If you have been interested in cars for even the slightest amount of time, chances are you have heard someone drawl out, “there is no replacement for displacement”. If you have been interested in cars for a long time, then you have heard this thousands of times. In my short driving experience—about 6 years—I have owned my share of performance small-displacement engines, both naturally aspirated as well as with forced induction, as well as a large 6.1L ‘HEMI’ V8 in a Dodge Charger. While I love small engines, and would never dissuade someone from one, driving my 370 cubic inch V8 showed me the truthfulness of the saying. Or so I thought. Recently, while driving a V10 Audi R8 Spyder, I learned that there is one replacement for displacement: cylinder count.
As I said, I recently had the pleasure of driving a 2011 Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI, which—as the ‘5.2 FSI’ denote—has an uneven firing 5.2L V10 engine. The V10 in this car is shared with a few stablemates, most famously the Lamborghini Gallardo, as well as the C6 series S6 and D3 series S8 and produces 525hp and 391lb-ft of torque. While the engine is certainly the star of the show, the stage has to be set: I recently went on vacation with my wife and some friends to Las Vegas, with the intent to have a good time. While others may have been focused on gambling, drinking, or catching a show, I knew I had to have a motoring experience of some sort. Luckily for me, a friend coming with me has always dreamed of having an Audi R8… Badda Bing Badda Boom and Presto! We had an R8 rented between us.
As a fan of superspeedersRob, I decided to book the car through Gotham Dream Cars, as I felt a certain level of care for the car—mechanical, safety tech, and quality—would be taken. While I was right, and the car was visually clean, with a nice interior, and no ‘hiccups’ to speak of, it is still important to keep in mind that this is a rental car, and has been used like a rental car for most of its life. As such, while this R8 may be nice enough, and clean enough, for a pleasurable rental experience, it more than likely doesn’t represent the pinnacle of the used Audi R8 Spyder market. The wheel rash on the passenger side of the car showed the life the R8 has lived.
Saying that, walking down to the valet to pick up the mid-engine’d monster and seeing it for the first time, I was still instilled with the feeling of, “oooohhh, supercar…”, that so many of us feel when we see an exotic. Knowing it was mine for the day simply made the feeling all the sweeter. Before we start talking about the interior and the exterior and all the gobbly gook that makes up a car, let’s get back to the centerpiece; that engine and the rest of the driveline. This 5.2L V10—a whole liter smaller than my own HEMI—was an absolute joy, with a redline nearing 8500rpm. This high redline, combined with the number of cylinders—a glorious 10—means that anytime you even think of exploring the upper reaches of the tach, you are rewarded with an aural experience that I have yet to rival with an automobile.
While the engine is glorious, my rental was saddled with a gearbox that was not so glorious. The R8 had three gearbox options throughout its life, all delivering power to all of the wheels, with a rear-bias; a 6-speed gated manual, a 6-speed R-Tronic SMG automatic, and a 7-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic. My car had the paddle-equipped R-Tronic 6-speed, which was truly, spectacularly awful. I suppose I should clarify; it was only awful at anything slower than 30mph, coming into its own when the car was driven hard. However, as most people drive a lot of the time not hard, the jerky, unpredictability the gearbox exhibited at low speeds was a real bummer, and had me using the paddles to manually shift, even around town. As the rest of the car is surprisingly comfortable—more on that in a second—the gearbox which drives like someone learning stick clashes with the character of the car.
In the scheme of things, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. I had rented my car, and essentially had to drive what I was given, but someone purchasing their own example could easily rectify the problem by not buying the crappy R-Tronic gearbox. Instead, purchasing a model with either the gated 6-speed manual—which is supposedly sublime—or the much-improved, truly dual-clutch 7-speed gearbox of later models will solve all of the problems with the driveline. At speeds, the engine screams, while the transmission bangs of gears, and the AWD system keeps the car planted. Around town, any gearbox but the R-Tronic should be livable, while the 5.2L engine is unobtrusive enough at ‘around-town’ speeds so as to be drivable.
As I have said, no matter the gearbox you are saddled with, the V10 R8 Spyder is a sprinter. Heading out of Vegas, into the desert, the city opens up into wonderful emptiness, just waiting to be filled with a wailing V10. Select a lower gear, press the accelerator, and you will be catapulted to incredible speeds, incredibly quickly. Knowing you have AWD to aid—aid, not guarantee—traction as well as massive brakes to slow you down from these speeds, makes them less stressful than perhaps in other cars. Having a spirited drive in the R8 V10 Spyder is a rewarding experience, dynamically as well as through the senses.
The exterior of the Spyder is slightly changed from the coupe R8, with the dominant aspect being the cloth top and the deletion of the R8’s characteristic side-blades. On paper, these sound like mild changes, perhaps even decreasing the drama through the deletion of the blades, however, the overall effect is a more dramatic vehicle. This is primarily achieved due to the combined effect of the deleted blade and chopped roof adding up to a lowered profile. As my R8 was black, all of the drama had to come from the design of the sheet metal, and the low-slung, smooth lines of which certainly resulted in a dramatic ride. I did not get to see the top ‘dropped’ mostly due to the temperature displaying 111.
Once you enter the car, the Audi R8 reminds you that while it may be related to the Lamborghini Gallardo, it is an Audi through-and-through. The seats are comfy, clad in leather, and rather supportive, although sporting drivers may wish for less Lazy Boy-like chairs, and more race-y units. The doors are either clad in leather where your arm will rest, or carbon fiber for the places you will grab or clasp. The trend continues to the dashboard, with the materials either being leather or carbon fiber: no normal plastics here. The flat-bottomed steering wheel has logical controls on it, and is a joy to turn through tis motions. Behind the wheel, big, white-faced dials clearly present all the information a driver may want, and are pleasing to look at.
Two interior faults are easy to predict: storage space and infotainment. The storage space in the Audi is dismal, with hardly enough space for a passenger, let alone anything else. As this has more engine than a couple of Camry’s, this is to be expected. The infotainment system on the other hand, was a surprising disappointment. Featuring a large—non-touch—screen, the buttons are dominated by two knobs: a large central one and a smaller one built around the power button off to the left of the center. While it would be logical to have the center control the volume, and have the screen be touch, the volume is instead controlled by the tiny, side knob, while the large, central knob controls the rest of the screen’s navigation.
Setting aside my few small quibbles with the R8, and the large quibble that is the R-Tronic gearbox, there is no escaping the awesomeness of the R8 V10 Spyder. The engine screams when you want, and is docile when you would prefer it to be, while the suspension, brakes, and the rest of the package result in a livable package that can also keep up with the engine. For anyone interested in an R8, you won’t be disappointed—just don’t get an R-Tronic gearbox.
Sorry for the drop in scheduled posting this past week, but everything should be back on track. Stay tuned for daily news articles, and another feature this Friday. If you like the article, make sure to let me know and always feel free to post any questions in the comments section below!
I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.