Northern European cool for sunny climes

Test driving the Audi R8 V10 Spyder  

The first time I saw an R8 was on the A9 motorway, the Autobahn, between Munich and Nuremberg, near Ingolstadt where one of Audi’s German production facilities is based. For a split second I saw it in my rear view mirror before it glided past like a metal disc on an electromagnetic field, flawless and nearly inaudible.  

That was until the driver hit the gas pedal more forcefully and the beautifully designed rear end of the Audi with its brilliant red LED taillights disappeared with a mighty roar within an instant over the horizon. I was driving 120 mph at the time. And left wondering what it would be like to drive a car like that.  

One year later I am in Miami, sitting in the R8 V10 Spyder, the convertible version of the model, which has become a sensation not least because of its bold design.  

Although the R8 is based on the platform of the Lamborghini Gallardo and both cars share a similar engine, the Audi R8 is definitely German in engineering and design. It does not subscribe to the same philosophy as the Ferraris, Lamborghinis or Maseratis, and breaks with the optical tradition of Italian supercars which often have so many sharp edges, more akin to a fighter jet, that one might think they are trying to deceive radar waves.  

Looking at the Audi it becomes immediately apparent that this two-seater is about style, the lines are clean and harmonious with whatever elements it is exposed to. Forceful without being aggressive, this R8 is Northern European cool. It does not shout look at me, it just demands it, and resistance is futile.  

As I walk around the R8, the white body of the Spyder and its sideblade air ducts somehow evoke Jan Hammer’s ‘Crockett’s Theme’ from the 80s TV series Miami Vice in my head. So I mentally put on a pastel coloured suit with rolled up sleeves, loafers, no socks and put Brickell Avenue into the navigation system. My first stop is the Atlantis building, with its missing square in the centre containing a red spiral staircase, made famous by the TV series.  

Arriving there I can see not only how much Miami has changed, but also how much automobile technology has moved on. Buy an Italian supercar and you are getting a car that is built on legacy, opt for the design of an Audi R8 and you are buying the future. 

 

Que buen trasero!  

The teardrop shape of the all aluminium body accentuates the back of the Spyder with its imposing carbon fibre engine cover and aluminium vents that highlight the power lurking underneath it. The black air inlets on either side of the tail covered by horizontal bars are mirrored by the stern-looking front, which also features Audi’s signature grid grill in the centre.  

Even in a city that is used to luxury cars, like Miami, the R8 Spyder turns heads. To test its status, I try an experiment. Turning off the MacArthur Causeway I approach the exclusive, gated community on Star Island. Apparently Don Johnson lived here in the 1980s and stars like Gloria Estefan and Sean Combs still have property on the small island that is draped with docks and super yachts. The security guard sticks his head out of the booth to inspect the vehicle and driver, but a quick nod and wave of the hand from me is all it takes and the gate magically opens, no questions asked. It is clearly a neighbourhood in which the R8 naturally belongs.  

The mixture of power and beauty is also the reason the R8 is popular with both male and female buyers. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Lady Gaga have one, but so do NFL football players like Tom Brady or Reggie Bush. Or actor Robert Downey Jr who drives one privately and in the movie Iron Man. 

Sitting in the R8 for the first time it is easy to see why the car appeals to so many different people. There are many surprises when you are starting the R8 Spyder, but the main one is how easy the car is to drive. No need to touch the accelerator with trepidation. The control is direct and immediate and even without the brakes the car slows handily when the foot leaves the gas pedal.  

Let’s not kid ourselves, this beauty has a 5.2 litre, 525 horsepower mid-engine, and there are only a handful of convertible sports cars in this category in the world. All this power is sitting just inches behind you in a V10 engine that strolls like a Bengal tiger inside its cage. It may at times look docile but you would still not dare put your hand through the bars. 

 

Listen  

When you turn on the engine, it gives off a little, angry growl only to purr like a cat, albeit a rather large one, a couple of seconds later. In regular town traffic the engine continues to hum and reverberates soothingly through the hugging tight seats. It is not wake up the neighbourhood noisy like so many supercars. At least that’s what I thought until some topless dude in South Beach yells at me: “Hey Audi.” When I turn to him, he twists his index finger in front of his ear as if to drill a hole to his brain.  

Well, I am thinking. Audi is the imperative form of the Latin word ‘listen’. The founder of Audi, August Horch, first started a company bearing his surname, which also means ‘listen’ in German. After a disagreement that saw him forced out of the company in 1909, he chose the word Audi for his new generation of automobiles. 

Instead of elaborating on automobile history, I reply, “Yeah listen to this”, as I accelerate around a corner with a deep grumble of the V10. I had put the car in sports mode, which enables a more motorsports oriented shifting of the gears with longer and higher engine revs and when braking and downshifting, it gives off short bursts and huffs as the engine winds down. In automatic mode the dark timbre of the engine is a little more pedestrian friendly.  

The 7-speed S-tronic transmission is very fast and supports automatic, stick assisted or Formula 1 style paddles integrated in the steering wheel. Neither method of shifting gears takes much getting used to, and the S-tronic will change gears faster than any stick-shift manual transmission ever could but if you prefer the precision of human control, it is there for you to use. Combine this with the sports setting and the R8 Spyder becomes a car for many different uses, from the everyday trip to the shopping mall and cruising in the sunshine to the racetrack. 

 

Fasten seatbelts  

Speaking of racetrack. More important than horsepower is torque and this car produces 530 Newton meter (391 lb ft) at 6500rpm. What does this mean? It means it hauls Kim Kardashian’s backside, and mine for that matter, from 0 to 120 mph in less than 12 seconds. It is press-your-back-into-the-seat-at-3G fast. No, not the Internet 3G.  

How do I know? Well there is that little stretch on the 836 West Dolphin Express Way, you know the bit when you have missed the exit to Dolphin Mall again, and you have to go all the way to the turnpike…. Never mind. Take my word for it. The car is capable of a top speed of 195 mph but I did not try that. Honestly.  

Even at greater speed the R8 Spyder, with its standard quattro all wheel drive that has strong rear torque bias, handles well, always seems to have enough grip and instils self-assurance. And when driven say ‘aggressively’, it understeers in exactly the way one would expect. This is really not as scary as one might think a supercar would be and enables drivers of any experience to drive confidently.  

Funnily enough Audi says the suspension system employs ‘magnetic ride’, a magnetically charged fluid that changes its viscosity in sports mode to adapt the R8’s handling. So it actually does hover on a magnetic field?  

 

More than a racecar  

Well not quite, but for a ride this fast, the V10 version is astonishingly comfortable and even after a few hours of driving, the 10-way power-adustable Nappa leather sport seats cradle driver and passenger as securely as a friendly Oktoberfest waitress.  

While the outside of the R8 Spyder puts an emphasis on performance, the interior focuses on luxury.  

Steering wheel, inside door panels, centre console and handbrake handle are wrapped in leather, occasionally interspersed with chrome strips. 

What distinguishes the Spyder from the R8 coupe is of course the retractable roof, which is more suited to the Caribbean than it ever will be to the German Autobahn.  

The fully automated top alone is a technical marvel and the exact opposite of opening an umbrella in a hurricane. Not only does the roof open or close at the touch of a button in much the same way as an electric window, it even does so when driving at a speed of up to 31 mph and all that within 19 seconds.  

In addition the top is strong enough to maintain the aerodynamic qualities and robustness needed for the speeds the V10 is capable of and offers sound insulation that could fool anyone into believing they are in the R8 coupe when enjoying the Bang & Olufsen sound system. 

And, this is amazing, the Spyder has thermal resistant leather seats, containing a pigmentation that will ensure the seat temperature is never greater than 68º F even when exposed to direct sunlight.  

Could there be a better car for Cayman’s climate? 

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