Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
What we have here is a rather odd beast: a car that is all at once steeped in heritage, and yet also has none at all. The ‘RWS’ in this Audi R8, you see, stands for Rear Wheel Series. And that in turn makes this the first production rear-wheel-drive car Audi has ever built.
Yet being an R8 it can also trace its roots back to 2006, when Audi launched its original mid-engined supercar, which in turn represented the culmination of all it had gleaned from more than two decades of building high performance cars with four-wheel drive.
That original R8 was replaced by the current generation in 2015, which is hand-built alongside the R8 LMS race car in Audi Sport GmbH’s Böllinger Höfe production facility, 50km north of Stuttgart. It doesn’t get much more serious than that.
Given the 50kg weight saving that comes from removing items such as the front driveshafts and centre differential from the R8, there must have been a very real temptation within Audi Sport to turn the RWS into some kind of lightweight Porsche 911 GT3 RS rival. That’s not what has materialised, however. Instead, the RWS is every bit as civilised as any other R8, save for the omission of adaptive dampers from its options list.
It looks just like any other R8 too, provided that is you don’t specify the optional Misano red decal across the bonnet, roof and engine bay. In fact, aside from a plaque on the dash signalling this is one of a limited run of 999 cars (split across coupe and Spyder variants), you’d be hard-pressed to know this R8 was anything out of the ordinary.
Although at 1,590kg the RWS has shed weight compared with a quattro R8, it has also lost a little traction. The result is a one-tenth drop in the 0-62mph time to 3.7 seconds, achieved should you wish with the aid of a hard-worked launch control function. The top speed is 198mph, for which you can thank a 5.2-litre V10 that pumps out a healthy 540PS (533bhp) at 7,800rpm. If that sounds like a lot of revs, just wait until you hit the 8,700rpm redline which, with 10 cylinders hard at work, sounds every bit as amazing as you’d imagine.
Any thoughts you might miss a manual gearbox meanwhile are dispelled when you realise just how well honed Audi’s dual-clutch S-tronic system is, combining smoothness in everyday driving with a rapid-fire response when you need it.
Drive an R8 RWS in the dry and you might wonder if it actually feels all that different to its quattro equivalent. That changes the moment you meet a wet, greasy road, not because the RWS feels spiky or ill-tempered, but simply due to the fact you can feel the rear of the car moving around a lot more as all that power floods through two tyres rather than four.
As such, like an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S manual or a Renaultsport Megane R26.R, the RWS is a car aimed at those who don’t mind working that bit harder to reap the rich rewards on offer. A purist supercar, if you like.
If that’s not passion enough, remember that the R8’s V10 is one of the last naturally aspirated supercar engines on offer, and delivers all the sharp response and sonic richness you could ever hope. That Audi sells this car for almost £14,000 less than a standard R8 is merely the icing on the most deliciously tempting of cakes.