Front driveshafts be gone! The Audi R8 RWS snubs quattro for the purity of rear-drive. Better all-round car results.
WHAT IS IT?
A watershed moment. Having spent decades building all-wheel-drive machines, Audi’s performance division has suddenly flip flopped and created a rear-drive version of its flagship supercar. That brings the promise of oversteer and a change in personality, though the R8 RWS is a limited edition model, for now. Just 40 are coming to Australia, yet despite this exclusivity, it’s also the cheapest Audi R8 you can buy.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
To see if the R8 RSW can live up to its on-paper promise of being a better driver’s car. And to deliver a verdict on whether rear-drive Audi’s are a good thing and something we want more of, or if the boffins at Ingolstadt should stick to what they know best: quattro AWD.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Who needs front driveshafts? R8 RWS isn’t only the cheapest R8 you can buy, it’s arguably the best. Simpler, more playful and with better steering, it forgoes the pursuit of outright grip and speed and instead focuses on providing a more involving and rewarding experience.
PLUS: Exclusivity; improved steering; chassis purity; value; oversteer!
MINUS: Exclusivity; some cabin plastics; cheap-feeling paddle shifters; not as focused or as visceral as some rivals
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THINK Audi performance cars and one word comes to mind: quattro. The German company has spent decades, and millions of marketing dollars, tying itself to the benefits of all-wheel drive, which is what makes this particular R8 so interesting.
RWS stands for Rear Wheel Series, not we should point out, rear-wheel steering as most petrolheads would assume, meaning that unlike every other performance Audi that’s gone before it, this one sends its grunt solely to the rear axle.
That brings the promise of oversteer, and also a notable shift in priorities: it suggests fun and dynamic purity are the key goals here, not outright grip and speed.
It’s also the cheapest R8 you can buy, by some margin, despite its limited run status - just 999 will be built, 40 or so of which will arrive Down Under. Starting at $299,000 for the coupe and $326,000 for the Spyder, it’s the thick end of $55K less than a regular R8 V10 and also a fair whack cheaper than that other rear-wheel drive rival, the Porsche 911 GT3.
But, unlike the Porsche, this isn’t a focused hardhead with one steely eye firmly fixed on the track. Instead, the RWS is an excellent all-rounder; a well-judged entry-point that makes you question if quattro is worth the extra dosh.
There’s only one RWS spec to choose from: the V10 is the same free breathing 5.2-litre unit as the regular R8, which sends 397kW/540Nm to the rear axle through a seven-speed dual clutch.
Dumping the front driveshafts and diff has saved 50kg compared to the regular R8 quattro, though the biggest dynamic difference is felt in the steering.
There’s new software for the fixed-ratio electric system (mercifully, Audi’s maligned variable ratio system is nowhere to be seen) and a thicker front anti-roll bar, which combine to give the RWS an immediacy off centre you don’t have in quattro R8s.
It turns in faithfully and accurately and while there isn’t a huge amount of feel through the wheel, there’s a lovely fluidity to the way the RWS handles, especially at a circuit like Phillip Island.
Suspension changes are limited to tweaks to the rear camber, and yet the RWS doesn’t oversteer as readily as I expected.
Turn in, feed in the power and the rear 295/35R19 Pirellis simply grip and go, which gives you the confidence to lean on the chassis and revel in every last rev offered by that sonorous V10.
It will slide, of course, and an RWS specific ESC tune allows for sustained drifts on corner exit, though the mechanical rear diff can feel a little abrupt as you exit the slide unless you’re silky smooth with throttle and steering.
On the road, the RWS retains all of the goodness you get in the regular R8: excellent vision, progressive, easy-to-modulate steel brakes and acceptable ride quality, though the passive suspension can feel a little jiggly on knobbly Aussie back roads.
Yet it feels a simpler car; one with honest dynamics, improved steering and a playfulness that makes it more fun, if fractionally slower from point-to-point.
Which leaves us with the curious conclusion that the best R8 you can buy is also the cheapest. If you can snag one, that is.
Spot the difference
If you don’t tick the box for the lairy off-centre racing stripe, it can be quite tricky to differentiate a RWS from a regular R8. The biggest giveaway is the lower section of the sideblade, which unlike other R8s, is finished in body colour, not carbonfibre. The RWS is also the only R8 to use matte grey for the plastics around the front grille, air intakes and rear diffuser.
Inside, every RWS also scores a dash-mounted plaque denoting its limited run status, all of which read ‘1 of 999’. Sadly, the R8’s plasticky shift paddles remain. Audi does beautiful interiors, so why skimp on a part that the driver interacts with so regularly?
Model: Audi R8 V10 RWS
Engine: 5204cc V10 (90°), dohc, 40v
Max power: 397kW @ 7800rpm
Max torque: 540Nm @ 6500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Kerb weight: 1590kg
Fuel economy: 12.4L/100km
On sale: Now