2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder
2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 2012 Audi R8 GT coupe
Test Drive: 2011 Audi R8 R Tronic

Manufacturer’s web site
Audi Canada

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

Photo Gallery:
2012 Audi R8

For those few Canadians who feel the Audi R8 V10 Spyder is just not “special” enough, Audi is bringing in fifteen 2012 R8 GT Spyders. Like last year’s GT Coupe, this rag-top special is lighter, faster, sharper handling, and a tad pricier. With a starting price of $242,000, you’re shelling out an extra 55 large for the privilege of owning one of only 333 GT Spyders produced.

The shift knob on this striking Misano Red Pearl Effect specimen indicated it was number 13 of the run. Feel special yet?

The GT is the harder-edged version of the V10 Spyder that drops 85 kg, gets a 35-hp boost to 560 hp, carbon ceramic brakes, lowered ride height, a more track-focused suspension and a deliciously raucous exhaust. Not to mention a way-cool matte-finish fixed carbon-fibre spoiler.

2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder
2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder. Click image to enlarge

Despite the GT’s more aggressive disposition, it still rides with the surprising suppleness of the regular R8, and unlike some recent Ferrari and Porsche lightweights, Audi asks no concessions when it comes to comfort. We get fine Nappa leather sport seats (the Euro carbon-fibre racing shells don’t make it here), air conditioning, navigation, Bluetooth, Sirius, USB and Harman/Kardon audio that, as good as it is, can’t hold a candle to the Italian/German cacophony tickling your ears from behind.

This is an intoxicatingly racy engine that needs to be revved. Unlike a Porsche Turbo, with its kidney-punch of torque just off idle, the 5.2L V10 makes its 398 lb-ft peak at 6,500 rpm. It starts to come alive above 4,000 rpm, and every time the tach needle swings up to eight grand, all is right in the world.
The R8 GT Spyder feels sharper on the road—the steering is more alert and the front end has more bite than the regular car. The GT ditches the adaptive magnetorheological dampers for a manually adjustable coilover suspension that can lower ride height by as much as 10 mm. From the factory, the GT rides 7.5 mm closer to the tarmac and more negative camber is dialed in both front and rear. The fixed rear spoiler and “lips” on the front wings increase high-speed downforce.

2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder
2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder. Click image to enlarge

As with all R8s, the balance is sublime and handling confidence-inspiring, in no small part thanks to the whiff of torque (15 percent) reaching the front wheels.
One shocking feature of this quarter-million dollar rag-top is its mandatory six-speed sequential single-clutch R tronic transmission. Shockingly good? Ah, no.
By modern twin-clutch standards, this gearbox feels positively antique. The gaps between upshifts are glacial in auto mode. If you’ve ever driven a Smart ForTwo, then the experience won’t be foreign. Really, it must be an absolute shocker for the uninitiated.

“Sir, here’s your new R8 GT Spyder. Thanks for the quarter-mil cheque, and by the way, did I mention the transmission will make it look like you can’t drive?”
But we mustn’t dismiss the R tronic just yet. It forces you to drive it like a manual. Shift with the paddles, finesse the throttle and all of a sudden you have a more intimate connection with the mechanical goings-on. This transmission works best in Sport mode and when the R8 is driven in anger. The throttle-blips on downshifts will send chills down your spine.

2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder
2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder. Click image to enlarge

Why does Audi fit its über-R8 with this tranny? It’s lightweight, tough, and delivers better acceleration and track numbers than the six-speed manual. Is a twin-clutch in the works? Oh-my-gawd I hope so.

The 2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder is a thrilling back road ally, but it also makes for a fine grand tourer. The seats, driving position and forward visibility are excellent, and other than the omnipresent hum of the V10 (its spins at 2,800 rpm at 120 km/h), you could be driving any firmly damped luxury car.

Until you look out the window and realize that everybody is staring. Cars are hovering in your blind spots and, yes, that Honda driver on your tail is snapping photos with his cell phone.

Is the 2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder worth fifty-five grand over the regular V10 Spyder? Money really has nothing to do with it. For the 15 fortunate Canadians who bag one of these, I suspect the answer will be yes.

Pricing: 2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder
  • Base price: $242,000
  • Options: $14,600 (Special exterior colour, $1500; Misano Red Pearl Effect – black roof, $5000; carbon-fibre windscreen frame, $4200; luggage compartment lined in Alcantara, $2500; rear shelf in Alcantara, $1400)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $2795
  • Price as tested: $259,495

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Audi R8

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Aston Martin DB9 Volante Sports
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia Spider
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Maserati GranTurismo convertible
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Porsche 911 Turbo S cabriolet

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • Connect with Autos.ca