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Driven: Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.

Driven: Audi R8 RWS
Two less driven wheels results in our favourite R8 yet... and that really is saying something.


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Audi R8 RWS

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: removal of front driveshafts only enhances the driving excitement of the R8

Not so good: shame Audi didn't go the whole hog and give us a manual gearbox

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi R8 Rear Wheel Series (limited edition)
Price: starts from £112,520 for RWS Coupe; car as tested £116,620
Engine: 5.2-litre V10 petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Body style: two-door coupe
CO2 emissions: 283g/km (VED Band Over 255: £2,070 first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years of ownership, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 22.8mpg
Top speed: 198mph
0-62mph: 3.7 seconds
Power: 540hp at 7,800rpm
Torque: 540Nm at 6,500rpm
Boot space: 112 litres

Our view:

The Audi R8: it's the finest creation to emerge from the hallowed halls of Audi Sport (née quattro GmbH). Which is as it should be, really, given that it's a glorious supercar with an almighty 5.2-litre V10 nestled in its midriff. While a little part of us was sad that the 4.2 V8 model with the manual gearbox bit the dust in the transition from the first-generation car to the second that launched in 2015, we've not driven a Mk2 R8 yet that we haven't adored. The 610hp Coupe plus? Five stars. The 540hp Spyder? Five stars. These things are just magnificent.

But one way of making them, er... magnificenter would be to drop the quattro all-wheel-drive system. Yes, yes, we know, this is normally one of the R8's chief selling points, but when it comes to driver involvement, getting rid of a pair of driveshafts and going two-wheel drive is a bold and most welcome move. And so here we have the Audi R8 Rear Wheel Series, a limited run of 999 cars that come in either Coupe form, as tested here, or as a Spyder.

They use what can only be inappropriately described as the 'lesser' version of that monumental 5.2 FSI V10, which means 540hp and 540Nm, instead of the 610hp/560Nm employed in the 'plus' models, and are distinguished (in the main) by having body-coloured side blades, their own design of 19-inch alloy wheel and a little '1 of 999' plaque on the passenger-side dashboard; clever thinking by Audi there, using a generic numbering system rather than specific, so it doesn't mean you can claim you've got RWS No.1 or No.999 or No.666... well, you get the idea.

And does stripping quattro out of the R8 transform it into a Porsche 911 GT3-baiting track monster? No. No, it doesn't. But what it does do is save 50kg of weight on a comparable 4WD R8 Coupe (the Spyder RWS is 40kg lighter than its equivalent quattro soft-top) and as a result sharpen the driving experience of Audi's mid-engined masterpiece by enough to have us declaring, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is the best R8 we've yet driven. And, given what it's up against, that's a towering accolade.

It's still a refined supercar, the R8 RWS, one you could live with on a daily basis. The rear-drive model has a fixed-rate suspension set-up that has to cover all bases and we found it so comfortable and so supremely well-judged that we ended up doing 882 miles in the thing in the course of a week, spending more than 17 hours behind the RWS's flat-bottomed steering wheel. Of course, a nat-asp V10 is not the best on fuel, even by the standards of 500hp+ high-performance cars, so we saw a 23.2mpg overall average return with a best figure of 26.4mpg on a long run down the A46 and M1 to Heathrow Airport... but you don't care about this sort of thing, do you?

What you want to do is put the R8 RWS into Dynamic drive mode, set the S tronic gearbox to 'Manual' mode and switch off the Audi's ESC system. Do so, and you'll be rewarded with the most invigorating driving experience you will encounter in anything with four rings on its prow, original 20v Quattro and all its derivatives included. While it would be wrong to say the RWS is more nervous than the quattro models, it certainly feels like it requires a great deal more thought to drive at higher speeds. It moves about a lot more during braking, when accelerating in a straight line on heavily cambered roads and when you get on the power nice and early out of a tight, slippery bend, momentarily forgetting you're not in the quattro model and then dealing with the most graceful, controlled oversteer in the mid-engined business. It is, bluntly, bloody superb and massively rewarding to drive quickly.

And yet, for all this agile handling, there's still a beautiful fluency and poise about the R8's chassis, still the best steering that Audi has mustered up yet (improved further by the lack of drive to the leading axle), still a feeling that you're in something truly special, despite the fact it has A3 indicator stalks and an interior that's rather sombre. In short, it retains everything that makes a second-gen R8 so exceptional, only it's a tiny little bit better to drive hard.

The best news here is that the RWS Coupe is the cheapest R8 of them all, cheapest being a relative term when you're talking about a car which starts at £112,520. At the time of writing, you could still spec one up on Audi UK's configurator, so the 999 RWS models haven't sold out as yet. Better still, our test car had just a handful of options (rear-view camera £600, red brake callipers £500, Audi Smartphone Interface (£250) with Phone Box and wireless charging (£450), High-Beam Assist £175 and pedals in stainless steel £325), topped off with the utterly necessary Sport Exhaust System (a hefty £1,800, but well worth it), meaning at £116,620 on the road, this RWS was still massively less expensive than a basic R8 Coupe plus (£141,200) - and even less cash than a plain old V10 Coupe with the quattro system (£126,200).

Perhaps the crowning achievement of the Audi R8 RWS is that we tested it a few weeks after a manual version of the aforementioned 911 GT3 and also a Mercedes-AMG GT R, and despite those two being out-and-out driver's cars, machines that are utterly focused on thrilling their driver before any other consideration, we spent a long time agonising over which one of the three German motors we'd have in our garage if we could only purchase one alone - the R8 RWS was not totally outclassed by its more hardcore compatriots. Anything with THAT mesmeric V10 on board is going to be outclassed by very little, in truth.

Yep, while we're giving the R8 RWS full marks and we are unequivocal that this is the best R8 yet, there are two things we wish Audi Sport had done with the RWS: one, it could have jazzed up its interior a bit more with some brighter trims and bucket seats; and two, it should have been ultra-brave and given the RWS a six-speed manual transmission. With those in play, we reckon we'd have the R8 over the 911 GT3, which is an indicator of just how astonishing the R8 RWS is. However, we'll finishing on this tantalising note: as we said at the top of the piece, RWS stands for Rear Wheel Series, with the emphasis on 'Series' - might we therefore see some rear-driven creation, that's even more driver-focused, from the Mk2 R8 before it bows out? If we do, there's no telling how brilliant it could be...


BMW i8 Coupe: aside from the obvious 911 alternatives, you've got so much choice for performance at this price level - BMW's part-electric i8 is technically phenomenal and a brilliant car in its own right, but the R8 RWS is the more thrilling machine overall.

Ferrari 488 GTB: we throw this in here more as a reference point - the Ferrari is more powerful and faster than the R8 RWS, and about 70 grand more expensive too. But we'd argue the turbocharged V8 has robbed the 488 of the purity of performance the NA R8 possesses.

Mercedes-AMG GT C Coupe: the R8 RWS isn't a hardcore machine, so look down from the monstrous GT R range-topper in the AMG line-up and consider the superb GT C instead. Difficult to choose between the thunderous Merc and screaming Audi...

Matt Robinson - 30 Aug 2018    - Audi road tests
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2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.

2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.2018 Audi R8 RWS. Image by Audi.


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