First Drive: 2018 Audi R8 RWS

MADRID, SPAIN—Too often we think about perf­­­­ormance as additive—we need to add power, add grip, add aero, add brakes, add roll stiffness. But just as often, it’s about taking things away—weight, electronic nannies, or, in the case of the 2018 Audi R8 RWS, two drive wheels. No, this R8 doesn’t turn right under power. It’s rear-wheel drive, and that’s a bit odd for Audi.

In fact, it’s extremely odd. The last time a carmaker named Audi built a rear-drive vehicle, it wasn’t the same company at all, and America wasn’t even (directly) involved in World War II yet. For all but the most pedantic, this is the first rear-drive Audi.

So how is it? Every bit as good as a

quattroR8, just a bit more fun. A big portion of the fun comes from the 5.2-liter V-10 engine huddled just behind the passenger compartment. Cruise gently and its mild burble floats unobtrusively about the cabin; pin the throttle and it’ll wail to wake the dead. Channeling its 540 horsepower to the rear wheels via a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox, the R8 RWS doesn’t leap away from the launch like its four-tire-fire brethren, but you won’t care, because you’ll already be sideways and grinning, fists full of opposite lock, feet dancing maniacally trying to catch the low-moment pendulum of a power-sliding mid-engine supercar.

Wait, you say, I am not sure I feel comfortable slinging out the rear on a monthly payment this big. Fear not, intrepid owner, for Audi has you covered: there’s a middle-ground traction- and stability-control setting called Sport that will let you initiate and maintain a considerable drift angle while making sure things don’t go too far astray. It’s not quite a “drift mode” setting, but it’s permissive yet cautious enough to be used as one. Once you’re comfortable with the idea of spinning like a deranged, 3,600-ish-pound top, turn off everything and have at it. Either way, you’ll want to keep your shenanigans on track.

Not that the R8 RWS isn’t brilliant on the road, too. Even shod in squirmy winter tires (rainy weather and near-freezing temperatures in Spain during our test drive mandated them), the RWS’s steering response is akin to the light, nimble feel of the previous-generation V-8-engined R8, yet crisper. We can’t wait to see how it feels with a set of high-performance summer tires on it and a sweet stretch of Southern California asphalt out the windshield.

All of this sideways hooliganism is fun and all, but isn’t the R8 supposed to be the daily driver supercar? Yes, it is, and yes, the RWS lives up to that measure. Leave the traction and stability controls fully engaged, and you’d never know this R8 wasn’t quattro-equipped, it’s so sure-footed—a trait that was undoubtedly one of the core briefs for the engineers once the rear-drive R8 got the green light for production.  It’s also immensely comfortable, despite the single, non-adjustable suspension offering, and packed full of the tech, luxury, and convenience features you expect of any modern Audi, including MMI with navigation, Nappa leather sport seats, parking assist, smartphone integration, and more.

Spotting one of these unicorns—Audi will build just 320 for the U.S., one for each kilometer per hour of the car’s 198.8 mph top speed—will be a job for the eagle-eyed, as only a few subtle visual indicators differentiate the rear-drive R8 from the usual Quattro version. For U.S. market 2018 R8 RWS models, the tweaks include red brake calipers, two-tone “side blade” (the upper portion being black, and the lower painted body color), black grille and trim kit, high-gloss black exterior mirror caps, and black exhaust tips, plus RWS-exclusive 19-inch gloss black wheels and an optional red vinyl graphics package for the roof and hood.  Changes you won’t be able to spot include a 10-percent stiffer front anti-roll bar, a half-degree more negative camber at the rear, and the 110-pound weight savings of ditching the front propulsion members.

Pricing for the U.S. market hasn’t been released yet, but expect the new rear-driver to fill the role of the entry point to the R8 range, coming in somewhere below the price of the $166,150 (including destination fees) 2018 Audi R8 V10 Coupe with quattro.

Audi says the R8 RWS Coupe knocks out the 0-62-mph dash in 3.7 seconds, while the upcoming Spyder variant adds a tenth to that figure. That’s 0.2-second slower than a base R8 V10 Coupe with quattro, but for our money, those two tenths are time well spent—sideways.

2018 Audi R8 RWS Specifications

ON SALE Mid 2018
PRICE $160,000 (est)
ENGINE 5.2L DOHC 40-valve V-10/540 hp @ 7,800 rpm, 398 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 174.0 x 78.0 x 48.9 in
WHEELBASE 104.4 in
WEIGHT 3,505 lb
0-62 MPH 3.7 sec
TOP SPEED 198.8 mph

 

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