► First RWD Audi R8 road car
► Lighter, purer, more fun?
► Tested in Spain and the UK
The R8 RWS is the first rear-wheel drive Audi in the history of the marque. Built by Audi Sport – the new name for Audi’s performance division, Quattro GmbH – the RWS comes in a stripped back specification and with the less-powerful 533bhp version of the R8’s non-turbo 5.2-litre V10 only.
This makes it by far the cheapest version of the R8 available, with prices starting at £112k for the Coupe and £121k for the Spyder, but also hints tantalisingly that it offers the purest driving experience. Until now every R8 road car built by Audi has been resolutely four-wheel drive, which some supercar diehards have probably thought was cheating.
What’s the big fuss about rear-wheel drive?
Firstly, it saves weight. Ditching the extra differentials and shafts necessary to carry to the power from the mid-mounted V10 forward to the front of the car makes the R8 RWS 50kg lighter as a Coupe and 40kg lighter as a Spyder – immediately going some way towards compensating for the power deficit between this and the range-topping 602bhp R8 V10 Plus.
Secondly, it’s supposed to deliver a purer, more dynamic driving experience. Since the front wheels now only have to deal with steering, the feedback you get through your hands on the wheel should have less interference and therefore be able to deliver more authentic information about what’s going on at the road surface.
Directing all of the power to rear also mainlines the accelerator pedal’s influence over your cornering attitude. Compared to other R8s, this set-up suggests the RWS should be the most exciting, involving R8 we’ve ever driven – if not, in fact, an outright handful.
Is the R8 RWS a handful?
Far from it. That’s not to say it’s boring – no car fitted with this glorious V10 could ever be boring – but if you were hoping for some kind of Audi riposte to the Porsche 911 GT3, alive and dancing to the slightest input, this isn’t what we’re dealing with here. The word we really want to use is nice – this is a nice car – but nice has such mediocre connotations these days it doesn’t entirely seem fair. So the best way to describe it is like an R8 with the knobs turned up not to 11 but something like 10.25.
For while Audi Sport has certainly distilled the RWS into a more intense experience, it hasn’t lost track of the R8’s fundamental friendliness and willing nature in the process. The suspension, for example, is a specially stiffened passive set-up. Meaning that someone – we met him on the launch event – has actually made a decision about how the RWS should ride and react to the road surface at all times, rather than giving the driver a choice between more comfortable and more sporty modes.
This sounds risky but also determined – there’s no either/or here, rather proper definition. We perhaps wouldn’t be saying that if the result wasn’t so nicely judged but it is; the RWS is slightly more uncompromising at lower speeds on rougher tarmac, but it is never harsh and gets better and better the faster you go.
What’s the steering like in the Audi R8 RWS?
The steering is more positive, too. New software for the electric-assistance on the fixed-ratio rack (there’s no controversial dynamic steering here), the reduced weight and a thicker front anti-roll bar have brought if not clarity then certainly more energy to the initial turn-in, making the RWS feel just a smidge sharper.
It’s still not the most transparent set-up and, ironically, without the interference from the front driveshafts it can be a little difficult to judge front-end grip levels in greasy conditions, but overall it contributes to what is a more rounded, wholesome driving experience in the RWS.
And there’s also no need to worry about the rear of the car becoming wayward under the influence of all that power. The final chassis change is a slight tweak to the rear camber levels, and both traction and cornering grip remain outstanding. The Sport setting for the ESC does allow controlled drifts if you really want to play around with this R8’s aftward-bias. But you’ll have to be pretty brutal to get any meaningful slip angles in the dry, and it’s not as if the four-wheel drive models don’t like going sideways anyway.
Do you miss the extra power of the R8 V10 Plus in the RWS?
If the 533bhp V10’s rolling performance perhaps isn’t quite as eye-popping as some 602bhp variants we’ve driven, the RWS will still do 0-62mph in 3.7sec and 198mph despite the 69bhp deficit, so it’s hardly slouching about the place. Regardless of output, this engine remains a deeply satisfying advertisement for the virtues of big cube natural aspiration, which is only brought into sharper relief the longer it survives in a world that has now otherwise fully succumbed to the easy charms of blunt-force turbocharging.
From its sonorous ability to pull from just over 1000rpm in higher gears, through the meaty, insatiable mid-range, to the screaming peaks of its 8700rpm redline – at which point the cylinders are moving at a crazy 27 metres per second, incidentally – this is a 5.2-litre work of art. In amongst all those new-fangled, fat-torqued turbo McLarens and AMG Mercedes, it makes the R8 something of a connoisseur’s choice. The S tronic seven-speed transmission is a really effective silent partner in this process, snapping through shifts in either direction with a tight precision that never strays into the realms of abrupt clumsiness.
And although the RWS is only fitted with steel brakes – rather than the fancier added lightness of carbon-ceramics – stopping it hard, repeatedly doesn’t seem to be a problem (though the pads do get incredibly squeaky when hot).
Audi will build just 999 examples of the R8 Rear Wheel Series in total, split between the Coupe and Spyder entirely by customer preference. It’s great value, and it has unique appeal in the R8 range, which we think elevates the RWS well beyond its entry-level positioning to become the R8 to have right now. It’s a lovely thing.
It isn’t as sharp or as wild as some rivals, for sure. And the inevitable complaints about the sheer Audi-ness of the interior will no doubt remain – why on earth you get such cheap feeling paddleshifters in this car is one of the universes greatest mysteries. But as a piece of all-round engineering, as something that will bring satisfaction every single day, the neat, easy-going nature of this chassis combined with the epic nature of that V10 would keep us from getting bored for a long time to come.
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