2020 Audi R8 Spyder Was Made to Chase Sunsets

By Scott Oldham, Car and Driver

Hells Angels are welcome at Maxdons Bar and Grill. So are the Mongols, Bandidos, Outlaws, Pagans, Sons of Silence, and the Vagos—as long as their patches stay outside. "No Motorcycle Colors Allowed," says the sign on the front door. Apparently, this is where the one-percenters go for a great steak.

We park the updated 2020 Audi R8 Spyder next to a couple of AMF-era Harleys and see two burly beards out front lighting up. Must be their bikes. "Nice car," says the one with the harder eyes and the longer ponytail. He takes another drag of his Marlboro, "What's something like that cost?"

Over the years, Audi's mid-engine supercar has been accused of blending into the landscape. That may be true in Beverly Hills, but here it sticks out like a wad of Ben Franklins. We're about 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles in the city of Lancaster, where the median annual income is about 20 percent of our test car's $219,145 price.

"If we tell you what it cost, you might make us buy the place a round," we say, hoping for a laugh.

"We might make you buy it anyway," he answers with a smile, snuffing out his smoke with his boot heel.

That's when we notice the edict tattooed on his forearm: "Have fun. Ride Fast. Take Chances." Lancaster's reputation as a real-life episode of Breaking Bad is only surpassed by its long history of speed. This desert town on the western edge of the Mojave Desert is where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. Edwards Air Force Base, Willow Springs International Raceway, and El Mirage dry lake bed, which is home to the Southern California Timing Association, all are just a few minutes up the road.

Looking for a place to go fast, hot rodders began driving their flathead Ford Model A's and '32s up here before World War II. Avoiding the freeways, we made the run up from L.A. just as they did, chasing the sunset on what are now Southern California's most famous driving roads. The Angeles Crest Highway and Angeles Forest Highway snake through the Angeles National Forest and a western section of the San Gabriel Mountains for nearly 50 miles, connecting the suburb of La Cañada Flintridge with the Antelope Valley.

Confidently Capable

It took just a few miles of switchbacks for us to pick up a serious pace. The R8 has always been an easy car to drive quickly. Some might squawk about its slight roll in corners, which is out of character for a supercar. But it's easy to place precisely on the road and feels locked down in faster corners, where it soaks up broken pavement without feeling skittish or demanding abrupt steering corrections.

We soon had the confidence to make the switch to the Dynamic driving mode, which keeps the majority of the torque from the R8's V-10 going to the limited-slip rear differential. Now its chassis feels a bit livelier, more responsive to small throttle changes.

As with the similarly updated 2020 R8 coupe, Audi has swapped out the Spyder's previous Pirelli P Zero tires for Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber. The car's stability and traction-control systems have also been retuned to take advantage of the new tires, although the suspension tuning is unchanged. The entry-level Spyder still gets adaptive and more compliant magnetorheological dampers with standard 19-inch wheels, while Performance models like the one we're driving have fixed dampers and 20-inchers. Audi is smart enough not to mess with the all-wheel-drive R8's reputation for daily civility, and it continues to ride well for a supercar.

The R8's higher comfort factor has always come at the expense of maximum road holding, though. We haven't tested a 2020 model yet, but based on previous R8s we've had at the track, our guess is a skidpad-grip level of a little more than 1.00 g. That's more than enough for kicks and about the same amount of stick as you'll get in a Chevy C8 Corvette or a McLaren GT, both of which share the R8's daily supercar aspirations. The Audi R8's platform-mate, the Lamborghini Huracán Evo, assaults the asphalt with 1.10 g of grip—thanks in part to its stiffer dampers and four-wheel steering—but it's far less comfortable to drive to work.

The Audi's chassis agility is also compromised by its considerable mass. This thing is a porker, with a curb weight pushing 4000 pounds. It's easily one of the heaviest non-electric supercars around, and its weight can be felt when tossing it into Angeles Crest's tighter corners. After charging into the first few, we began entering second-gear bends with less commitment, making the most of the R8's massive carbon-ceramic brakes and returning to the throttle only after receiving assurances from the front end that there was sufficient grip. Slow in, fast out, as the saying goes. Stiffer front bushings and tweaks to the steering setup, including a bit more effort, have added some much needed tactility to the R8. However, there still isn't as much communication as you'll get in a Porsche 911. 

The Sound of Music

After 10 miles, we make the transition to Angeles Forest Highway, which is faster and usually littered with fewer Priuses. We continue to run with the top down, enjoying the Audi's stability in third and fourth gear as its V-10 howls off the mountains at more than 8000 rpm. There's a playful brap, bap, bap from the R8's exhaust on overruns and downshifts. The gang at Maxdons can probably hear us coming.

The R8's quick-revving, naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V-10 is a last gasp of greatness in the modern age of turbocharging. We're still smitten with it. For 2020, base models get a bump of 30 horsepower for a total of 562, while the higher Performance version that we're driving carries over with the same 602 horsepower at 8100 rpm and 413 lb-ft of torque at 6300 rpm. Based on our test of a 540-hp Spyder back in 2017, we bet the Performance model can bolt to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds That's enough to drive your shoulder blades into the leather seatbacks and give your friends a life-altering thrill. But by modern supercar standards the R8 Spyder's acceleration is toward the bottom of the pack.

Starting with its 2017 overhaul, the R8 has had two versions of the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. To help sharpen its responses, Performance models have shorter ratios for third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh gears. Out on the highway, that shorter top gear has the V-10 spinning at 3250 rpm at 80 mph, which doesn't help its fuel economy any. But the V-10 comes on strong above 4000 rpm, so there's plenty of thrust on tap without having to shift down a gear. 

Sonny Barger probably wouldn't have noticed, but the R8 has also been given a subtle yet tasteful facelift for 2020. There's a more angular front-end treatment with a wider honeycomb grille and a reshaped rear bumper that better accentuates the car's width. Additional honeycomb air outlets now run uninterrupted across its tail and over a larger rear diffuser bookended by gargantuan oval exhaust pipes. There are new wheels as well, cut with a more complex angular pattern. It all works, but few valets will spot the differences.

Most R8 buyers won't care. This has never been the supercar for attention junkies. The updates have sharpened this Audi's looks a bit, as well as its handling character. But the R8 Spyder is still part grand tourer rather than pure supercar. After a couple of hours on the road, we emerge from behind its flat-bottom steering under a fireball-red sky with no backache and no leg cramps, just hunger pains.

Like the Audi, Maxdons is exactly what we expected and doesn't disappoint. More dive bar than Ruth's Chris, the place is wonderfully stuck in 1975, from its tufted red booths and wood-paneled walls to the classic rock jamming from its jukebox. One bulb seems to light the entire place. The bartender's friendly. We buy our new friends a round and order rib eyes. Medium.

We might be here for a while.

See more at: Car and Driver


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Autos Magazine: 2020 Audi R8 Spyder Was Made to Chase Sunsets
2020 Audi R8 Spyder Was Made to Chase Sunsets
Audi's updated soft-top supercar remains a well-tempered riot.
Autos Magazine
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