What happens when you remove the four-wheel drive?
Audi engineers have stripped out 50kg from this R8. But they’ve achieved this without making it a bare-bones competition vehicle. It still has the electrically operated leather seats, the luxury carpet and all the rest. That’s a major weight saving, and has been achieved by removing the front driveshafts, the centre diff and propshaft. So what is the effect?
Obviously if they’d just done that the powerful sports car would have been impossible to drive, so the engineers added a bigger front anti-roll bar and tweaked the suspension quite heavily, since all that weight came off the front end. Now there’s a semblance of understeer rather than too much of the other thing.
You might be wondering if that RWS stands for Rear Wheel Steering, but no, this is rear-wheel drive, and this is the first in what Audi is calling the Rear Wheel Series. What’s more this R8 RWS is going to be a limited edition model, with 999 cars made across the coupe and Spyder bodies.
Audi R8 RWS
Engine: V10, 5204cc, petrol
Power: 533bhp at 7800rpm
Torque: 398lb ft at 6500rpm
Gearbox: 7-spd twin-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: 1590kg
Top speed: 199mph
CO2 emissions: 283g/km
Which then leads one to imagine this is going to be a seriously expensive, limited-edition run, but actually this is now the cheapest Audi R8 you can buy. So what does your £112,450 get you?
Again, you might imagine that with 533bhp pouring through the rear wheels, this thing is going to be a tail-happy hooligan, but actually the rear tyres are so wide and that mid-mounted V10 so well placed that really you’d struggle to lose the back end on anything other than a slick road with a leaden right foot.
The four-wheel drive versions can have adaptive dampers and dynamic steering, but here there are only passive dampers. And the effect is entirely beneficial. The best improvement is to the steering, which now has a precision and intuitiveness that is missing from the four-wheel drive models. Where the technology in the four-wheel drive cars leaves the steering difficult to read on occasion, with the RWS you can read all the very fine print. There’s a huge amount of communication and precision which is a joy to plug into.
Handling is equally precise and controlled, and again you find yourself using that same word – there’s such a purity here.
The engine is the lesser of the V10s but again you’d struggle to find fault or even tell the difference under virtually all circumstances. With 533bhp and 398lb ft of torque, there’s plenty, more than enough, all feeding seamless and vigorously through the seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.
The engine sounds fabulous, a 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 that reminds you of the advantages of not going small and turbocharged. Again, it’s pure, it’s pretty perfect. What might improve matters? Perhaps the option of a manual gearbox, which would fit in neatly with the ethos of this car, but it’s not an option on the R8 RWS.
But there’s the clue. Rear Wheel Series implies this won’t be the only one. This version feels so good, and yet it feels like it has quite a lot in reserve. What about a more powerful version, with a manual box, a bit less weight again, maybe some stickier tyres? Yes please. But until such happy times, we’ll take this cheapest R8 and be very grateful indeed. It’s been 12 years in production, but the move to rear-wheel drive clearly shows the advantages of weight loss.