Basic is best for Audi R8 A 5.2-litre mid-engined V10 with 532bhp driving only the rear wheels? Believe it Words Kyle Fortune.
It must have been an interesting conversation when someone raised the idea of an Audi R8 without Quattro four-wheel drive. But with a 2016 company namechange for the division that builds the R8, from Quattro GmbH to Audi Sport GmbH, there came exactly that opportunity. And here it is, the R8 RWS – that’s Rear Wheel Series – a 999-strong, limited-run R8 that sends drive from its glorious naturally aspirated V10 to the back wheels only.
Let’s start with that engine first. It’s magnificent, a 5.2-litre V10 relic in a world where forced induction, small capacity, cylinder-shorn engines form the zeitgeist. Audi hasn’t adopted it in its most potent, 601bhp form here, leaving the tantalising opportunity for a final hurrah in time. It’s got ‘just’ 532bhp. Enough for 62mph from rest in 3.7 seconds and a potential top speed of 198mph. Not quite as brisk to 62mph as its traction-endowed Quattro relation, but, really, who’s counting?
There’s a weight drop, too, all that Quattro hardware putting 50kg of parts back on the shelves in Audi Sport’s factory in Neckarsulm. It’ll also add some money back into your pocket, because the 2019 R8 RWS is the cheapest R8 you can buy. That is at odds with the usual for limited-series machinery. Bravo Audi. Limited then, but what it’s not is a hardcore product like Porsche’s 911 GT3. No, the RWS is just a simpler R8. Audi has binned not only four-wheel drive, but also features such as four-wheel steering, adaptive dampers and a trick electronic differential.
So it’s purer too, the differential now being a good old mechanical one, the steering and passively damped suspension set to suit its new drive configuration and that slight reduction in weight. The result is some welcome extra feel. It’s not brimming with it, but there’s enough to elevate the R8’s responses from accurate if somewhat mute to something more like accuracy combined with feedback. And it’s transformative: the R8 RWS is more alert, its limits more easily read, the net gain a sizeable increase in the grin you’re wearing.
On UK roads, in weather arguably more suited to four-wheel drive, the RWS is an absolute joy. The rear squirms under acceleration as it hunts for traction, the steering delights, and the suspension rides with a civility combined with poise and balance that demonstrates some real talent among Audi’s chassis people.
Simple is good, then. It’s just a shame Audi will build only 999, because it really deserves a wider audience. This is the best R8 yet.