In an automotive age of downsized engines, Audi went big with the R8. Even the base-engine R8 gets a naturally aspirated V-10 engine that’s essential to the mid-engined supercar’s character, not to mention mine-is-different-from-yours bragging rights. The Audi is a 10-cylinder turboless rebel of a supercar, yet the second-generation R8 also manages to be very mature. That combination, as well as gorgeous convertible looks, makes the 2017 Audi R8 V10 Spyder an appealing way to fill another spot in a large garage—but only for the right type of buyer. We’ve lauded R8s for being everyday usable, so we drove the car on the track, in traffic, on clear highways, on winding roads, and through tunnels once or twice (OK, more than twice) to determine what the drop-top variant is really like to live with.
Buyers aren’t really going to daily drive the R8, but unless you host car shows at your country club’s golf course down the street, you’ll have to drive back from every show and head home from every weekend getaway. And the R8 is aurally entertaining no matter where you are up to the car’s 8,500 rpm redline. After maybe apologizing to your neighbors, set the exhaust sound to Dynamic in the customizable Individual drive mode, and the exhaust will remind you of the muscular 10-cylinder powertrain even at moderate throttle. The R8’s 5.2-liter V-10 produces 540 hp at 7,800 rpm and 398 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm, compared to the V10 Plus model’s 610 hp and 413 lb-ft. Our tester weighed in at 3,918 pounds, or just 11 pounds more than a previous-generation 2014 R8 Spyder with the car’s then-standard 430-hp engine.
With more power and a curb weight kept in check, the R8 Spyder has made significant Motor-Trend-tested acceleration improvements from one generation to the next. The eight-cylinder 2014 R8 hit 60 mph in a respectable 4.0 seconds on to a quarter-mile time of 12.5 seconds at 110.6 mph. Our 2017 R8 V10 Spyder tester made it to 60 mph in only 3.3 seconds and shaved off a full second in the quarter mile, clocking in at 11.5 seconds at 122.7 mph. A 2017 R8 V10 Plus coupe we’ve tested improves these numbers to 2.6 seconds to 60 mph and 10.6 seconds at 130.3 mph through the quarter mile.
At the track, road test editor Chris Walton said that the R8 V10 Spyder’s launch control isn’t as violent as a more powerful R8 V10 Plus coupe we’ve tested, and he noted that the car was consistent across multiple runs using different launch methods. With quarter-mile trap speeds remaining steady throughout, Walton explained that meant the engine is getting plenty of cooling and the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission is happy to make the same launches/shifts, run after run.
Off the track, the transmission shifts smoothly enough except in its Sport mode that’s noticeably rougher. The car’s power is accessible even to those who don’t have the high-performance track experience Walton does. The car’s all-wheel-drive system sends most of the torque to the rear wheels but can transfer all of it to the front axle if necessary, and the R8 feels secure as you rocket toward the other end of a tunnel, listening to the engine sound echo off the walls. Those who want more of a performance edge than the R8 V10 provides should consider the R8 V10 Plus (or another car). The 610-hp V10 Plus in coupe and recently revealed convertible form offers a different kind of thrill.
“If the R8 V10 Plus is a proper sports car, the regular R8 V10 is more a gran turismo,” wrote international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie after driving both cars. “Still fast, still with that charismatic V-10 growl, and still a delight to hustle through the twisties but just a slightly more relaxed take on the whole concept.”
You’ll still have fun on a winding road in the R8 V10, a car with capabilities that are—like every supercar—far beyond the speed most drivers are willing to travel on a public street. There is some steering feel (though the steering might not be as quick as you’d expect), and the brakes feel fine on the road. On the track, however, it was a different story.
“I rather like the brake effectiveness and pedal feel in every circumstance but limit braking,” Walton said about the R8 on the track. “For each and every ABS stop, the brake pedal felt extremely hard, dead, even ‘wooden.’”
Braking from 60 to 0 mph came in a respectable but not class-leading 111 feet. As with acceleration, that’s very consistent over multiple iterations of the same test. Despite the brakes’ performance at the track, if you’re considering a base-engine convertible version of the R8 instead of the slightly more performance-focused coupe or a V10 Plus variant, the $9,900 ceramic brake upgrade might not make much sense.
On Motor Trend’s figure-eight course, which evaluates a number of different driving characteristics including acceleration, braking, and cornering (and the transitions between them), the 2017 R8 V10 Spyder performed well. Aside from another complaint about the on-track, limit performance of the brakes, testing director Kim Reynolds said the R8 had “almost unnoticeable body movements.” The car’s figure-eight performance was 23.7 seconds at 0.87 average g, or not far off from a more powerful R8 V10 Plus coupe that completed the course in 23.5 seconds at 0.90 average g.
Reynolds said he could easily rotate the tail out when exiting corners, while maintaining control. The car’s first go at the figure-eight course, before understeer became a factor, was the best.
No matter where you drive the R8, you’ll turn heads. Just like our red long-term Chevrolet Camaro SS, the R8 inspires bizarre behavior that in my case included a midsize sedan driver trying to impress me by demonstrating how quick the family car could go. Audi has sharply refined the R8’s styling from the first to the second generation, and I’d recommend upgrading to the 20-inch wheels from the standard 19s to maximize curb appeal even if it does lead to what might be a slightly rougher but still tolerable ride (those 20-inch wheels are shown in dark, European-spec form in this review).
The interior looks special, too. As with the TT, the R8 lacks a center-stack screen, relying instead on Audi’s completely digital Virtual Cockpit display. The configurable display looks great with Google Earth satellite imagery, but it is cool even when you don’t have open the full-size map view. Taller drivers should spend some time in an R8’s driver’s seat before ordering, unless you’re OK with tilting your head to the side every time you close the convertible’s top, which can open and close in 20 seconds at speeds of up to 31 mph (I’m just under 6’5”, a little taller than most drivers). One suggestion for Audi, perhaps just for convertibles, is to make the driver’s left knee rest/pad a little softer.
Among all the ways to spend $191,550, not many automotive options are as sexy as the 2017 Audi R8 V10 Spyder. Some exotics are quicker and others have more of an edge to them such as the 540-hp 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet we tested that carried an as-tested price of $179,965. That car manages a 0-60-mph time of only 2.9 seconds with far greater efficiency and no gas-guzzler tax. But no matter how special the 911 is, it’s still a variant of a car with a sub-$100,000 base price. The R8 is far more exclusive and plays a much different soundtrack. Cars in the $150,000-$250,000 range have wildly different personalities, whether you’re talking about the Ferrari California T, Porsche 911 Turbo, and Nissan GT-R NISMO or the Mercedes-AMG SL63 and GT C, BMW i8, Audi R8, and Bentley Continental GT. When you want more of a wild look than a wild, watch-out-for-that-tree driving experience, the 10-cylinder Audi R8 V10 Spyder could be the way to go.
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