If you're going to drive down memory lane, do it in a 2011 Audi R8 Spyder.
I was trying to explain just that to an Elizabeth, N.J., police officer who was standing next to the driver's door, his hand casually placed on his pistol while examining my driver's license under the glare of red and blue flashing lights.
"Honest officer, it's my 25th high school reunion in a couple of days," I said.
"And why do you have this car?"
"Did I mention my reunion?"
After a quick lecture on why I shouldn't take corners at 40 mph, I was off to the races â€” or at least to a little township not too far from Raceway Park.
The culture of cars is as American as Greek-owned diners and showing up to a class reunion in a fancy vehicle you don't own â€” and slightly sophomoric. Then again, I didn't win class clown for nothing. So when Audi asked if I wanted to test this all-new dream machine, I knew exactly where I wanted to drive it: The New Jersey Turnpike.
If I'm going to go back in time, to revisit old friends and stir up memories of pork roll, the shore and every girl I may have had a crush on for the two minutes between gym and Mr. Neal's English class (much to my wonderful wife's annoyance), I was going to need all 525 horsepower to get there. Only a New Jersey pizza is more delicious than Audi's V-10, which is mounted behind the convertible's two seats.
It was only a few years ago that Audi rolled out the regular R8 with its spaceship-like exterior, incredible handling and leather-encased interior. It is still one of the few supercars that feels like a deal at just a little over $100,000.
An exhilarating ride
The R8 Spyder pushes Audi's speeding name plate up to some even higher level of sports machine. The high revving, high octane engine screams.
In fact, while taking former classmates for test rides (which is what you do when you have one of these cars), Grace Garces and Wendy Ward both let out squeals that perfectly combined exhilaration and fear â€” kind of like that moment when we actually graduated high school.
As we ripped around a left-hand turn, the Spyder stuck to the ground, never bending or pushing out. Between the bubble gum sticky 19-inch wheels and the performance tuned aluminum double wishbone suspension, the car never rolled, slid or moved other than where you wanted to go. The steering is exact. The controls precise. The effect â€” magnificently cool, a status I never obtained in high school. This time, however, I managed to get to second gear and 80 mph with both Wendy and Grace.
What they didn't know, and probably didn't care about, was that the engine cranking out 391-pound-feet of torque and winding out to 8,000 rpm, is the same engine found in the R8 LMS racecar. It's aluminum perfection.
The all-wheel-drive system provides unreal traction and makes spinning the tires difficult. The 5.2-liter also lets this Spyder go from 0 to 1985 in the blink of an eye. (With a $161,000 starting price, the Spyder is worth more than every vehicle my senior class owned â€” combined â€” I thought as I tried to do doughnuts in my high school parking lot. My test car topped $190,000, something I tried to bring up in every conversation at the reunion.) While I would prefer the six-speed manual, I found the six-speed R-tronic automated manual gearbox much improved over the version originally in the R8. That transmission tended to lag behind the performance you wanted and make a weird clunking noise when it downshifted as you approached a traffic light. This one provided fast, smooth shifts and not having a heavy clutch was convenient when driving through the thick traffic on Route 18 and I-287.
A real head turner
Then there's just the way this car looks. As you drive down the road, it does more than turn heads, it causes whiplash. It didn't help that the car was Scarlet Red. Audi has a different name for the color, but when you grow up in the shadow of Rutgers University, everything is scarlet.
For those who would drive this with the soft top up, the car is surprisingly quiet and still looks sharp. But this convertible should almost always be down.
Audi decided to not include the distinctive blades on the sides of the Spyder, which doesn't take away from the car at all. Really, the wedged shaped Spyder just looks fast, with the rear fender vents sucking in air to feed the engine.
Even the ridged vents along the back â€” that also help keep the engine cool â€” look sculpted. The car, while small and wide, feels huge once you're sitting in the passenger compartment. There's tons of space, at least it feels that way. There's 37.7 inches, which doesn't sound like much, but the space was needed to hold the roof when it was rolled up. (Another great feature is the ability to open and close the roof while driving the R8 Spyder. Nothing is worse than pulling into a parking space then sitting there waiting for the roof to close up. The Spyder can button up or drop its top up to speeds of 31 mph.)All of the controls are similar to the regular R8 â€” though calling the R8 regular is like calling President Obama just some guy who lives in D.C. There's nothing regular about any of these Audis.
When you sit in the cockpit, everything is right at your finger tips and the high resolution navigation screen points directly at you. Leather surrounds you but it's not just any kind of leather. It includes special pigments that can cool the seats by as much as 68 degrees even in direct sunlight.
Audi also added a seatbelt microphone for your Bluetooth-connected phone so you can speak clearly on the phone even with the top down. The steep windshield pushes the wind over you and if you put the side windows up, it's quiet. Really, holding a conversation in the R8 Spyder is pretty easy.
And during the reunion, the R8 Spyder was certainly a conversation piece.
No one was duped into thinking I owned it, dealer tags tend to steal that thunder, but I was more than happy enough to show them the car parked right in front of the hotel.
If you can't get long lost friends to ogle over you, bring along an R8 Spyder and sit in it. There will be ogling.
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Exterior: Excellent. Beautiful design that keeps its R8 looks but loses the roof.
Interior: Excellent. Lots of leather and just enough gadgets to keep the driverâ€™s eyes on the road.
Pros: Perfect for a long weekend in New Jersey.
Cons: Giving it back or paying $161,000.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor