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First drive: Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi R8 Spyder performance
The ultimate Audi R8 Spyder becomes the 620hp performance. Still has THAT V10...


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Audi R8 Spyder performance

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Subtle changes to one of our favourite 'establishment challengers', the fantastic Audi R8, see the most powerful road car the company has ever built finding its maximum kerb appeal in the form of the Spyder performance. It's a truly epic creation, although it's not quite operating at the level of some other Mk2 R8s we could mention...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi R8 Spyder performance
Pricing: 2019MY R8 from 128,200, Spyder performance from 167,545, 182,445 as tested
Engine: 5.2-litre V10 petrol
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive, seven-speed S tronic automatic
Body style: two-door convertible supercar
CO2 emissions: 302g/km (VED Band Over 255: 2,070 first 12 months, then 450 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 20.9mpg
Top speed: 204mph
0-62mph: 3.2 seconds
Power: 620hp at 8,000rpm
Torque: 580Nm at 6,600rpm
Boot space: 112 litres

What's this?

A longer stint in the revised-for-the-2019-model-year Audi R8 Mk2, this time in the ultimate Spyder. No, not Shelob, but the R8 performance open-top, a 620hp beast that has become somewhat pricey. When the midships Audi first arrived in 2008, as a sports car with a 420hp 4.2-litre V8 borrowed from the contemporary RS 4, it was a gnat's beyond 79,000. Inflation-adjusted, that's about 103,650.

The R8 Spyder performance we tested for a week, though, was 182,445, which puts it in a whole different ballpark. OK, the base price of an R8 in 2019 has risen to 128,200, which isn't too shabby when you consider you get a 570hp V10 for that cash now, but once you're knocking on the door of 200,000 for an optioned-up Spyder performance, you start to have to consider some serious metal as alternative choices to the R8. Admittedly, our test car's ticket was inflated by items like Audi Laser Lights for 3,150, carbon door sills for 1,500, Dynamic Steering for 1,350, Audi Magnetic Ride for 1,700, 20-inch forged alloys for 1,400 and - a 'must-tick' - the 1,750 Bang & Olufsen Sound system, but a (basic) 170,000 Audi is still a 170,000 Audi, when all's said and done.

Otherwise, the changes for the Spyder performance are as per Shane's first drive of the Coupe. The exterior has a new nose, signified by the wider 'Singleframe' grille and the three slats cut into the car's conk just below the bonnet shut line, while the suspension and steering have been tweaked to make the R8 supposedly sweeter to drive. Also, power from the FSI 5.2-litre V10 is up. On all models; the 'regular' R8s climb 30hp and 10Nm to new peaks of 570hp/550Nm, while the performance models - renamed from the old 'plus' specification on the pre-facelift Mk2 - are up 10hp/20Nm to 620hp and 580Nm. That means even the Spyder performance, with its 1,770kg kerb weight, is capable of hitting 62mph from rest in 3.2 searing seconds and running on to 204mph, where permitted.

How does it drive?

Let's be clear from the outset, we had plenty of time and distance in the R8 Spyder performance to make up our minds about it. Audi gave us the car in the Cotswolds on a Friday morning and told us to keep it for a week, during which time we covered 662 miles in the thing and spent more than fifteen-and-a-half hours behind its flat-bottomed steering wheel. It did ferocious B-road blasts. It did wonderful A-road cruises, top-down in the sunshine. It did massive long motorway slogs as a pseudo-GT and it also performed town-driving/school-run duties with the sort of docility and aplomb that would have befitted an A3 Sportback; in case you didn't know it, there, we were paraphrasing that old 'the Honda NSX drives just like a Civic when you need it to' chestnut for the Audi clientele.

But the R8 really does excel in a wide variety of circumstances. It's the everyday supercar, writ large for 2019. Like any good 21st-century Audi, it's a supreme all-rounder - it's just that, in this instance, it happens to be a rather extreme all-rounder; more of a Jacques Kallis than a Ronnie Irani, if you will. The ride quality, the noise suppression, the limitations of occupant buffeting (a removable wind deflector and a pop-up glass rear screen, operated electrically and with the possibility of being moved independently of the hood, ensure maximum comfort in the open cabin) and the wonderful mapping of its throttle mean it's perfectly adept at chuntering along at an acceptable speed to other traffic. It can even be driven with all the vim and vigour of a funeral procession, and it will still feel calm, assured and dignified in such instances. There are no histrionics from the 620hp, normally aspirated V10 motor during low-speed manoeuvring and ambling, so it's a remarkably easy car to drive slowly and smoothly.

It's also a remarkably easy car to drive quickly. Like, licence-losing quickly. Pay very, very close attention to its sumptuous Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster if you're 'on it', because injudicious use of the throttle will see you hauling monster pace in the blink of an eye. Don't for a minute think you won't be able to discern a mere 1.64 per cent upswing in peak power on the R8 performance, because it feels even more dementedly rabid at full throttle than the old 610hp 'plus' models used to and it will howl around to its 8,500rpm redline with a frenzied eagerness in all of the first four gears of the seven-speed S tronic 'box, in a manner that's quite shocking. Preposterous pace is not something for which the R8 Spyder performance lacks.

Nor is a spine-tingling soundtrack on the 'absent, presumed missing' list. Honestly, there are few cars we've ever sampled that make a din as good as this. There's some sort of valve that flips open in the exhausts at about 4,500rpm, which makes the Audi go from 'slightly thin, reedy and metallic off-beat voice' to 'hard-edged banshee wail' in an instant and there are a few people who find this kind of thing a bit artificial, a bit forced. Not us, though. Cor blimey, not us. One serendipitous run through the Hindhead Tunnel on the A3 will live with us for the rest of time; the sheer richness and all-encompassing nature of that FSI's transcendental noise, as it bounced and echoed and reverberated and popped off the concrete construct, was enough to elicit involuntary, laugh-out-loud responses from us. It was heavenly - but it sounds just as magnificent when it's out in the open air, the V10 singing its heart out into the nearby surroundings.

You could almost forgive a car with an engine that powerful, that sensational and that musical for nearly any transgression, but there are a few niggles we have to raise. The Spyder has a smaller cabin than the R8 Coupe, a necessity of storing the folding roof in the same sort of region of the car's structure as the aforementioned V10. Therefore, taller drivers and passengers will find it cramped; even with the adjustability of the seats and the steering wheel, a vertical rear bulkhead means that, as the driver, it feels like you're always sitting a touch too close to the major controls. There's some scuttle shake evident from the windscreen frame on rougher roads with the hood down, while we still think the R8's cabin - for all its unimpeachable build quality and sheer ergonomic correctness - lacks for genuine visual pizzazz. The now-defunct pre-facelift RWS was unquestionably sweeter to drive than the Spyder performance and, in retrospect, it seems like a bargain, at its late 2018 price of 116,000 with options. Linked to this fact, did we mention the incredible cost of the Spyder performance already? We did? Oh.

But these are minor observations. The price is almost irrelevant to buyers at this level of the market, and the unrelenting drama of the R8 performance's character will be enough to soften off any slight dynamic foibles it might possess. Which isn't to say that the R8 Spyder performance handles badly, because it doesn't. The excellent steering, the mighty carbon-ceramic brakes (they're standard on the performance), the rigid body control, the just-about-supple-enough damping, the mammoth traction and the keen turn-in all make the R8 almost as enjoyable in the bends as it is to pin it on a straight and watch the speedo go all loopy, while your ears are assaulted by a ten-pot caterwauling. So yeah, the Audi R8 Spyder performance does just about every conceivable thing you could ask of it, for the money, save for taking large bags on board - with a 112-litre 'frunk', pack light if you're going to travel in the Audi for a long time.


There are rivals that might edge the Audi R8 Spyder performance out in a few key areas and there's the obvious thought that there have been preferable R8s to this before (and, indeed, right now, in the form of the Coupe performance). But really? In all honesty? Simply taking the R8 Spyder performance as it is? It's tremendous. Terrific. Achingly desirable, brutally fast, sonically unsurpassed and packing a surprisingly broad spread of talents into its angular, aggressive shape, the Spyder performance is a convertible supercar that deserves to be mentioned in the most exalted of automotive company, because it's absolutely bloody smashing.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 10 Apr 2019    - Audi road tests
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2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.

2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.2019 Audi R8 Spyder performance. Image by Audi.


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