First Drive: 2011 Audi R8 5.2 FSI Spyder

2011 Audi R8 Spyder 5.2

Another cool feature is the heated rear window, which can be lowered independently of the roof itself, allowing you to get a bit of fresh air and, more important, to hear the soundtrack of the V-10 more clearly.

And what a soundtrack it is, one that is best experienced on a twisty mountain road with the roof and windows fully retracted. With a redline of a lofty 8700 rpm, the 5.2-liter V-10 starts playing its concerto at about 4100 rpm in 2nd or 3rd gear. The orchestra of 40 valves, opposing connecting rods, and a forged steel crankshaft begins reaching for the stars above 5000 rpm. A steady backbeat of auxiliary drive whine is drowned out by the increasing roar as the revs rise. Let up on the gas, or brake and downshift, and there’s an addictive sounds of trumpets from the exhaust. Then you’re back on the gas and racing to the next corner. With Quattro four-wheel-drive grip, its already-proven overachiever chassis, and Pirelli P Zero tires (235/35R-19 front, 305/30ZR-19 rear), the R8 Spyder is your superstar supercar companion on a challenging road.

Other innovations for the ragtop version? The seatbelts each have three discreet microphones built into them that are linked to the car’s Bluetooth system. We tried a call, top-down, windows-up, to a friend in the States, and all three participants in the conversation---the sucker back home, the driver, and the passenger---were able to hear and be heard clearly. That’s the good telematics news. The bad news is that the R8 Spyder doesn’t get even the 3D navigation system that debuted on the Audi Q5, let alone the all-new, touch-pad version that debuted on the new A8 flagship sedan.

The only other quibble that comes to mind after our first exposure to the R8 Spyder is the realization that its steering, although very, very good, is still not as communicative or quite as precise as what you find in a Porsche or, most definitely, in the new Ferrari 458 Italia. Other than that, it drives great, it looks great, and it sounds great, and performance has suffered little, if at all: Audi promises a top speed of 194 mph and a 0-to-62-mph time of only 4.1 seconds. The R8 Spyder hits U.S. dealerships this fall for an estimated base price of about $172,000.

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