Road test: Audi R8 Spyder

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Better than most alfresco conversions, although there is a ‘but’…

Although it surprises me to say as much, the new Audi R8 works better in roadster than coupé configuration. I’m surprised because everything that’s required to turn one into the other usually makes a car worse. A convertible is by definition heavier, slower, more cumbersome, thirsty, poorer riding and less comfortable than the closed car on which it is based. Not to mention more expensive.

Yet the R8 lends itself to the process exceptionally well. This is not quite the glowing praise it may initially appear, because were the R8 coupé a more involving kind of junior supercar, then doubtless it would have far more to lose in the conversion process than its roof. But because the R8 is a rather relaxed, slightly remote kind of car, you miss far less those sacrifices that have been made to create this Spyder version.

Besides, it has suffered far fewer ill effects that most. The ride remains unreasonably good for such a car, while the interior is so quiet with the roof up that it’s easy to forget that it can also be lowered at the press of a button. Drop the lid though, and you’ll enjoy even more of what the R8 does best, which is to make a thoroughly wonderful racket thanks to its normally aspirated 5.2-litre V10. A smaller engine with turbos is on the way, but I understand as an addition to the range, and Audi is to be congratulated for being one of very few to remain loyal to atmospheric aspiration, at least for now.

And because your expectations are so much lower for convertibles, the R8 Spyder has far less of a problem attaining them that its roofed sister. It may not leave you weeping for joy at the end of your favourite road, but it’s got you there safely, quickly and capably. Its structure won’t shake, you won’t be aware of what tiny scrap of performance it’s lost and it’ll handle well enough to put a broad smile on your face, if not a full Cheshire cat grin.

It fails where the R8 coupé fails, most notably in a dull, unadventurous interior that should be far more special in a mid-engined, two seat convertible with a six-figure price tag. And navigation that can be displayed only in the instrument binnacle, rather than on a dedicated screen as per any number of Audis you can buy for a fraction of the price, is likewise disappointing.

Nonetheless I felt far better disposed towards the R8 Spyder than I did the coupé. Or at least my inner objective, balanced car assessor did. Subjectively I felt rather differently, because there is so little legroom for a 6ft 4in driver that after no more than half an hour at the wheel I was ready to get out. There is usually a penalty for packaging the roof behind the rear seats, but rarely one this serious. If you are tall, a decent test drive is essential if you are not to risk regretting your purchase. If not, and if its laidback approach appeals (so long as you don’t expect it to provide any kind of seminal driving experience), the R8 Spyder should suit you well.