The do-it-all wondercar. Some folks search for it like Ponce De León after the Fountain of Youth. Others declare the very concept anathema: The jack of all trades is master of none, they harp. Both are right, and both are wrong. The proof? The ten-cylinder, carbon-and-aluminum 2017 Audi R8 V10 Spyder.
As a cargo hauler, people mover, or dog transporter, the R8 is terrible. Three bags of groceries? Hope you like eating in the parking lot, because only two are going home with you. Score one for the nopeniks.
But as a convertible sports car, the R8 is amazing, and not just because of its mid-engine balance and 540 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque on tap. It’s not even amazing because of its 3.5-second 0-60 mph time or its race-bred pedigree. In fact, it’s amazing because of everything else.
First, you have to look at it, because unlike the previous R8 Spyder, this one looks great whether the top is up or down. Add to the already comely exterior styling a brilliant Ibis white paint job, a carbon-laced and diamond-stitched red leather interior, and the carbon exterior appearance package, and it’s a head-turner before you ever hear the engine note.
But good handling and plenty of power are just the price of entry in the upper echelon of the sporting car world. What makes the R8 Spyder special?
I know that sounds like millennial marketing hogwash, but with the top down, the 5.2-liter V10’s operatic crescendo behind you, and a good road, the dividing line between the machine’s cold, elemental edges and the juicy meat pod in the driver’s seat first blurs, then disappears altogether.
Those aren’t the car’s tires on the road; they’re your hands and feet. That’s not the car’s engine; that’s your roar as you leap down the straights, apexes your gazelles. Chomp, chomp.
But unlike Takeru Kobayashi with a barrel full of hot dogs, you’re not stuffing your gullet for money, fame, or records. You’re doing it for pure joy, the thrill of the hunt itself.
Eventually, you’ll decide to lay off it for a while and just enjoy the ride — or your passenger’s green expression will make the decision for you. That goes double if you’re in the canyons of Angeles National Forest.
Ranging from stark, rocky xeriscapes to fog-shrouded, moody green echo chambers, the San Gabriel mountains host not just the national forest, but Angeles Crest Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road — playgrounds not just for the R8 Spyder’s raucous V-10 and mid-engine balance, but for the drop top’s slower-paced, scenic side.
Put the drive mode selector in Comfort (or Auto, if you must), lean the seat back (if the bulkhead will let you — my long-legged 6’2” frame left me sitting fairly upright, though still comfortable), and look around. There’s more to life than checkered flags and finish lines. Your passenger, seated only slightly awkwardly in the limited adjustment of the right-hand seat, for one. Impeccable ride quality, or a stunning infotainment system mounted exclusively in front of the driver — Audi’s Virtual Cockpit — for another. Surprisingly little wind buffeting with the top down and windows up, if you need a third.
While a neon-green Lamborghini Huracan or a red-over-tan Ferrari 488 can scratch adolescent itches, the R8 Spyder is the open-top supercar for adults. That’s not to say it’s boring, just that it’s exciting for its ease of use, not its penalty box real-world driving experience. In a world filled with factory “race” editions and 1,000-hp hybrids, it’s easy to get lost in the more, more, more and forget about the thing every car should do before it does anything else: be a car.
Let’s face it: a long weekend road trip in many supercars is often more like a long weekend in Gitmo than a spa retreat — as your significant other has surely informed those of you who’ve tried it. Where the Italians, among others, wear the pain of use like a badge of honor, the R8 Spyder skips the Cub Scout horseplay and cuts straight to the business of being a good car as well as a supercar.
Can you back off and enjoy the cruise in a hard-topped R8, or any other enclosed supercar? Sure. Will it be fun? You betcha. Are there other, more “exotic” supercars with top-down ability? Duh, of course there are. But nothing matches the easy pleasure of dancing the R8 Spyder’s robotic top back, listening to the purr of the V-10 engine at half-drowse, smiling at whoever’s lucky enough to be in the passenger seat, and just enjoying the drive.