It’s the first-ever rear-wheel-drive Audi, but is a departure from quattro a good thing? Paul Maric drives the new Audi R8 RWS to find out.
Work days don’t get much better than this – over 400km on public roads and then half a day lapping one of the best racetracks in the world in a V10 road missile. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you savour the moment.
The V10 road missile in question is the limited-edition 2018 Audi R8 RWS (Rear Wheel Series). Limited to just 999 units, the R8 RWS is the first Audi to ever be offered in rear-wheel drive, breaking from a tradition of front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles, plus a marketing campaign that leans on the benefits of quattro.
Available in both coupe and roadster, the Audi R8 RWS kicks off from under $300,000 (before on-road costs), just. The R8 RWS Coupe is offered from $299,500 (plus on-road costs), while the RWS Spyder bumps the price up to $321,000 (plus on-road costs).
To put that into perspective, they are $67,500 less than their all-wheel-drive siblings and almost $100,000 cheaper than their Italian cousin, the Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2.
Visually, you won’t spot a great deal of difference between a regular R8 and an R8 RWS – unless you option the stripe package. The R8 RWS misses out on the quattro badges, gets a grille finished in matte black, 19-inch high-gloss black alloy wheels, rear air vents in matte black and exhaust outlets finished in high-gloss black.
Audi claims that up to 60 per cent of components are shared with the R8 LMS GT4 car, making this a close representation of the racetrack weapon.
Fifty kilograms of weight has been saved under the skin by removing the front and centre differentials. Further weight-saving was found by removing the forward and backward electric mechanism on the driver and front passenger seats, netting 550g per seat.
Changes were also made to the front and rear suspension geometry by increasing front rigidity by 10 per cent and adding camber to the rear wheels for added cornering stability. Finally, changes to the stability control were also implemented to allow extra slip angle for added dynamic feel.
Powering this mid-engined configuration is a mighty 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 engine that produces 397kW of power and 540Nm of torque, with torque sent via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. A sprint from standstill to 100km/h takes 3.7 seconds in coupe form, while the Spyder takes slightly longer at 3.8 seconds.
Our epic drive route commenced at Melbourne Airport and snaked its way through regional Victoria through to Phillip Island. These roads included a mix of highway, winding roads and poor-quality country roads. It gave us a great opportunity to sample some of the car’s features and to see how it performs as a daily driver.
At low speeds, one of the things that immediately becomes obvious is how easy the R8 is to drive. It’s fitted with a rear-view camera that pops up on the Virtual Cockpit screen ahead of the driver. It teams with front and rear parking sensors, plus adequately sized wing mirrors, to make placing the car quite easy.
The Audi R8’s interior really helps it stand out. It’s elegant, minimalist and full of technology. A central infotainment system is replaced by Audi’s Virtual Cockpit – a 12.3-inch colour screen that sits ahead of the driver and replaces traditional analogue gauges and a central infotainment screen.
The centre stack now just features climate controls, a gear selector and an MMI controller. It’s clean and removes a litany of screens and buttons that could otherwise occupy that space. If you’re going to use this car as a daily, it’s worth considering the total storage on offer. There’s 112 litres of cargo capacity in the front boot and 226 litres available behind the driver and front passenger seats.
The R8 is also available with Audi exclusive equipment, which allows the driver to customise the colour of their car and its components to the nth degree – everything from leather grades to stitch colours can be changed to suit the buyer’s needs.
It’s the noise that really sells this thing. Push the steering wheel starter button and the R8 RWS fires to life with an epic bark that can be heard from a distance.
While the dual-clutch gearbox can be a little fussy at low speeds, it loses its hesitation and mild jerkiness once the car is moving. Despite the engine not featuring any form of forced induction, the 5.2-litre V10 is incredibly responsive at any speed. The throttle remains razor sharp and it’s ready to move with every flex of the right foot.
The steering wheel mounted drive-select button allows the driver to move between four drive modes – comfort, auto, dynamic and individual. Select dynamic mode and the engine slots back several gears, with the exhaust note becoming much louder. At the same time, the steering gets slightly heavier and the car is ready for an assault on the senses.
Four-wheel steering and adaptive dampers are dropped from the available features list to create a simplified and natural-feeling drive. The suspension is on the comfortable side of sporty. The suspension picks up most road imperfections, but doesn’t crash through the cabin. The bumps are softly damped with little unsettling the ride mid-corner.
Steering feel is excellent with a wheel that sits perfectly in the hand and offers direct communication with the road. But, get ready to experience the cheapest-feeling paddle-shifters you’ve ever seen when you go to change gears manually. The plastic-clad paddle-shifters feel out of place in what is otherwise an amazing-looking cabin.
The tyres measure 245mm wide at the front and a whopping 295mm wide at the rear. This combination affords plenty of traction mid-corner. It’s actually so good that you really need to work hard to unsettle the rear. A stack of mechanical grip is backed by a planted body that barely moves from a level plane when punted through corners.
Brake pedal feel is excellent with assuring stoppers that work hard to bring the R8 RWS up from speed. Unlike other models, the R8 RWS isn’t available with carbon-ceramic brakes. Instead, it comes with steel stoppers that measure 366mm at the front and 356mm in diameter at the rear.
While it copes well with being driven on public roads – even as a daily driver – how does it fare on a racetrack, especially a fast one like Phillip Island?
To find out, our time at Phillip Island was spent chasing a pair of V8 Supercar drivers who were driving a set of R8 V10 Pluses. While I’m not a race driver or anything beyond average, I was happy to push the limits of the rear-wheel-drive R8 to see how much it could cope with before it started throwing in the towel.
And, much to my surprise, it required a fair bit of effort to unsettle the R8 RWS. It effortlessly holds tight lines around the track and slingshots out of corners like you wouldn’t believe. It’s easy to forget that this car is continuously sending torque to the rear.
Unlike a Mercedes-AMG GT S, for example, which struggles with traction if you lean on the throttle too hard out of a corner, the R8 RWS hooks up nicely. If you go beyond its grip limits, it will move to understeer before it shows any signs of wanting to oversteer.
Sure, point the wheel and punch the throttle and it’ll hold an epic drift like the best of them, but in this regard it’s really well composed and tailored to the driver that wants fun behind the wheel, but doesn’t want to be spat off the racetrack with one wrong move.
The brakes held up surprisingly well, even after some fairly serious laps. I counted seven full-speed laps at one point, where we hadn’t slowed down for a cool-down at all. The pedal still felt strong and delivered confident and aggressive stops time after time.
The noise that comes from those exhaust pipes as you wind through the gears is simply epic. It’s loud, proud and willing to just keep rowing through gears – it feels unstoppable out on a racetrack.
I’m not sure about you, but the 2018 Audi R8 RWS feels like somewhat of a no-brainer for somebody with $300,000 to spend on a new sports car. It looks more expensive than its price tag would suggest, it’s louder than anything else this side of a Ferrari, and it’s limited to just 999 units.
If you’re serious – head directly to your Audi dealer and lock one in. Then, call your friend Paul Maric and get me another drive.
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