Just what you need. A few days holiday, hotels booked in the Lake District and Yorkshire, the keys to one of the first Audi R8 Spyders to make it to the UK - and the wettest, coldest Easter weather forecast in living memory.
Roof up, Spyder refinement is excellent
Still, it takes more than a re-run of Noah's flood to dampen a PHer's enthusiasm for a road-trip, so we forge northwards regardless. The M25 and the M1 both turning into spray-ridden, stop-start nightmares of in-your-face brake lights, and ill-mannered morons who want to get nowhere faster than the rest of us.
But we're not too bothered by what's going on outside, as the R8's cabin proves snug and comfortable with the novel yet traditional-looking fabric roof raised. In fact in refinement terms it seems pretty much on a par with the V8 coupe we drove to Le Mans last year, which isn't a bad trick. And seriously, it might be p***ing down, but we've got a weekend away with one of the most glamorous new cars that will hit UK streets this year - what's not to like?
Nice cabin, but no space for your 'stuff'
Well, there is one small fly in the ointment. Audi has given us a Spyder with sequential R tronic transmission, which - at low speeds - feels sluggardly and a bit lumpen when left to its own devices. But even so, would I have swapped it for a full manual version with a 2hr stop-start around the M25 in front of me? Not a chance if I'm honest, and I'm pretty certain the R tronic isn't going to diminish the fun too much once the traffic thins out - in manual mode at higher speeds it responds well enough, even if doesn't have the electrifying shift times of the latest twin-clutch set-ups.
We got this much in up front... just!
That's pretty much where the criticisms stop though, because in all other respects this car is proving almost indecently desirable. Audi may call it 'the practical supercar', presumably referring to the ownership experience rather than its minimalist approach to luggage carrying, but it's an exotic beastie to look at it. Ours came in an understated gloss black, but even so heads turned everywhere we went, and that squat, slatted rear view is pure magic.
The cabin provides a terrific ambience for the driver, too, even if you'll struggle to find space for your phone or sunglasses. With a grippy little flat-bottomed steering wheel and a focused instrument cluster that looks traditionally sporty while retaining that typically Audi-esque 'technical' style, it's all very stylish and unfussy, and the build quality and materials seem impeccable. Not so clever is the metal gear selector which might get painfully hot in sunshine without the shade of the roof - and became unpleasantly frigid when we drove topless (the car, not us!) in near freezing weather. That's not another criticism, in case you were wondering. More of a helpful observation...
R8 upstaging Count Dracula's wheels
The roof opens and closes in 19secs, and because you can operate it at speeds of up to 31mph, it encourages open-air motoring even when it's wet. At speeds above 30mph any weather goes straight over the top, so we drove open-roofed in the rain - raising the hood at key moments while cruising up to roundabouts or junctions, so as not to a) get wet or b) be exposed to other drivers as a pair of grinning idiots. This system only works up to a point, we discovered, as when it's raining very hard the wipers shovel icy water over the screen in quantities - straight into the driver's lap. Ugh!
But that's not a meaningful criticism either, of course, because only Caterhams and Morgans should have to be driven uncovered in a downpour. It's just that I'm wanting to clear the decks of any minor niggles before launching into the eulogy that's set to burst unrestrained from my keyboard... and which I can't hold back any longer.
Garlick had more luck with pictures...
You see, I really, really like this car. The (admittedly V8-powered) R8 coupe I've tried before never quite tickled my trout, for reasons I can't quite explain in hindsight so perhaps I was just feeling grumpy. But the R8 Spyder with its awesome, dry-sumped 518hp 5.2-litre FSI V10, deliciously svelte styling (sans 'sideblades') and general superlativeness is a different kettle of fish.
For starters, it just sounds so knee-tremblingly good. That exotic V10 wooffling engagingly around town promises all sorts of fun, and when you do get a chance to wind it up the engine spins to its 8700rpm limiter with a joyful bellowing howl that sounds more like a racing car than a sensible German sports machine. In fact the acoustic engineer who came up with that set of pipes deserves early retirement in the Caribbean on an enhanced Audi pension, because his life's greatest work is surely done already.
Not because he's more artistic...
The performance is suitably thrilling too, as even with the R tronic box the Spyder will crack off 0-62mph in 4.1secs (the same figure is quoted for the manual) and reach a maximum of 194mph. Riggers drove the manual Spyder (in the sunshine, the blighter!) a few weeks back, and advised against the R tronic on the back of that experience, but having sampled only the robotised auto myself I know it would keep me happy.
Let's face it, when you select full Auto mode it's because you're not really 'on it', and the paddle-shifted Sport Manual mode provides as much control and smoothness as you really need out on the road. (Although the extra-milliseconds of speed provided by a full DSG 'box would undoubtedly add an extra frisson of excitement, albeit with potentially expensive additional complexity.)
But the sun almost shone for him...
But good looks and muscle mean nothing without the chassis to back it up, and once again this Audi delivers the goods. With aluminium double-wishbones all round and magnetic dampers as standard, the car corners flat and hard, while retaining a degree of comfort that belies the dynamic agility. It's not a 'soft' set-up, but the ride offers the sort of supple refinement that makes long touring drives a real pleasure.
Grip is exceptional, as you would expect from the quattro system, and even on the wet roads we were faced with the Spyder had no problems getting its power down. The torque split is heavily rear-biased, and the steering is excellent - offering crisp, direct turn-in, while offering a real 'feel' for the road.
And he bought a posh camera on ebay!
With the roof down, and all guns blazing on an open moorland road, it's deliciously engaging stuff - rain or shine - and it was touch and go as to whether I turned the car over to Garlick at the end of our weekend away. But he had his own date with the PH Northern massive
, and anyway, I thought he might be luckier with the weather and get some decent pictures...
All in all, it's hard to think where £117k would be better spent on a new convertible plaything. If the 911 Turbo Cab didn't offer a critical bit of extra luggage space, I reckon Porsche would be very worried indeed.