Audi R8 5.2 Spyder. photo courtesy

Audi R8 5.2 Spyder

Engine: 5.2 liter, V-10, 525 horsepower
Acceleration: 0-60: 3.7 seconds
Brakes: 4 wheel disc brakes, 14.4 inch front rotor with eight piston brake calipers, 14 inch rear rotor with four piston brake calipers
Sound system: Bang & Olufsen 12 speakers, 465 watts AM/FM/CD-changer/SD card stereo
Price: $171,800 as tested $182,765

IN A GALAXY NOT TOO FAR AWAY, Audi introduced its first truly two-seater sportscar-the R8. On the heels of the coupe version’s success, the auto maker has now launched the topless Spyder. And, gauging by the reactions of anyone (and everyone, literally) in Honolulu who came into contact with this automobile during my test drive, this convertible stands to be a gigantic hit. In fact, there was rarely a moment when, slowed enough to make it possible, someone did not take out an iPhone and snap a picture. Whether the top was up or down, the reactions were astounding- and all positive.

Up front, the readily identifiable oversized Audi grill is omnipresent, with LED lights skirting either side (the same that vaporized a flock of reveling vampires in one Super Bowl commercial). Yet what sets the Audi apart from the other low-flying exotics is a more rounded shape from front to rear. In back, vents are found on the rear-mounted engine cover, while very large exhaust pipes extend beyond the rear frame.

Likewise with the top up, flying buttresses extend past the rear of the roof. Press a button and the top completely disappears under metal covers in about 15 seconds.

But the real fun comes with the turning of the key-and the low grumble of the 5.2 liter V-10 with 525 horsepower. Rather than simply powering up, the engine pops up the rpm range with a deep, throaty sound. The optional “R tronic” transmission offers an array of interesting shifting choices.

Although the least entertaining, placing the stick into the automatic slot allows the 6-speed unit to shift away with a grace and elegance that stood out enough for me to note it. Far better-and perhaps more attractive to the purists-is placing the stick in the manual position. With the use of shifting paddles at the back of the steering wheel (or simply tapping the chrome stick back and forth), the shifts are instant. Immediate.

When a little throttle is applied, the shifts have exhaust blips between the gears much like a Formula One car. Hit the accelerator hard and there is the mechanical equivalent of an adrenalin rush-in fact, your breath quite simply is taken away. Zero to 60 time is an exasperating 3.7 seconds. Fortunately, tragic manual shifting errors are avoided because the car computer will override any foolishness perpetrated by a driver. In essence, Audi ensured you can’t drive this car poorly. Seriously.

Ride and handling is replete with options. If a true racecar feeling is your cup of tea (or Red Bull, more realistically), punch the sport button and suspension hardens up to keep the car planted. Gear shifts will come faster, but the normal suspension setting provides plenty of lateral control without forcing you to absorb every bump in the road. Steering is masterful, with a nicely weighted countenance.

When the doors are opened, the doorsills light up to greet you. High-bolstered, leather lined, double-stitched seats welcome both driver and passenger. A 6.5-inch video screen found in the center of the dash flips open to swallow CD, DVD or SD cards as intel/entertainment is needed. A wealth of information is available on the display here, including a high def-like rear view when it’s time to back up.

Rather than a drab, single color interior, Audi has done a nice job of brightening the ambiance with metal, chrome and contrasting hues. In the dash pod, a full set of instruments is provided as well as information on various systems and direct info on the gear selections. Two storage areas are found behind the seats to supplement the small up-front trunk.

With this horsepower and top down upgrade of the R8, Audi is now truly a player in the exotic auto world. Just scroll through any social media site and look for the bevy of images snapped the day I took her for a spin-we’re sure to both be on there-smiles abounding.

Luxury Asides

As the First Hawaiian Auto Show-the last of the major shows in the U.S.- recently wrapped up here in Honolulu, auto enthusiasts will have to wait quite a while for the next auto extravaganza. However, more time means better planning to visit the “big” shows that offer the best reward for your travel efforts.

It wasn’t long ago that the L.A. Auto Show was struggling to remain an important, well-executed show. The culprit: The show dates were in December, too close to the coveted unveiling of new models that occurred most often at the January Detroit Auto Show. Wisely, the Los Angeles folk solved this quandary by moving the L.A. Auto Show to November.

The results have been more brand debuts unveiled in the cavernous L.A. Convention Center (in which you’ll want a very comfortable pair of walking shoes). Since the California market is so important, every major and minor manufacturer insists on a presence at this show, putting their best foot forward. Radio stations broadcast live from the event and TV crews focus on pre-production models. At the last show, the Fiat 500 Abarth, Subaru BRZ, Ford Escape, Shelby GT 500 and Cadillac XTS all made their first official public appearance. Concept cars are always a big crowd pleaser here, as they fuel interest in new models that may be coming down the road.

However, the Detroit show is the biggest and still commands the appearance of the newest models. After all Motor City-based auto-makers, notwithstanding their recent financial problems (which are looking far brighter), are a driving force and indicator of our national economy. If you consider yourself an auto enthusiast, you deserve to get yourself to Detroit in January at least once.

At the 2012 show, the debuts included the Dodge Dart, Ford Fusion, Audi Allroad, Mercedes SL and Cadillac ATS.

For the real gear heads, there is the SEMA show in November at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Major manufacturers play a lesser role by providing potential customized models or racing versions of their cars or trucks. The real heroes of SEMA are all the sellers of auto parts, tires, wheels and accessories that directly (or indirectly) make vehicles either go faster or look customized. Parting tip: The parking lots at many of the shows are used for mini races, drifting demonstrations and so forth, for those who don’t want to head back home before inhaling the smell of burnt rubber.

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