Audi R8 Spyder long-term test (2020) review: the 11,000-mile verdict

View all Audi R8 Reviews

► Living with a bonafide supercar
► V10 drop-top over the summer
► Jake has been one lucky boy

Month 7 living with an Audi R8 Spyder: the seven-month test

And just like that, our Audi R8 vanishes as fast as it arrived. Feels like minutes since I got the bulky, tracker-equipped key to the 612bhp soft-top, and it almost feels like a death in the family now it’s gone. I’m not kidding – several people have come up to me since the R8’s departure and said something along the lines of: ‘Won’t be the same without the R8, will it?’

Indeed. It’s been quite an experience: eye-opening, expensive and a great deal of enjoyment.

One of the biggest revelations has been the strongly tribal reactions to the R8. For some, it’s their dream car, or at least the one they’d like to own, due to its innate accessibility and the assumption that, since it’s an Audi, it’ll be bombproof.

Then there’s the hostile camp – those who just don’t get it. They say it’s too soft, too sanitised and dynamically blunt compared with the likes of Porsche, Ferrari or McLaren. There seem to be very few who don’t align themselves with one camp or the other. But I think I’m one of them.

It really is a dream car for me, and has been since I was 13. But I also understand some of the criticisms. The steering in particular, although decent in isolation, is nowhere near as precise as a Porsche 911 or McLaren 600LT, nor as alert as the updated Lamborghini Huracan.

That said, throughout our months with the R8 the ride was stellar, aided by optional adaptive dampers, the grip near-infallible, launch control an addictive kick in the back, and the rolling acceleration never got old.

Audi R8 city cornering

I’ve put almost 11,000 miles onto the clock, none of them boring. I couldn’t stop smiling cruising to and from Le Mans, blasting music with the roof down on autoroutes or childishly letting the engine howl through long tunnels. Congested A1 drives to visit family and friends in Newcastle were more of an event than ever before. Even my short commutes acquired a sprinkling of magic.

Downsides? Well, it’s wide, so you have to be conscious of where you’re trying to park it; multi-storeys are pretty much a no-go area as a precaution. Happily, it was largely unfazed by speedbumps – despite the lack of a nose-lift system – but I still winced driving over every single one.

Naturally, running a V10 supercar is heinously expensive – I spent around £3300 on super unleaded, and the depreciation is brutal. Or, looked at more positively, there are some great pre-owned R8 deals to be had.

There may be sharper, fiercer, brasher supercars but there’s an allure to an R8 that’s hard to ignore. It’s crazy fast and dramatic, without being threatening; capable of carrying a weekend’s worth of camping kit and yet looks just at home at a concours event. For a supercar beginner like myself, it’s been quite the baptism. Like the 911 Turbo, the R8 has always been seen as an ‘everyday supercar’ – after living with one, I finally understand why.

By Jake Groves

Logbook: Audi R8 Spyder

Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested) 
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 204mph 
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 20.5mpg (tested), 302g/km CO2 
Energy cost 32.5p per mile 
Miles this month 462
Total miles 13571

Count the cost: Audi R8 Spyder

Cost new £169,120
Private sale £118,365
Part-exchange £110,500
Cost per mile 30.7p
Cost per mile including depreciation £4.32

Month 6 living with an Audi R8 Spyder: sibling rivalry

R8 Huracan twin tracking

Fundamentally, our Audi R8 and this Arancio Xanto bolt of Italian fury are near identical. Both have a V10, 600+bhp sent to all four wheels by a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, a fabric roof, a drinking problem, two seats, a tiny frunk and a soulful tune to draw those with the cash to the rocky shores of supercar ownership.

Both the R8 and Huracan, now in upgraded Evo form, have massive appeal. And from the very beginning since the original R8 and Gallardo arrived in the mid-Noughties, one could never really exist without the other. Lamborghini developed the engine (over decades, in fact) and injected some theatre to the mix, while Audi contributed the powertrain set-up and at least the idea that both cars would be screwed together properly. They’re the yin and yang of the VW Group performance car domain.

And yet, while they share so much, this Huracan Evo Spyder and my R8 have some significant differences, not least because the Lamborghini, with its fins and wedge shape, makes the Suzuka Grey-finished Audi look like a shrinking violet, dour and minimalist in its design.

Then there’s the interior. It’s not that one is clearly better than the other, just that they’re very different. I fit comfortably in the Audi, mainly because it has the optional thinner bucket seats. The infotainment system is relatively simple – it’s all structured around a Virtual Cockpit display and a rotary dial. There’s some tasteful alcantara upholstery and some useful storage cubbies. It’s a different story in the Huracan, this one being fitted with the normal sports seats, far fatter in design. There’s an actually-quite-slick portrait-format tablet leaving the instruments clear of unnecessary info. Crazy shapes and materials are blunderbussed across the cockpit and there are no places to put things. The Lord giveth and taketh away in both cases.

Huracan EVO Spyder interior

On the move, though, is where the biggest contrasts are found. The Huracan, with its standard rear-wheel steering, feels so much more alert to input than the Audi. And by God it’s louder and raw, with pops and bangs on literally every throttle lift-off.

The R8 is easier for a supercar novice like me, with a much more controlled response to your inputs, better peripheral vision and a more measured, if no less tuneful, exhaust note. Oddly, since the faulty original exhaust has been replaced, there now seems to be a more noticeable step: 3000rpm and above is the minimum entry requirement for any real noise, even in Dynamic mode.

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Both cars are creeping into their twilight years, with Audi considering going electric and Lambo potentially using Porsche engineering instead of Vorsprung Durch Technic for the next-generation models.

And that makes me quite sad, as both cars are exactly what I think supercars should be – albeit in different ways: fast, brash and dynamically impressive, but most importantly fun. The blend of a raucous V10, a degree of theatricality (high in the case of the Lambo) and an ‘angry on the outside, cuddly and safe on the inside’ vibe is enough to get anyone with a remote interest in the automobile’s motor running. It should be cause for celebration that both still exist. Let’s enjoy them while they last.

By Jake Groves

Logbook: Audi R8 Spyder

Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested) 
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 204mph 
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 20.5mpg (tested), 302g/km CO2 
Energy cost 32.5p per mile 
Miles this month 1480
Total miles 13109

Month 5 living with an R8 Spyder: sickly pipes

Audi R8 exhaust

The R8 has been away to have its exhaust investigated. A harsh and metallic-sounding rattle developed, to the point where the car had sounded broken on start-up and at low revs, particularly on the left side. Loose valve or heat shield, I thought, but I am not a mechanic, so the car’s been home to Audi.

After spending two weeks investigating the issue – and waiting for back-ordered parts – Audi found that the baffles were loose, and replaced the entire exhaust system. All of this would have been under warranty at a dealer. I haven’t long left with it, so I’m just glad that glorious engine is in rude health once again. And despite the weather, I’m making every opportunity to keep that roof down while I still can.

By Jake Groves

Logbook: Audi R8 Spyder

Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested) 
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 204mph 
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 20.5mpg (tested), 302g/km CO2 
Energy cost 32.5p per mile 
Miles this month 381
Total miles 11629

Month 4 living with an R8 Spyder: you drive our car

R8 LTT you drive

It’s time to get my head out of the clouds. As much as living with a supercar is full of glamour, social media likes and getting friendly with petrol forecourt staff, our all-wheel-drive V10 Spyder should be judged by how it performs and (a distant second) how easy it is to live with. Who better to help us judge it than people who own or have owned something similar?

While I’m busy picking the best Instagram filter to use for the next picture of the R8 on my feed (it’s ‘Lark’, obvs), these three take it out for a spin and report back with what turn out to be their varied findings.

Meet the readers

The Stick-Shifter
Samuel Ellis owns a first-gen R8 V10 Plus coupe with the open-gated manual ‘box. How does our droptop dual-clutch version compare?

The Racing Champ
Calling Rob Keogh a keen driver is a criminal understatement; he’s a Ginetta racing champion and owns an R8 RWS.

The Eclecticist
Prolific petrolhead Pavan Mathur likes to cycle his car collection every 18 months. Would our R8 Spyder ever make it into his rotation?

Rob Keogh

Arriving in a mud-spattered M2 Competition is quite an entrance, but that’s the way Rob Keogh rolls: he lives and breathes fast cars. He’s a Ginetta racing series champion with the Want2Race team (the same outfit with which m’colleague James Taylor won in 2014). As well as his M2, Rob also owns an E46 BMW M3 and arguably the purest of the second-generation R8s, the rear-wheel-drive RWS.
‘My R8 has actually been growing on me, but I’m not sure I’d be in the same position with this one because most of the nuances are to do with it being two-wheel drive,’ he says. ‘I think they’ve done a good job with the facelift, though – they’ve definitely made it more interesting at the front.’

R8 LTT boot

And on the road? ‘It’s definitely got more punch than mine – just a little bit. It raises the grin by a couple of millimetres. There’s a weird juxtaposition with cruising around with the hood down yet, if you nail it in second, it’s vicious.

‘It’s all about the V10 isn’t it? That engine is just awesome, and listening to it with the roof down is just brilliant.’ He adds: ‘I’d love to have a go in that on a track. Fast convertibles on track are a bit like doing bike trackdays – so much more visceral. I bet that R8 would be a really fun day out on track.’

But would he buy one? ‘If I had £160k, I’d be waiting for a McLaren 720S to drop into that price. That’s the reason I took the plunge with mine; it was £20k cheaper than the equivalent four-wheel-drive version. But this one is just silly money.’

Closing thoughts? ‘I’m glad I bought the two-wheel-drive one, but I wish I’d bought the Spyder.’

Samuel Ellis

How have things changed between the first and second generations of R8? Sam Ellis is the man to ask. He’s been running a first-generation manual V10 Plus, and is in the happy position of thinking it’s a car built for him. ‘It’s brilliant. I absolutely love it and I never want to get rid of it.’ Which means he’s going to be hard to win over.

So, the new one? Sans roof? ‘It looks great from where I’m stood side on, but I think it’s quite spec dependent.’

Ah, the spec. When I spell out exactly how much of our car comes from the options list – around £20,000 worth of adaptive dampers, 20-inch forged-aluminium wheels, B&O audio, laser-guided headlights and sports seats – Sam sums up what all three readers are thinking: ‘It’s just too much money. It doesn’t feel like it’s got £20k of options on it.’

R8 LTT sam

Still, the performance gap between his manual and my dual-clutch auto is significant when driving them back to back. ‘It’s definitely faster than mine, but I don’t know how much of that is the gearbox. I can’t get over how different it is to mine, and actually just pootling around it’s a much nicer place to be.’

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Sam can’t help but be impressed by its hard acceleration. ‘As much as I’d love a manual here, it’s just got too much power for one. That top end is just incredible but you’ve got to get to it. The engine defines it in such a brilliant way – it’s going to be such a shame when they get rid of it.’

But he has some doubts. ‘It feels so much wider than mine. I’m worried I’m too close to the edge – that’s not something with the original that you worry about so much, it feels smaller and dainty.

‘It’s very usable, easy, sounds fantastic and the interior’s lovely but it just leaves me feeling a little cold. If you were really going to pick a car to keep for the future, you wouldn’t pick this car.’

Pavan Mathur

‘Is that Suzuka Grey?’ That’s the first thing Pav says. He clearly knows his stuff if he’s asking about niche Audi paint colours and, after chatting about his car history, it’s obvious that his knowledge and experience are both deep and wide.

‘I always have two to three cars on the go, and tend to change at least one of them every 12 to 18 months.’ He’s owned supercars and hot hatches like his 2018 Mini JCW daily driver, and also has a dog-friendly car that’s recently gone from an A4 Allroad to a V8 Range Rover. He’s not shy of motorcycles either.

R8 LTT cornering

So, our R8? He’s unconvinced by the optional fixed-back, alcantara-clad Recaro bucket seats. ‘I can imagine on a track you’d want these, but it doesn’t have the harness that feels like it should go with it.’

He likes the ride, though. ‘It’s a sports car but, for me, it’s on the cruising side of things, which is what I want.’ Pav, like the others, is drawn to the engine note and, after engaging launch control, admires its traction on a full-throttle launch.
‘I’d have this over a Carrera S – as it really is two cars in one.’

By Jake Groves

Logbook: Audi R8 Spyder

Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested) 
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 204mph 
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 20.5mpg (tested), 302g/km CO2 
Energy cost 32.5p per mile 
Miles this month 1598
Total miles 11248

Month 3 living with an R8 Spyder: fuel light bingo

R8 LTT mpg

How low can I go? So far, 9.2mpg on one particular trip, though I’m daring myself to get that figure lower. At the other end of the economy scale, though, I don’t even have to break a sweat to hit the R8’s claimed fuel figures. That’s because so many of my recent miles have been airport runs and long-distance motorway schleps, where the auto is almost permanently in seventh and the V10 is humming to the gentle tune of 2000rpm.

On drives from Peterborough to Newcastle to visit family and friends, the A1 and A19 are no effort at all for our R8. On one occasion I saw 24mpg. Not doing the supercar thing properly? Perhaps, but it’s costing me an arm and a leg in V-Power, so get your violins out.

By Jake Groves

Logbook: Audi R8 Spyder

Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested) 
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 204mph 
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 20.7mpg (tested), 302g/km CO2 
Energy cost 31.6p per mile 
Miles this month 1831
Total miles 9650

Month 2 living with an Audi R8 Spyder: a road trip to Le Mans 24hrs

R8 LTT Le Mans

Audi bailed out of the World Endurance Championship back in 2016, after a decade and a half of near-complete dominanace. Its swansong was the Audi Sport Team Joest R18, but the story began with the R8 – the R8R contested the 1999 race. Heck, even the R8 production car’s concept forebear was called the Le Mans Concept. 

So, when you’re invited to Le Mans, glamping, and with the opportunity to rub shoulders with some famous people (courtesy in my case of Aston Martin Racing, not Audi), taking our R8 to one of the most famous races on the planet is a no-brainer. I’ll be the closest thing to a 2019 Le Mans entry Audi Sport will have – hell, they should be paying me for this. 

Lumpy, congested British motorways and fast, clean French autoroutes generally don’t make for a particularly thrilling drive. But when you have 10 cylinders, a foldable roof and a near-continuous convoy of motorsport fans in similarly tasty cars all the way from Calais to Le Mans, you don’t stop smiling. At one point I even spend time in convoy with CAR’s James Taylor, who’s driving a Porsche 911 GT3 RS; some long tunnels allow for laugh-out-loud (and very childish) acceleration tests between the R8’s bassy midrange and the Porsche’s limiter-bouncing howls.

Audi R8 Spyder interior and cabin

I arrive at the campsite with no backache (the bucket seats are uncompromising but supportive) and ready for a weekend in any weather, the R8’s supposedly paltry frunk swallowing everything from T-shirts and shorts to chunky boots and a thick raincoat.

The weekend itself proves unforgettable. I come away exhausted and temporaily deaf but it will be hard to beat watching the sunrise at Tertre Rouge, taking a helicopter ride over the track mid-race and testing my own endurance by staying up most of the night. 

Then, on the misty Monday morning after, I do the whole trip back again with a similarly wide smile on my face. That is, of course, after a quick blast up and down the Mulsanne straight, sneaking a few pictures on the second chicane.

Any niggles? It’s a small one, but plenty of recent new Audis have an updated version of Virtual Cockpit that looks cleaner and comes with some cool graphics – something the A1 hatch gets but this facelifted supercar doesn’t, even though the two were launched at the same time. Oh, and there are a couple of creaks coming from the instrument cluster – again, not a dealbreaker, but evidence of the R8’s handmade origins.

See also  Audi Q8 E-Tron SUV review: more range, more punch

By Jake Groves

Logbook: Audi R8 Spyder

Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested)
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 204mph
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 22.2mpg (tested), 302g/km CO2
Energy cost 30.1p per mile
Miles this month 3575
Total miles 7819

Month 1 of our Audi R8 Spyder long-term test: the introduction

Audi R8 Spyder long-term test by CAR magazine

From one end of the VW Group performance spectrum to the other. I’ve just handed back the keys to my VW Up GTI and, two years since my colleague James Taylor ran a pre-facelift Vegas Yellow ‘Plus’ coupe, an Audi R8 returns to the Our Cars fleet: this time with more power, more price and more exposure to the elements.

This is by far the fastest, loudest and most expensive long-term test car in our current line-up: 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph with launch control, 204mph and one of the most exhilarating engines of recent years – Audi and Lamborghini’s epic (and supposedly not long for this world) naturally-aspirated V10. Our Spyder’s millions of miles of headroom is a bonus.

And boy am I revelling in the attention a £170k-all-in supercar gets you. There is a queue out of the door of people who either want it for the weekend or want a ride in it. So much that I’m debating keeping the key in a safe only I know the code to, or putting a 20ft sign on my driveway saying ‘you must be this tall to ride’. It’s mine, I tell you – MINE. Even out and about, this is up there with the BMW i8 for the level of stares from passers-by and it’s a magnet for all kinds of motoring hooligan. Which can get annoying when there’s a guy in a Fiesta ST with a unsilenced silencer less than six inches from the R8’s bluff rear end.

Audi R8 LTT rear badge

In my messed-up mind, there are a couple of parallels between the Up and this. They both sound great, they’re both practical for their class of car and they’re both a bit of a performance bargain, even if the R8 is more than 10 times the price of the VW hatch. When a McLaren 600LT Spider is another £50k before options, is arguably less usable as a daily drive and absolutely does not come with a screaming V10, the Audi looks like good value.

The R8’s flamboyant Italian cousin, the Huracan Evo Spyder, might have a touch more theatre and another 19bhp, but together are they worth £65k-(ish) more? I’m not so sure. That amount could get you a second, also-very-good car.

My first-ever drive of an R8 (I’ve somehow managed to miss every prior opportunity) was the regular blue coupe we featured in the May issue’s Giant Test now part of our best sports cars page online, and I was a little underwhelmed. True, it sounds epic and it looks every inch a supercar, but it drove a little too much like an A3, understeered a bit too much for my liking, and low-rev grunt was lacking, too. Plus, the standard brakes fade too easily.

My car, being both a Performance R8 (with ceramic brakes as standard) and a Spyder, is a different kettle of fish. The brakes are an absolute godsend when you’re on maximum attack, and the engine has a touch more low-rev bite. Its magnetic-ride adaptive dampers are also impressive, with a welcome suppleness when cruising. So, pretty much all my previous R8 gripes addressed from the off…

I mention cruising, but the R8 isn’t a car you find yourself cruising in for long. Why would you when there’s more than 600bhp under your right foot? I’m only in my first month with the R8 and I’m already finding excuses to drive new, longer and twistier routes everywhere – in fact I’ve actually ticked ‘avoid motorways’ on the nav a few times just for the hell of it.

But these are the lengths you’ll go to feed your addiction to the V10. Acceleration is incredible and, together with the epic noise, entirely intoxicating.

Audi R8 LTT front cornering

The Audi offers Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual drive modes, selected via a button on the steering wheel. Performance models also feature a race flag button for lairy Performance mode: traction control off, snappier shifts and manual changes via the paddles. You can also twist that dial for dry, wet and snowy conditions. Launch control is there, too, and an absolute doddle to engage – pity the car’s clutch…

Right now? I just want to drive. Switch to Individual mode (Comfort suspension, Dynamic everything else), roof down, sunglasses on, revs up and don’t stop until it needs a drink. I’ve a feeling this is going to be a fun six months.

Our R8’s key options

Just hold me
The £475 fixed-back race-spec seats are standard on Performance models but the part-leather, part-alcantara upholstery and blue stitching you see here are options. Skinny but supportive in all the right places.

B&O vs Audi V10
It’s not often you’ll want to drown out the V10, but when you do the optional (£1750) Bang & Olufsen sound system throws in surround speakers in the headrests with noise-cancellation tech.

20-inch rims
£1250 of forged aluminium beauty. Performance R8s run on 19s as standard, but if you don’t pick these gorgeous 20s you’re doing something wrong.

Audi R8 Spyder 20-inch alloy wheels

Magnetic Ride
A £1700 option that’s already proving its worth on motorway cruises. Passive dampers on regular R8s are manageable but firm; this adaptive set-up means Comfort mode really is comfortable.

Laser-assisted headlights
The most expensive extra at £3150, spotted via their unique blue lens accents, they’re designed to double the length of your high beam. They come with their own radiation warning labels, but unlike Cyclops from X-Men there’s no destructive potential here. Lame.

Logbook: Audi R8 Spyder Performance

Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested)
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 204mph
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 17.5mpg (tested), 302g/km CO2
Energy cost 37.3 per mile
Miles this month 1483
Total miles 4244

Check out our Audi reviews

About Tim Pollard

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A tech enthusiast and content writer, has a knack for simplifying complex technical information. He enjoys researching and writing about the latest gadgets and technology trends. He has a degree in computer science and is experienced in creating content for tech blogs and websites.

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