Audi and its Quattro all-wheel drive is a pairing that makes serious artistry of the road. It’s like the duo of Daft Punk (if you’re an electronic music fan), The Black Keys (for the rock fans), or Hall and Oates or Simon and Garfunkel (for the fans of the older stuff). To have one without the other seems crazy.
Well, the madmen have done it. This is the new Audi R8 RWS, a rear-wheel-drive model of the brand’s halo supercar. The German automaker says that this is how to properly experience the mid-engined, V10 powered marvel in its purest form (and customers have been begging for it), so we set out to Madrid to see if they got it right.
The Secret Tell Behind the RWS
The first thing to note is that the RWS has a subtle exterior tweak designed to help only those in the know tell it apart from normal all-wheel-drive R8s. Here’s the secret: take a look at the “sideblade,” which is the area just behind the door and ahead of the rear wheels. The top part of the blade is painted glossy black, while the bottom part is the same as the body. Like the brand’s R8 GT4 race car (which is built alongside the RWS and uses 60 percent of the same parts) buyers can even outfit the RWS with a sleek racing stripe. Only 999 examples of this car will be sold, so be sure to pay attention to that little sideblade tweak to see if you’re looking at a rarity on the road.
It’s not like Audi could have done much to make this model look any nicer — the R8 is already one of the sleekest, most well-designed supercars on the market, tip-toeing a line between ostentatious and elegant. It works beautifully.
Worth Getting Excited About
Rear-wheel-drive versions of the R8 shed 110 lbs over the regular coupe. Any weight loss equals earned speed, and the 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V10 hooks up right to the rear wheels, resulting in an intense shove as all 540 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque hit as soon as you floor the gas pedal. It’s an interesting feeling, as acceleration feels a hint more direct than it does in the Quattro model.
The best part of the RWS is the increased opportunity for shenanigans, as the rear wheels are more likely to squirm, smoke, and squeal under pressure. Like the AWD R8, this car is extremely fun to drive and the powertrain (one of just a few big naturally aspirated engines left) has a lot to do with that. We got on a very wet handling course to get a feel for the rear-wheel R8, and when pushing things hard, you can very much find yourself sliding and even spinning the car, but a newly developed Sport traction setting lets you explore your limits while keeping you stay safe.
Fewer Driven Wheels, More Fun
Equally important in the equation is the seven-speed dual clutch transmission, a quick shifting cog-swapper that can be used with a launch control program that sends the car to highway speeds in 3.7 seconds. I’m not as enthused about the paddle shifters, which could be a bit more interesting and tactile to use; aluminum or carbon fiber would have been a nice touch. But you’ll want to slap those rockers often since the car changes gears with no hesitation.
Without the safety net of two extra drive wheels up front, some lead-footed pilots may be intimidated and fear the limited grip, the car’s immense power, tight chassis, and mid-engine layout, but that’s not the case. The car hooks up with limited drama. Unlike the all-wheel-drive model, this car feels a bit more raw, transmitting every detail of the road and the limits of the vehicle to the driver.
The steering and suspension have been revised to accommodate the personality of this rear-wheel-drive model, and they’re a tad bit more precise than in the all-wheel-drive one. The front stabilizer bar is stiffer by about 10 percent, and the rear wheels have a different camber setting. They’re subtle tweaks that driving purists will really appreciate. The steering is extremely accurate and responsive, but having to look through the A-pillar to see where you’re going on left-hand corners gets tiring. The chassis is the most communicative part of the car, and you feel everything through the suspension and body of the R8 RWS.
Naturally, the car still feels refined, like it was made to be a rear-wheel drive model from the very start — it’s manageable rather than twitchy. The thrust and gear changes will put a flutter in your chest. There are a few drive modes to choose from, but the Dynamic and Individual modes are probably the only ones you need. A sport transmission mode is also a neat feature, it upshifts a bit more aggressively and holds gears nicely, too.
But maybe the most important part of all this is the mechanically limited slip rear-differential, which keeps things in check by locking the rear axles as needed for additional traction and grip. An active rear spoiler helps with grip and downforce as well. Indeed, it’s surprising how much grip there is. Even in the pouring rain, the R8 RWS found a ton of grip, and on the road, it’s unlikely you’ll be sliding or understeering unless you’re doing something deliberately crazy.
How It Fits In
It’s worth comparing this car to the Mercedes-AMG GT R, another supercar with gobs of power and rear-wheel drive. The R8 RWS benefits from looking like a real supercar rather than an angry, hard-topped SL, and it has an uncanny knack for being quite easy to drive. The R8 felt very easy to live with — it was comfortable and easy to manage, but this RWS model demonstrated that there’s a special purity when pushed hard.
Inside, the focused cockpit is easy to get accustomed to. I love the virtual cockpit that greets the driver, and the screen even supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is an interesting novelty to see those systems on the gauge cluster. The seats are covered with Alcantara and the dashboard holds a plaque that showcases the car’s series number out of the 999 to remind the owner that they’re in possession of a potential future classic.
The Verdict: 2018 Audi R8 RWS Review
What’s interesting is that all of this comes in at a lower price than the all-wheel-drive Audi R8. Although full pricing details haven’t been released as well as the allocation for each region, it seems like 60 RWS coupes are heading to Canada with a price tag of $163,000 CAD, or $22,000 less than the all-wheel-drive coupe. In that case, it’s a downright bargain! American allocation and pricing are on the way.
It’s clear that Audi can create a fantastic sports car without the all-wheel-drive technology that it’s known for. Considering it is cheaper, more exclusive, and just as much fun to drive, it’s probably the R8 you want — assuming you can get your hands on one before they’re all gone.
This review first appeared on AutoGuide