2011 Audi R8 (© Audi of America)Click to enlarge picture

With a 5.2-liter direct-injection V10 making 525 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque, the Audi R8 Spyder will go from zero to 62 mph in 4.1 seconds.

To appreciate the new R8 Spyder, you have to drive it. Or so says Audi. After spending some time in the saddle, we have to agree.

With the top down, wind in your hair, sun in your face and that 5.2-liter 525 horsepower V10 engine with its hypnotic guttural roar on tap, piloting this drop-top supercar is a total sensory experience.

When it first hit the street in 2008, the R8 coupe was possibly the most compelling thing to appear on the automotive landscape in the last 10 years. And this Spyder nearly reinvents the R8 platform, as well as the driving experience.

Bing Images: Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI quattro

Power as Music
Its official name, according to Audi, is the R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI quattro. That's a mouthful, for sure, but there's a lot going on here. To begin with, there's the engine. The R8's original 4.2-liter 420-horsepower V8 was a great motivator. But it wasn't until Audi decided to drop a V10 beneath the decklid that the R8 became a true supercar — the V10's 525 horses speak for themselves. And they do so literally as well as figuratively; much was made of the exhaust-note tuning when the R8 5.2 was first launched. The coupe is so well-insulated, Audi's engineers maintain, that its exhaust note remains quite muted to the car's occupants, as we experienced. But with the Spyder's top down, the engine noise becomes much more in your face, so to speak. And it's a kick.

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With peak power occurring at a screaming 8000 rpm, and a peak torque of 391 lb-ft twisting at 6500 rpm, you're fully encouraged to explore the accelerator to its depths and unleash the V10's full aural fury. The Spyder weighs around 220 pounds more than the coupe, but you'd be hard-pressed to notice the extra mass unless you drove the two back-to-back. Audi officially pins its zero-to-60-mph sprint at four seconds flat, which, as we hardly need to point out, is fast no matter how you cut it. Acceleration is insistently brutal, building like a wave all the way to a 195-mph top speed — even with the top down.

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Quattro Grip
Every Audi R8 — 4.2 or 5.2, coupe or Spyder — is propelled by the company's signature quattro all-wheel-drive system. In supercar application, the system is much more biased toward rear drive than the brand's more plebeian offerings, with 85 percent of the torque going to the rear axle during normal operation. If necessary, the system can send up to 30 percent to the forward axle.

With all that muscle going aft, the R8 behaves much more like a rear-drive vehicle in the twisties than a standard Audi quattro would, with more lateral slip, but the all-wheel-drive system still keeps you honest and in traction during spirited driving. The sheer level of grip can sometimes seem ridiculous — you can't even hear the tires protest as you fling it through tight corners. It's a real hoot.

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