 is under the hood, rather than in the trunk—this is a mid-engined monster, remember. Cyclist was fine with it. Thankfully, it was a warm, dry night. The scenario would have been impossible had we needed the top up.)

Fuel efficiency here is 17 miles per gallon in combined driving, similar to that of the McLaren 570S and less than the Chevrolet Corvette's. But efficiency is not why one would buy a sports car, anyway.

The virtual cockpit, a 12.3-inch LCD digital instrument cluster, is perfectly located front and center, right behind the steering wheel.
Photographer: Cesar Soto

Audi’s Best Offering

There are other reasons to buy the R8. For one, it looks sexy with those back vents along the rear, new Audi laser-light headlights, and huge carbon-fiber blades that flank the air vents on either side of its body. Its snub nose, low stance, and all-new, 20-inch, 10-spoke-Y design forged wheels keep the overall impression compact—blessedly in check with a design that could easily have become outré. (I’d choose another color over yellow.)

Pricing can hit $200,000 for the R8 Spyder after options like carbon fiber and sport badging are added. 
Photographer: Cesar Soto

The interior is wrapped in high-gloss carbon and subtle, soft leather. Four distinct drive modes allow it to fly down the highway so magnetically smoothly you might as well be on a monorail; its turning radius and four-corner visibility are so superior as to embolden a driver to the point of dangerous (at least, over-entitled) arrogance; its engine contains some magic quality that allows it to sing as you downshift from 80 miles per hour but remain nearly silent (aka polite) as you crawl through the winding densities of Chinatown. You can hit 60mph in 3.5 seconds. Top speed is 198mph.

While the R8 lacks the intangible but unmistakable driving personality of a Porsche 911 or Corvette (maybe it’s all those safety and stability systems), this is certainly the best Audi has to offer, even more prestigious and exciting to drive than the R8 coupe. Yes, I know it’s heavier, but that’s so literal. As you know if you ever look through any cool Instagram feed, there’s something about convertibles that ignites the imagination.

The top is stored behind the seats, under an automatic shell.
Photographer: Cesar Soto

My favorite part about the R8 is its virtual cockpit: genius. Everything, including the 12.3-inch LCD digital instrument cluster, is set behind the steering wheel, right in front of the driver. That means you never have to glance right to change music or climate settings. I felt more safe and focused while driving with this format than I have for a long time.

What’s more, the round gauges contained therein are so beautiful and well executed that they look like they’re jumping out from the screen in front of you. And the design clears the dashboard of extraneous knobs, so where nearly all other luxury cars today have a big computer screen in the center of the dashboard, only an air vent disrupts the line of the modest black dash. In a car whose space comes at a premium—there is no back seat, not even a ledge, and the “trunk” at the front can hold only the smallest overnight bags—such intelligent design is crucial.

As it wades through its legal problems, Audi shouldn’t lose this type of thought and careful consideration as to how technological function must influence form.  Here’s hoping.

The car is designed to be exceptionally quiet inside at high speeds, even with the top down.
Photographer: Cesar Soto

 

The R8 Spyder is Audi's most exciting offering.
Photographer: Cesar Soto

 

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