You know the R8. It’s the quiet sibling of the Lamborghini Huracan, a car we’ve featured three times now. The R8 has only had one story on these pages, but it’s probably the car I prefer over the shouty Lambo. Better interior, better seats, easier to live with but the same troppo 5.2-litre V10.
As the R8’s second-generation roared towards its mid-life update, Audi did something a bit un-Audi. The company, having spent years and millions – perhaps billions – of Euros telling us how great Quattro all-wheel drive is, released the limited edition RWS – rear-wheel series.
Of course, the Huracan Spyder I drove in 2017 was a rear-wheel driver, but that’s Lambo. Sant ‘Agata’s view of AWD is somewhat dictated by its sensible German masters, so it took the chance to drop the 580-2 (the Evo -2 cars are more powerful). We’d heard rumours of the Audi.
Perhaps because of all that investment, the RWS was limited to 999 cars globally. That number feels like Audi fully intended to produce more based on demand. That’s a suspicion, by the way – I have absolutely no knowledge, facts or evidence to back that up.
The RWS doesn’t look any different. You have to have a very good look at it to tell it’s rear-wheel drive. Same front and rear bumpers, same V10 badge, same same same. Look a little closer and you’ll see steel brakes (like the R8 Spyder I drove and the standard R8 Coupe).
I wasn’t sure about this white one but boy, did it grown on me. I even grew very fond of the optional red graphic.
The one thing that you can pick about the RWS is the body-coloured blade on the air intakes behind the doors. Yeah, I reckon that’s dumb too.
The cabin is a little pared back from the Quattro coupe, at least in Australian specification. The seats don’t look like much, but do just as good a job as they need. The dash is all pretty much the same apart from the 1 of 999 badge (cheeky sods) and really, there’s nothing missing. It’s a huge improvement over the Huracan’s silly interior, which feels plasticky and old (and hopefully fixed in the Evo).
I just wish the R8 had better shift paddles. They’re cheap, plastic and nasty and have none of the tactility of the Huracan’s alloy or carbon paddles.
R8 RWS Drivetrain
There’s little new here, but it’s such a good engine, I’m going to re-cap for you. The glorious 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10 produces 397kW and 540Nm. The power peaks at 7800rpm while maximum torque arrives a little earlier at 6500rpm.
The seven-speed twin-clutch sends power to the rear-wheels. And that’s it. No all-wheel drive trickery. Easy.
There’s little change here, too. The brakes are drilled steel units, with those hilarious wavy discs up front and six-pot calipers holding on for dear life. Down the back you’ve got four-potters. You can’t get carbon-ceramics so don’t bother asking. And, just quietly, you don’t need them.
Without the quattro drivetrain, the R8 RWS weighs around 50kg less than its AWD counterparts.
The car rolls on 19-inch forged alloys, painted black and completely allergic to kerbs, so stay away.
As with the similarly-powered Coupe, there are the normal Drive Select Audi modes, the RWS goes without the extra three modes of the Plus. But it does keep the Big Red Button to fire it up.
It also goes without adaptive damping, and that’s just fine by me. It’s completely liveable every damn day.
My giddy aunt. What an amazing thing is that V10. Every time I get behind the wheel of a car with this engine, my heart skips a beat. It’s just wonderful. Every time I floor the throttle and hear the way the engine note soars, that wonderful harmonic from 3500rpm to the hard-edged shriek at the redline, my hairs all stand on end. Not even Ferrari’s V12 does that to me.
The glorious crackle and snarl on the overrun, the business-like bark on the downshift. Few engines can hope to match, let alone exceed, the V10’s character. For that alone, any R8 is worth it.
The R8 RWS has something else going for it, too. It’s the cheapest R8 you can buy. Here in Australia, it came in under A$300,000, cheaper than the completely bonkers Jaguar F-Type SVR. Audi doesn’t really do bonkers, but my goodness, it does serious just as well.
I didn’t really know what to expect from a rear-wheel drive, V10 powered carbon and aluminium coupe. I’ve driven a heap of R8s and a heap of Huracans and owned BMW’s E60 M5, a 5.0-litre V10 sports sedan from the heady mid-2000s, before the GFC and completely understandable emissions rules spoiled the party.
You can feel there’s less weight over the front axle. The R8 turns in just that little bit more sharply, it’s more interested in finding that extra half-inch or so of kerb. Audi Sport had to tinker with everything to make this car happen and you can tell. The traction and stability systems understand you want to go sideways, but not too much. You could complain it’s a little on the conservative side in the dry but it’s absolutely bang on in the wet. Bang on is perhaps the wrong term – if you’re not an idiot, banging into things will not happen.
As ever, it’s a fluid handler. Cornering is flat and composed, there’s a little pitch under hard acceleration but the corresponding dive is barely noticeable. It’s the same setup as the V10 Plus when you haven’t gone for the magnetic dampers.
I like it’s slightly unplugged nature. It’s not old-school but the lack of steering corruption, the eradication of that tiny hesitation on turn-in. All R8s change direction like their existence depends on it – that’s the beauty of a mid-engined car – but the RWS just slices off that little hesitation. It’s almost intangible, but as I got to know it and checked my notes on the quattro, it became clear that the RWS is the car I prefer.
And here’s the thing. While many of the cars on these pages I could never own or even want to own – the responsibility (and extraordinary privilege) of borrowing them weighs very heavily on my shoulders – the R8 RWS is a supercar I would own if ever the financial opportunity presented itself.
It must be nigh-on perfect.
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Words: Peter Anderson
Co-pilot: Brendan Allen
Images: Will Grilo
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.