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Thursday 24th May 2012


DRIVEN: AUDI R8 GT SPYDER

Hardcore R8 GT loses its roof and becomes a bit ... less hardcore! (Now with added video content!)


Great car, disappointing gearbox was the basic gist of our first encounter with the R8 GT. So what of the Spyder? Well, great car, disappointing gearbox and a bit more wind in your hair.

Le Mans winner in the passenger seat: pressure!
Le Mans winner in the passenger seat: pressure!
Review over before it's begun?

Well, you're probably keen to hear a little bit more about this hardcore R8 Spyder. So here goes.

To recap this is, in spirit, the R8 to celebrate the on-track success of its LMS racing cousin which, in new and improved Ultra form, just recently took a one-two at the Nurburgring 24-hour. Good timing then. And with the LMS Ultra making inroads into Porsche's traditional customer GT racing car market, is this the R8 to take on the GT3 and GT2-badged 911 roadcars too? Or simply an R8 with a few bits of carbon to make it appear a little more 'track'?

Weight watchers
Quattro GmbH certainly hasn't been shy when going to work on the GT R8s. Fixed-rate dampers (yay!) replace the magnetorheological ones optioned onto many R8s and it rides around 10mm lower. 85kg has been trimmed out of the kerbweight, visually represented with additional visible carbon around the windscreen surround and on the now fixed rear wing, the diffuser, the splitter and even the little flics on the nose.

Details nailed with typical Audi precision
Details nailed with typical Audi precision
It still weighs 1,640kg mind, give or take the same as a Mercedes SLS Roadster and 100kg or so heavier than a 911 Cabriolet. With 560hp - 35hp up on the standard V10 - and costing £158,145 it's considerably faster and more expensive than the Porsche and nearly 10 per cent cheaper than the Merc. It is, however, at least £36K more than the standard R8 V10 Spyder fitted with the comparable R Tronic gearbox.

Enough stats already. Is it worth it?

Bragging rights
Well, neither this Spyder nor its coupe equivalent are, truly, going to give a GT3 a fright. The weight savings are welcome and hard won and the detail tweaks to suspension, brakes and powertrain do elevate it above standard R8s. But while the LMS version has successfully taken on the 911 and beaten it on the Nordschleife it's hard to imagine car parks outside the Pistenklause and its equivalents suddenly overrun with R8 GTs instead of the usual GT3s.

'Track' mods are tastefully done
'Track' mods are tastefully done
And not just because, like the coupe, just 333 are going to be built.

Which isn't to say it's not a good car, because it is, very. R8s have always impressed for their friendly, approachable manner and, hardcore trimmings or not, the GT is the same but more so. It's a car anyone can grab by the scruff of the neck and feel like they're driving the nuts off it from the first moment.

As nice as the V8 is that muscular sounding V10 howl is something of an R8 signature and even more prevalent in this GT. Shame about the obviously faux exhaust cutouts in the back bumper though, and the fact the real, and much weedier real ones, are clearly visible within.

They sound more authentic than they look though, and suitably immense.

Standard GRP seats save 31kg, carbon more
Standard GRP seats save 31kg, carbon more
On your side
And it's just so benign and biddable too. Hardly words you'd usually associate with the ragged edge of supercar driving, but for those of us with more everyday levels of driving ability it's easy to feel like a hero. And when, like Allan McNish, you really have got proper talent (see the vid) it doesn't seem to run out of ideas either. He wasn't supposed to drive us round in it. But he couldn't help himself, the R8 responding well to his savage, racer's maximum-attack style.

It just gives you options too. A degree of initial understeer can be tempered with trail braking, a lift or a bootful depending on where you are in the corner, and the R8 responds faithfully and predictably to all inputs, which just gives you heaps of confidence.

Gearbox just about OK in manual mode
Gearbox just about OK in manual mode
And then the gearbox rears its ugly head. If the rumours are correct the R8 is soon to get a dual-clutch transmission and it can't come soon enough, the R Tronic delivering head-noddingly ponderous shifts in auto mode and quite happy to arrive at a corner two or three ratios higher than you'd have liked, carrying far too much momentum and then finally downshifting at the least appropriate time possible.

Manual all the way
In fairness it's acceptable in manual mode with the Sport button pushed and at least responds with reasonable speed and aggression to the paddles. And this is the way you'd configure it for track driving. And, if you've got any patience whatsoever, for the road too. We tried the auto mode out of due diligence. And then gave up after freewheeling and understeering round the first roundabout still in fifth. Manual mode all the way if you're to enjoy even half of what this car is really capable of.

Go on, add a '3' to that and do it properly!
Go on, add a '3' to that and do it properly!
If you really are after a hardcore R8 though you're probably better off with the coupe, which not only weighs 115kg less but also won't wobble and shudder over potholes and undulations like the Spyder can on occasion.

Not that you'll care when the sun's out and that V10 warble is bouncing back off walls and hedges. This is a feelgood car, and need feel no shame in that. OK, perhaps more marketing-led than true trackhead but it's tastefully - if expensively - done and the 42 owners who'll no doubt snap up the UK allocation deserve to be very happy indeed with their new purchase.

The speed with which the coupes sold out - just 33 made it here - suggests there's appetite yet for a more hardcore R8 in the regular model line-up too. The LMS has proven itself against the GT3 on track. And the GT's chassis is clearly up to it. All it needs is a properly pared-back spec, a manual transmission and slightly tighter settings on the already excellent chassis. There was a half cage/extinguisher option on the coupe - pair that with it, give it a properly daft rear wing like the race car, call it the R8 Ultra or something and we'll come running!


AUDI R8 GT SPYDER
Engine:
5,204cc V10
Transmission: 6-speed R Tronic automated manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 560@8,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 398@6,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.8 sec
Top speed: 197mph
Weight: 1,640kg (EU, excluding driver)
MPG: 19.9mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 332g/km
Price: £158,145 (basic list)

Photos by SBMotoPhoto


A rather windswept and slightly jiggly lap of Stowe Circuit with Allan McNish...


Author: Dan Trent