For a company like Audi, the R8 RWS is a really big deal. RWS means Rear Wheel Series; in layman’s terms, a rear-wheel-drive R8. That’s a drastic departure for a brand that built its image around the greatness of Quattro all-wheel drive. You know, the same brand that actually used to call its performance division Quattro GmbH.
Now, under the Audi Sport marquee, a car like the R8 RWS can realistically exist without contradiction. And thank goodness, because the historically unflappable R8 responds beautifully when you loosen up its collar. For a supercar that’s normally so buttoned-up and precise in its action, this newfound ability to kick its tail out around a tight hairpin turn is a serious breath of fresh air.
Did I mention it’s a relative bargain, too?
Same experience, less money
The 2018 Audi R8 V10 RWS starts at $138,700, not including $1,250 for destination and another $1,300 for that pesky gas guzzler tax. That means it’s $26,200 less expensive than the Quattro-equipped R8 V10 and a full $55,700 cheaper than the more powerful R8 V10 Plus. Yet at no point does the R8 RWS look or feel like a discount product.
On approach, it’s the same R8 we’ve known since 2015. The RWS gets a matte black grille, and only comes with gloss black wheels. The side blade is body-colored on its lower half, but that itself is available as an option on other R8 models. Only the red stripe design sets this car apart from its more expensive kin, and even that is a $450 option you can check or uncheck at your discretion.
Step inside the RWS’ cockpit and, once again, it’s the same as any other R8. You’re greeted by Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster, with embedded navigation, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A small air vent housing and trio of climate control dials are all that’s found on the center stack. Move down and you’ll find the gear selector — still no manual transmission, by the way — and the redundant rotary knob that doubles as a handwriting pad, controlling the MMI infotainment found within the 12.3-inch digital display.
An Alcantara headliner, illuminated door sills, leather-wrapped everything, 18-way power seats and a Bang & Olufsen sound system are all part of a $7,800 Premium package. Carbon fiber trim comes at an extra $3,400 cost, which hardly feels necessary, but considering the RWS’ cost savings over an R8 Quattro, I suppose I can get behind splurging on a few bits of interior excess.
In fact, the only interior change is found on the small placard on the dash. Where the standard R8 features the Quattro logo here, the RWS’ reads “1 of 999” — the total number of Rear Wheel Series cars Audi will build. Otherwise, the cockpit is as comfortable and quiet as any other version of the R8, with that screaming 5.2-liter V10 nestled right behind your ears.
Just as capable, and a bit more fun
I absolutely love this engine. Audi’s naturally aspirated V10 sings one of my favorite supercar songs, and really stomps that wah-wah pedal as you near the 8,500-rpm redline. Instead of the more powerful R8 V10 Plus spec, the RWS uses the 5.2-liter engine’s base tune, though there’s hardly anything “base” about 532 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque. The R8 RWS is ever so slightly slower than its Quattro sibling under hard acceleration, though Audi still estimates a damn-quick 0-62-mph time of 3.7 seconds.
With two fewer driven wheels, the R8 RWS is a bit lighter than its Quattro-equipped sibling. Some 110 pounds were lost, most from the front end, necessitating a steering and suspension recalibration.
Interestingly, while the steering weight itself is lighter, there’s more feedback. The Audi-typical dead-on-center feeling is there, with things weighting up nicely as you change direction. With the Drive Select dial set to Dynamic, there’s great action to the steering while negotiating a long series of twisty uphill roads. But turn it back to Auto or Comfort, and the R8 becomes as easy to maneuver as an A4 when you’re looking for a free space in the grocery store parking lot.
On the other hand, the fixed sport suspension is actually stiffer. Not drastically — really just so the car can handle having 100 percent of its power sent rearward. But the RWS retains the R8’s incredible poise: taut and agile when pushed hard, but as docile and compliant as any other Audi while cruising on the highway.
Now, don’t think rear-wheel drive suddenly turns the R8 into a drift machine. This is still a tactile weapon of sports car motoring, a shining beacon of mid-engine balance and hardly a lunatic when pushed to its limits. The only difference is the playful bit of oversteer that accompanies hammer-down acceleration out of a tight turn. Quick pedal and steering work will counteract any unwanted unpleasantness, but even so, it’s not very easy to break the R8 loose.
What we have here is an R8 that’s different than its Quattro sibling while retaining a lot of similarities. Driven around town or on properly good roads, you’d likely never know the RWS was missing front-axle power — that is, unless you goose it coming out of a parking lot and the rump steps out. Don’t drive it like an idiot, and the RWS will reward you with the sort of world-beating supercar experience we’ve come to expect from the Audi R8.
My kind of bargain
Though I actually kind of dig the $450 RWS-specific red stripes, I’m going to skip them on my build. Instead, I’ll spend a little more and get the $1,075 Ara Blue Crystal paint. Audi only lets you spec the stripes on one of its monochromatic colors. And if you want a fancy-shmancy exclusive gloss or matte paint, Audi will happily do it for you — for $3,900 or $6,800, respectively.
From there, I’ll spend $1,500 on the 20-inch black wheels seen on this test car, because they don’t ruin the ride quality and look way better than the standard 19s. I’ll add the aforementioned $7,800 Premium pack, which puts me out the door at $150,325, including destination and gas guzzler fees.
The car tested here, which adds the carbon fiber interior, comes in at $154,400. Even all loaded up, this R8 RWS is still $10,500 cheaper than a base R8 Quattro.
And that, my friends, is what makes the R8 RWS so desirable. It offers a supercar experience as brilliant as any other R8, with just enough different to make it feel a bit more special. Like every other R8, it’s the sort of car you really could live with day to day (assuming you don’t need to carry more than one other passenger). But the fact that the RWS adds a bit more engagement — not to mention its inherent exclusivity — makes it a no-brainer pick for me.