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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: Audi taps into its racing heritage in designing 2011 Audi R8 Spyder

A common question we hear is this: Why do you review expensive cars that are out of reach of most buyers? Well, if you're like us, you enjoy reading about all types of cars — even dream machines. That brings us to the finely engineered Audi R8 Spyder. In its design and technology, it helps us recognize the state-of-the-automotive art.

Appearance: The low-slung Spyder has a wide stance that makes it look like it's about to pounce. We think it's one of the few exotics that looks better than its coupe version, which is known for its aluminum "side blades" that come in a contrasting color. Unlike the coupe, there's no glass cover for the engine, which is mounted amidships. Instead, there's a slightly bulging hood with louvered vents for the engine compartment and more traditional side air dams. The front features Audi's iconic black grille and the all-LED headlights with their Swarovski-like glimmer of an eyeliner. Be prepared for stares and thumbs-up gestures from fellow drivers.

Performance: Wow. How can a direct-injection, 525-horsepower V-10 be so driveable? Part of it is Audi's Quattro four-wheel-drive system and the way it allocates the torque. Part of it is light and extremely responsive steering and part of it is the smooth 6-speed gated manual, which allows you to click off shifts easier than in anything we've driven. Couple that with a clutch that feels just right, and it's simply a joy to drive. We both could imagine ourselves driving the Spyder daily, even in traffic. The acceleration — 0 to 60 in about 4 seconds — is amazing and the resulting exhaust note is a muted symphony that reaches a crescendo only when you really rev up the RPMs. There's also a magnetic aide suspension with two drive modes that helps smooth the ride. In the normal mode, the ride is comfortable, minimizing even the bumpiest of roads (Peter tried it on his favorite lumpy brick St. Petersburg streets). In sports mode, the agility level is kicked up a notch, allowing aggressive cornering that Lyra took advantage of on the winding roads of Lutz.

Interior: The leather-wrapped cockpit, with aluminum trim and carbon-fiber inserts, caters to the driver's needs. The dash is simple and readable. There isn't a lot of clutter or gadgetry on the angled console. The Nappa leather seats sacrifice some bolstering, but more than make up for it in comfort. The seats are thermal-resistant, never getting hotter than 68 degrees. Now that's a bonus for Floridians. And there's headroom for a 6-footer. Plus, this is one of the few cars in which "road noise" is welcome. Thanks to the canvas top — which retracts in 19 seconds — you can enjoy the sound of the V-10's exhaust note. (There's a premium Bang & Olufsen sound system, but really, who needs that when you can listen to the car?)

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Wheels: The design is simply one of the best I've seen on a sports car.

Carbon fiber: The cockpit details and fit and finish are impressive.

Gated shifter: It's a proper manual gear box.

Lyra Solochek

Handling: Steering was precise, cornering was more so.

Design: The R8 looks like it was meant to go topless.

Bling: The LED eyeliner sparkles like diamonds.

The bottom line: Audi tapped into its racing heritage in designing the Spyder, which is no mere knockoff of the impressive R8 coupe. This performance car does everything well, including putting a huge smile on a driver's face.

2011 Audi R8 Spyder

Price: $161,000, $182,450 as tested

Powertrain: Mid-mounted 5.2-liter FSI V-10 with 6-speed manual transmission, all-wheel drive, with magnetic ride

Horsepower: 525 at 8,000 rpm

Torque: 391 pound-

feet at 6,500 rpm

0-60: 4.0 seconds

Seats: Two

Curb weight: 3,605 pounds

Dimensions

in inches:

Wheelbase, 104.3

Length, 174.6

Width, 79.9

Fuel economy:

12 miles per gallon city, 19 mpg highway (gas guzzler tax)

Fuel type:

Premium unleaded

Safety features: Air bags, energy absorbing zones, side intrusion protection

Options worth considering: Carbon fiber Sigma exterior, enhanced leather

Other trims: The coupe starts at $114,200.

Website: models.audiusa.com/

r8-spyder

The Daily Drivers: Audi taps into its racing heritage in designing 2011 Audi R8 Spyder 12/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 3:30am]

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