FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE
Exclusivity; improved steering; chassis purity; reduced price; oversteer!
Cheap-feeling shift paddles; not as focused or visceral as some rivals
THINK Audi performance cars and one word comes to mind: quattro. The German company has spent decades, and millions of marketing dollars, tying itself to the benefits of all-wheel drive, which is what makes this new R8 variant so interesting.
RWS stands for Rear Wheel Series, not rear-wheel steering, as many petrolheads would assume, meaning that unlike every previous performance Audi, this one sends all of its grunt to the rear axle. That brings the promise of oversteer, and a priority shift towards fun and dynamic purity.
Itís also the least-expensive
R8, despite the fact just 999 are being built (40 or so will come to Oz). At $299,500 for the coupe and $321,000 for the Spyder, itís more than $50K less than an R8 quattro. Itís also cheaper than that other RWD player, the Porsche 911 GT3.
But, unlike the Porsche, this is no focused hardhead with one steely eye fixed on the track. Instead, the RWS is an excellent all-rounder; a well-judged entrylevel version that makes you question the worth of quattro.
Thereís only one RWS spec, with the same free-breathing 5.2-litre V10 as the regular R8, sending 397kW and 540Nm to the rears via a seven-speed dual-clutch íbox.
Dumping the front driveshafts and diff has saved 50kg, though the biggest dynamic difference is felt in the steering. Thereís new software for the fixed-ratio electric system (mercifully, Audiís maligned variable-ratio system is nowhere to be seen) and a thicker front anti-roll bar which combine to give the RWS an immediacy off-centre you donít get in quattro R8s. It turns in faithfully and accurately, and while there isnít a huge amount of feel through the wheel, thereís a lovely fluidity to the way the RWS turns, especially at a circuit like Phillip Island.
Suspension changes are limited to a tweak to the rear camber, and yet the RWS doesnít oversteer as readily as I expected. Turn in, feed in the power and the rear 285/35R19 Pirellis simply grip, which gives you the confidence to lean on the chassis and revel in every rev from the sonorous V10.
Beyond the grip threshold an RWS-specific ESC tune allows for sustained drifts, though the rear axle can feel a little snappy as you exit the slide unless youíre silky smooth with the throttle and steering.
On the road, the RWS retains all of the goodness of the regular R8: excellent vision, progressive brakes and acceptable ride, though the passive suspension can feel jiggly on knobbly roads. Yet it feels a simpler car; one with honest dynamics, improved steering and a playfulness that makes it more fun. Curiously, it seems the best R8 you can buy is also the cheapest. If you can snag one.
If you donít tick the box for the lairy off-centre racing stripe, it can be tricky to pick an RWS. The big giveaway is the lower sideblade which is finished in body colour, not carbonfibre like other R8s. And the RWS is the only R8 to use matte grey for the plastics around the front grille, air intakes and rear diffuser. Inside, every RWS scores a build-number plaque that reads Ď1 of 999í. Sadly, the plasticky shift paddles remain. Audi does beautiful interiors; why skimp on a part that the driver interacts with so regularly?