There's beauty in the beast
By David Morgan
IRONIC, isn't it? There I was enjoying the delights of Audi's 194mph R8 V10 Spyder supercar with the roof down and bowling along at "around" the legal limit, while all the time I was being overtaken by streams of bikers howling majestically past at far higher speeds – and who do the police pull in? Me!
It was a friendly enough "stop" – a wee reminder about my speed, the difficulties of the road and its unpredictable wildlife, and the fact that an overnight road closure was planned. Oh, and can we have a look at your car?
Their interest in road safety proved to be perfectly balanced by their intricate knowledge of the R8 V10. And who can blame them. The R8 V10 is a spectacular piece of kit and in its Spyder guise one of the rarest supercars you're likely to spot on a north road.
And the reminder about speed could not have been more appropriate in a two-seater that drives like a track car with the acoustics of an Indy Special, will nudge 200mph and blast to 62mph in 4.1 seconds.
Its quattro all-wheel-drive makes it grip like a limpet and, with the suspension in Sport mode, the chassis is as stiff and engaging as you'll find.
But it's the grumpily sweet sound of the 10-cylinder 520bhp FSI 5.2-litre engine and its wonderful howl on a wide throttle as the revs soar above 4000rpm, that makes this R8 something special.
I like the R8 – but in my book it runs a close race with the latest Porsche 911. And if it was my money I'd bin both of them for a new Porsche Boxster S that I drove a few weeks ago.
It's better value for money, cheaper to buy and run and has more room for luggage than the Audi.
But there's no denying that the V10 in Spyder guise is the top of the Audi performance car tree.
And so it should be with a list price of £117,740 – or more than £120,000 if you add the options on my test car.
The extra cost delivered cruise control, automatic main beam, Audi's "advanced" parking system with rear camera at nearly £1,300, illuminated door sills and two inexplicable extras – coloured stitching costing £275 for the standard fine Nappa leather upholstery, and a £205 garage door opener (presumably for those with an automatic garage door).
The R8 looks spectacular – a mean, ground-hugging creature fronted by a gaping maw of Audi's standard design grille.
Even though the engine's air comes mainly from the car's massive side scoops, that grille, flanked by big headlamps and gloss plastic intakes, gives this near two-metre-wide supercar the athletic get-up-and-go character.
It goes like the wind, thanks to a free-revving V10 that produces 390 Newton metres of torque at 6500rpm and peak power at a heady 8000rpm.
That encourages plenty of high revs and brings the car alive at about 4000rpm.
It sounds incredible. As the revs rise, so does its symphonic delivery – something that culminates in an exhaust note that sits between a frenetic roadgoing V8 and Lewis Hamilton's F1 mount.
Drop the roof at rest or at a brisk walking pace – a mechanical ballet that takes less than 25 seconds – and the soundtrack gets better still.
Even with the roof in place you can boost the exhaust note audio by opening the electrically powered heated rear window panel.
But it's with the thickly-lined fabric roof and its clever flying buttresses folded away that the Spyder comes into its own.
Find a classic Highland road, such as my beloved Bealach na Ba, and the combination of throttle response, adhesion, torque, exhaust bellow and the R8's rifle bolt six-speed manual gearbox lever and a dedicated driver is in seventh heaven.
High speed is not an issue here. This car handles so well and so accurately on its huge 19-inch rims and 30 section rubber that it's easy to stay well within speed limit and wind it up the twistiest of single trackers with a fluidity that's a delight.
Around town it's best to leave the suspension in softer standard mode – but head for the open road and Sport is a must.
With a bellyful of super unleaded petrol in its 80-litre tank you might just get 230 miles out of it before another refill.
But you'd have to be crazy to drive this car at the kind of speed that equates to an urban average of 13mpg.
The R8's government combined average, normally an over-optimistic assessment of a car's thirst, was 19.3mpg.
On test I covered around 400 miles and managed about 20mpg. On one relaxed section of the A82 I even managed to get that average to 24.6mpg.
Build quality is impeccable, although the ham-fisted attention of some of my motoring writer colleagues scarred the V10 by pushing the electronic fuel filler and bonnet releases into their housing and out of reach.
That same bone-headed treatment also managed to stretch the mechanical handbrake cable so much that it would not hold the car on a gentle slope.
I cured the former by removing some plastic door trim and manoeuvring the switch block back in place. The latter was a service job.
But it's not all sweetness and light. With the crab-like hood in place, rearward visibility is poor. This is a car where mirror skills are vital.
And if you are planning a long trip, be ready to travel light. The huge clamshell bonnet accesses a luggage bin that's more like a glove compartment – 100 litres is all you get.
Given the mechanical reputation of similar R8s and the high standard of general finish in the cabin, this is one supercar which should rank with the Porsche for longevity and reliability.
This is no mass production two-seater. It's an astonishing and rare example of hand-built perfection that found only 115 buyers in the UK last year.
It's high tech in every aspect of its design and construction, and with an aerodynamic profile that's both brutish and beautiful.
FINAL THOUGHT: The Audi that puts the "super" into supercar. Meticulous construction challenged by heavy-handed motoring hacks apart, the R8 V10 is a fabulous high performance drive with the kind of handling and grip you only find with quattro technology.
Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10 Spyder
- Price: £117,740 (£120,455 as tested)
- Capacity: 5204cc
- Power: 520bhp at 8000rpm
- 0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
- Maximum speed: 194mph
- Economy: Combined 19mpg, Urban 12.7mpg
- CO2 emissions: 349g/km (VED M)
- ESP: Standard
- Insurance: Group 50 (new 1-50 Grouping System)