Caught fast in the web of a beautiful Spyder
The R8 is a sight to behold, and only three people here will experience owning it this year, but looks can be a little deceiving, finds Neil Lyndon
AS we lift our faces to the sun for the first time in months, it's not just our coats, hats and gloves that we start to throw off. At the same time that they drove the rooks into a frenzy of nest-building, the recent high barometric pressures also gave rise to tentative thoughts of open cars. And, precisely at this blessed moment, out comes the Audi R8 Spyder -- the most eagerly anticipated open car of the year.
When Audi's ground-breaking, all-wheel drive, mid-engined supercar first appeared in 2007, a rumour immediately got started that a soft-top version was in the works. Good money changed hands solely on the strength of this scuttlebutt. Some people were so possessed that they put down deposits with Audi, saying: "If this car ever appears, I want to be the first to own it."
Hard though it may be to believe, sufficient numbers of such nutters existed for Audi in the UK to sell its entire 2010 allocation of 200 R8 Spyders in advance. If you order it now over there, you probably won't get your hands on it for 12 months. Here, it is even more rarefied. There is just one Spyder in the country at present, although Audi expects to sell three by year end. The good news is that you will only have to wait four months to become one of that trio of owners. Don't forget to have €229,560 handy.
It is easy to see what possessed these fantasists. The R8 Spyder looks even better than it might have done in dreams.
Many convertibles have the appearance of a half-baked afterthought but the R8 Spyder's folding fabric roof -- which is electrically driven into a compartment behind the bulkhead that separates the two seats from the engine bay -- gives coherent purpose to the bulgy line that rises from the car's rear and makes it look as if the whole thing was always meant to be this way. It helps to add resolution to the R8 Spyder's exterior that Audi has left off the prominent sideblades in contrasting colours that so disfigure the body of the fixed-roof versions of the R8. The Spyder thus looks like the finished article.
It seems to enrapture everybody who sets eyes upon it, not just car nuts.
On a long motorway drive, my test car drew incessant grins, nods of approval and snappings on mobile phone cameras. Having nothing better to do, I sometimes let these admirers cop an earful of the full range of sound effects from the R8 Spyder's orchestral -- nay, Mahleresque -- 525bhp V10 engine. After they had passed me, smiling and waving, I would pull out into an overtaking lane, drop the six-speed semi-automatic transmission a couple of gears, floor the accelerator and howl past them for 200 yards before pulling in again and slowing down to a sedate speed.
From the flashing lights and thumbs-up that followed, I gathered that these showings-off had been enjoyed by the beholders as much as by the show-off.
Alas, the Spyder is not always as good to drive as it looks and sounds. On more demanding roads, the compromises that can't be avoided when a convertible is cut out of a fixed-head coupe creep out of the metalwork. Despite having been reinforced, the monocoque structure flexes, almost trembles, under the strain of heavy cornering and I even heard a rattle -- an unprecedented horror in an R8 -- from behind the rear bulkhead.
When the hood is raised, its pillars cut down rear three-quarter visibility like blinds and make reversing in car parks a nerve-racking undertaking. Meanwhile, its foot-wide tyres on 19in wheels create such massive inertia when the steering wheel is being turned at low speeds that the computer controlling the transmission has to reorganise its forces to push the car around, otherwise it would stall. There's 525bhp on tap which will take you to 0-100kmh in 4.1 seconds on the way to 194mph (if you were allowed to). The emissions are are a jaw-dropping 356 g/km but 22 to the gallon has been achieved.
If you want to be popular, the R8 Spyder is unquestionably the convertible of the season. If you want to shove it in the world's face that you couldn't care less what anybody thinks, the Bentley Continental GT Supersport Convertible will do that job to a T. No car is more ostentatiously selfish than this new 600bhp two-seater. For a quiet life, however, the best choice might be the well-established Lexus IS250C. It seats four, gives no offence and, best of all, its steel folding roof will snap back into place to seal off the car like a thermal blanket the instant that barometer starts to fall again.
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