Audi South Africa has been on the performance car offensive over the last few months (as you can read here). In keeping with this theme it has been doling out test cars from the top-end of its fleet for the media to experience. That is why we found ourselves behind the wheel of an Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance for a few, rare sunny days this Cape winter.

The sky was clear and the air crisp. Sunshine filled the cabin and a glance over to my left saw untethered hair whipping lightly over a smiling face. Ocean to our left and mountain to our right the views from the sun-filled cabin could hardly be better. 

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As the straight road started to curve, the temptation was too much to resist. A few clicks of the left-hand steering paddle and the lightly burbling V10 was smacked to life. Four gears down and the hard-edged yowl of the engine filled the air for miles, bouncing off the rock faces as the scenery was suddenly on fast forward. Welcome to life in the Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance.

Nip and tuck

It’s difficult to believe that the Audi R8 will soon turn 20 years old; time really does fly when you’re having fun. Audi’s full-blown sportscar is now in its second generation. The first was a revelation and the follow-up built on, and furthered that success. With R8 V2.0 Audi did away with the V8 option and offered just V10 motors. Two body shapes, fixed top and Spyder (oddly with a ‘y’) present options for buyers, as do a raft of special edition variants, not all of which are available locally. 

We recently drove the Audi RS6 Avant and shared our thoughts here.

Part way through the gen two R8’s life it paid the surgeon a quick visit and emerged with slightly revised looks. Thankfully the shape has not been altered as, in our eyes, it has always been a stunner. The new appearance adds crispness to the front end, Rakish design elements ahead of the front wheels and three vents on the leading edge of the bonnet are the immediate giveaways. The latter drawing a link to Audi Quattro rally cars.

Learn more about the very first Audi RS at this link.

  • Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance profile
  • Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance rear
  • Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance front

Images by Riaz Ismail and Double Apex.

Our test unit was fitted with optional 20-inch alloys (19-inchers are standard) and finished in a fetching shade of grey called Kemora. As is usually the case with drop-tops the R8 Spyder looks fine with the roof up, but it’s jaw-dropping with the soft top stowed. That much was made clear by the countless cell phone pics and videos taken of the car while in our care.

Naturally aspirated purity

As pretty as the Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance is, and boy is it pretty, the party piece, from the pilot’s seat anyway, is the powertrain. The V10 remains virtually unchanged from the pre-facelift version. Peak power is identical at 449 kW with a maximum 560 N.m of torque. Drive is channeled to all four corners via a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. 

When the naturally aspirated 4S90BE engine starts from cold it blares loud enough to wake just about the entire neighbourhood. This is not the car to sneak out for an early morning drive. On the go the engine is docile and left to its own devices the automated transmission goes about its job surreptitiously. Such is the civility that it makes the Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance a more livable and usable prospect than its sibling the Lamborghini Huracan, with which it shares most underpinnings.

But civility and practicality are not this junior supercar’s fortes. Heading away from the concrete jungle to open roads far from traffic is where the R8 Spyder delights. That is exactly what we did as a few sun-filled days in the middle of a soggy Cape winter allowed us to enjoy a Peninsula drive and several other of our favourite driving roads.

Read our Lamborghini Huracan Evo driving review here.

Switching the R8’s powertrain to its most racy setting, via a steering wheel-mounted rotary, sets the powertrain alight. Gear shifts are delayed until high into the engine’s speed range, north of 8 000 r/min, and take place with added brutality. Even with its under-square dimensions the engine has a propensity for revs that belies it 5,2-litres. Without forced induction throttle response is razor sharp, a trait that is sorely missed with the glut of turbocharged sports- and supercars that are on sale today.

Composed

The R8’s sound and pace (it’ll sprint from 0-100 km/h in 3,2 sec and top out at 330 km/h according to Audi) certainly grabs one’s attention but its composure and attitude through the twisty stuff is just as impressive. Fast Audis have, for many years, been criticised for their understeery nature. There is none of that with the Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance. Front-end grip from this car is unflappable at road speeds. The Michelin PS4 rubber keys into the surface as you accurately feed in power through the loud pedal. 

That V10 power unit makes its mass and position apparent, as power is shifted to the rear axle under hard acceleration you get the sensation that you are being forced along by from behind, rather than pulled from the front. There is also a level of fluidity to the suspension set up that makes it an easy car to attack corners with, safe in the knowledge that a mid-corner undulation won’t swing the tail around wildly. All the while the signature tune of the V10 floods into the cabin. This is no poser, it is a properly entertaining driving machine.

Summary

When the R8 appeared on the scene it kicked open the doors of the saloon, like in an old timey Western, and challenged the fastest guns in the West. As a newcomer to the fold the first-gen R8 was a surprise. Here was a carmaker with no history of producing mid-engined sportscars sticking it to the likes of Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and co. 

Click here to see our list of future classics, which includes the first Audi R8.

Thankfully the outlandish appearance and other ingredients were only perfected when the second generation arrived, distilling the already fine product that was the R8. The Audi R8 Spyder V10 Performance is a marvel (no Iron Man pun intended) and it will be sorely missed when Audi eventually moves completely to electrification. Until that happens, drop the top, floor the throttle and enjoy the sound of that NA V10 blaring as your co-driver enjoys the ocean view.

Model: Audi R8 V10 Spyder V10 Performance Quattro S-Tronic

Price: R3 592 500 (R3 760 200 as tested)

Engine: 5,2-litre V10

Transmission: seven-speed automatic, AWD

Max power: 449 kW

Max torque: 560 N.m

Top speed: 330 km/h

0-100 km/h: 3,2 sec

Fuel consumption: 13,4 L/100 km