When the sky turned blue, after two months of seemingly endless rain, it was a long-awaited chance to slip behind the wheel of a cool convertible. In this case, an Audi R8 Spyder.
The R8 is testament to Audi's versatility. The carmaker produces a diverse range of models with a reputation for understated luxury and solid performance, spanning SUVs, premium executive sedans and small family cars. Made by Audi's high-performance division and utilising its quattro four-wheel-drive system, the R8 is the clan's upstart cousin. This two-seater, mid-engined supercar more than completes the line-up. There's even a version produced exclusively for racing - the R8 LMS - which is a star of the motorsports track.
The R8 Spyder is a great looking car, despite or maybe because of its bug-like shape. It lacks the elongated silhouette of most supercars. Instead, it has a big and bold front end comprising a slim light set-up seamlessly integrated with the large air vents, sandwiching the deep, wide grille. Deep furrows channel air into the side air intakes. At the rear, where the hardtop has a window to show off the powerful engine, the Spyder's is encased in metal, with a slatted row of cooling vents at each side.
For the test drive, Audi supplied a blue 5.2-litre, V10 R8 Spyder (it's also available as a 4.2-litre V8). The bigger Spyder has an output of 525 horsepower and 530Nm of torque, ranking it up there among the likes of the Lamborghini Gallardo, a Volkswagen Group stablemate with which it shares a platform.
The street-legal Spyder wastes no time springing into action. The keen response of the throttle came as a big surprise. With Audi's emblematic four interlocking rings at the base of the domed bonnet (rather than a raging bull or prancing horse), it's easy to overlook that fact that this is a car that can rocket from zero to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds, and is capable of taking it all the way to 311km/h.
It feels lighter and less stiff than the Gallardo. But then the Lamborghini is built for raw power, whereas the R8 is styled for a more comfortable ride. Even the seating position of the R8 feels less reclined than that of most sports cars. Nevertheless, the suspension still channels the bumpy road, although it is smoother and less jarring.
Sports mode in the Spyder can be automatic or manual, in other words paddle shifts mounted on the flat-bottomed steering wheel. Using the paddles, the car produces a cacophonous exhaust burr when downshifting that more than rivals its competitors in the small, noisy V10 supercar club. So what's not to like about it? Not much, but you may find the compact cabin a little tight.
The interior, although finely crafted in leather and carbon fibre panels, is about 5cm shorter than the hardtop R8. Seating room has probably been sacrificed to make space for the fold-down top. There's no narrow shelf behind the seats to stash a day bag, although there are two compartments for essentials such as a wallet and sunglasses. It is still comfortable for a tall driver, and not something you are likely to fuss about when you're driving with the wind in your hair.
The R8 Spyder is a monster on the highway but equally at home on winding country roads, where the driver can marvel at the tight steering and superb handling at speed. The R8 has been widely hailed as the best-handling road car, and I can also attest to this after being taken around Shanghai's Formula One track in an R8 at 250km/h.
The 5.2-litre, V10 Spyder costs a little over HK$3 million, while the 4.2-litre V8 is priced at just under HK$2.45 million.