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Audi R8 2018 review: RWS

EXPERT RATING
7.4
For a brand that has built a serious following for its 'quattro' all-wheel drive models, making a car like the Audi R8 RWS - which is rear-wheel drive, not AWD, is a bit of a big deal.

A rear-wheel-drive performance car from Audi? Unheard of. It would be like Tony Abbott officiating a same-sex marriage. Or Richard Dawkins suddenly finding God. It goes against everything we've come to know about the Quattro brand from Ingolstadt.

And yet there is no denying the massively obnoxious sideways drift currently taking place on Phillip Island's Honda Corner, the familiar tail of Audi's R8 sliding sideways like a swinging pendulum the moment the driver buries the accelerator.

Welcome, then, to Audi's R8 V10 RWS. Those three bonus letters stand for "Rear Wheel Series", which makes it not just the first rear-driving R8, but the first rear-driving anything from a brand that has been intrinsically linked with all-wheel-drive Quattro since its inception.

So just what the hell is going on?

Audi R8 2018: 5.2 V10 Plus Quattro
Safety rating
Engine Type5.2L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency12.3L/100km
Seating2 seats
Price from$299,888

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

The R8 RWS exists largely because Audi was developing a rear-wheel-drive setup for its LMS race car, and so rather than simply waste the engineering effort, it will instead release a limited-run of rear-drive R8s. It's a trick surely learned of its Lamborghini stablemate, which has found huge success with its own rear-drive special editions.

And we do mean limited; just 999 are planned worldwide, with a mere 40 of those scheduled for an Australian debut.

The grille and vents are in flat black instead of high gloss. The grille and vents are in flat black instead of high gloss.

Owning one will cost a cool $299,500 in the Coupe guise we've just tested, or $321,000 for the folding-roof Spyder version. Not chump change, sure, but something of a bargain at this end of the market - especially considering it essentially lifts a Lamborghini engine -  and officially the cheapest R8 currently on offer in Oz.

Your money buys you new 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and a booming sports exhaust outside, while inside you'll get seats (that are also heated) trimmed in Alcantara and leather, a flat-bottomed steering wheel perched in front of two paddle shifters, climate control, navigation and DAB+ digital radio.

As per Audi's sports car philosophy, there's no central infotainment screen. Instead, the key controls are operated by Audi's Virtual Cockpit (a 12.3-inch digital screen that fills the driver's binnacle).

The tailpipes and the rear diffuser are all uniquely coloured, too. The tailpipes and the rear diffuser are all uniquely coloured, too.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

It looks, well, a lot like any other V10 R8 (though sans any Quattro badging, of course). Bespoke stuff includes the 19-inch alloy wheel design, and the grille and vents are in flat black instead of high gloss. Those iconic side-blades, the tailpipes and the rear diffuser are all uniquely coloured, too.

The sleek, air-slicing profile and a swept-back roofline draws your attention to that glass-topped view of the massive V10 engine housed almost directly above the rear axle. The sleek, air-slicing profile and a swept-back roofline draws your attention to that glass-topped view of the massive V10 engine housed almost directly above the rear axle.

Apart from that, though, it's business as usual for the R8 RWS, which is no bad thing for Audi's largely timeless supercar design; think two doors, two seats, a sleek, air-slicing profile and a swept-back roofline that draws your attention to that glass-topped view of the massive V10 engine housed almost directly above the rear axle.

Inside, the RWS is plenty driver-focused, not least of which because the screen-free dash means it's only the person behind the wheel who can control - or even see - the car's main functions. But it also makes the cabin feel clean and fuss-free.

How practical is the space inside?   6/10

Um, next question? If you're shopping for something ridiculously quick and ridiculously expensive that can also ship cargo or people, may I draw your attention to Audi's RS6 Avant? Or even Jeep's Grand Cherokee Trackhawk?

The R8 RWS, on the other hand, is very good at moving exactly two people along at a ferocious clip. You will, however, find 112 litres of storage in its boot (located under the bonnet, of course) which is enough to stow a couple of soft overnight bags.

Inside, the RWS is plenty driver-focused. Inside, the RWS is plenty driver-focused.

In the cabin, expect a pair of cupholders, a small-ish glovebox and a storage net in each of the passenger doors. There are no ISOFIX attachment points, of course, and there are no rear doors let alone bottle storage in them.

Where the R8 is practical, though, is in its approach to weight loss. Its space-frame underbody is made of 79 per cent aluminium, and the entire structure weighs just 200kg. And ripping out the all-wheel-drive architecture has shaved another 50kg off the kerb weight, which is now 1590kg.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

It's a work of petrol-pumping art, this mid-mounted 5.2-litre V10 engine, which will send 397kW at 7800rpm and 540Nm at 6500rpm positively thundering toward the rear tyres.

That power passes through a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic, pushing the R8 RWS to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds (3.8sec in the Spyder version), and on to a screaming top speed of 320km/h (318km/h in the convertible).

It's a work of petrol-pumping art, this mid-mounted 5.2-litre V10 engine. It's a work of petrol-pumping art, this mid-mounted 5.2-litre V10 engine.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Yeah, that's not a good story. Audi puts the combined figure at a claimed 12.7 litres per hundred kilometres. But if you spend most of your time in the city, that number climbs to 19.2L/100km on the urban cycle.

The big V10 can shut down five cylinders when you're cruising to help conserve fuel, the system doubling as a handy dynamic aid, closing off the engine's outside bank when cornering to push more weight toward the corner.

Emissions are a claimed 291g/km of C02, and the R8's massive 83-litre tank demands 98RON fuel.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

What's more important to you, outright pace or outright fun? Because even without having driven them back to back, it's hugely unlikely the R8 RWS would stay glued to the bumper of the all-wheel-drive version on a racetrack or a twisting road.

But you know what? You would watch the AWD version slowly extending its lead with a huge and face-splitting grin, not a care in the wide world. And that's because this RWS is so much fun.

From its comically loud and booming exhaust to the way it absolutely charges through its seven gears, zero let up in its epic power delivery, the rear-driving RWS leaves you grinning like a lunatic. And if that is not what you're buying a supercar for, then you're shopping in the wrong place entirely.

What's more important to you, outright pace or outright fun? What's more important to you, outright pace or outright fun?

Don't get me wrong, the rear-driving R8 is still ferociously fast; punching through the 100km/h barrier in just 3.7 seconds. It feels every bit that quick, too, the gearbox seriously rapid in selecting the right gear, and happily clinging to a lower cog - even as the engine howls - when in its most dynamic setting.

And on a racetrack or a twisting road, the rear-drive R8 feels plenty sharp, although you will notice the traction control stepping in far more often as the rear tyres struggle with putting the power into the tarmac. Setting the traction control to its sport setting (allowing for some traction loss before pulling the R8 back into line) is the fastest tactic.

From its comically loud and booming exhaust to the way it absolutely charges through its seven gears, zero let up in its epic power delivery, the rear-driving RWS leaves you grinning like a lunatic. From its comically loud and booming exhaust to the way it absolutely charges through its seven gears, zero let up in its epic power delivery, the rear-driving RWS leaves you grinning like a lunatic.

The steering is near-perfectly weighted, light enough at city speeds and firming up considerably when in Dynamic mode, and it's like it has a new and improved relationship with the front tyres, too, with the RWS serving up easy direction changes through sharp slaloms, the rear end pushing wide only when seriously provoked.

The R8's true party trick, though, remains its ability to tone down the mayhem and transform back into a calm and composed daily driver when you want it to, happily carrying you away from a twisting road or race circuit and back into the daily grind. The RWS remains a super comfortable and easy runabout -  one you'd have no problem ducking out to pick up the milk in.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   6/10

A fairly basic package, that starts with a reversing camera, parking sensors and six airbags (two front, two side and two side-chest bags). The Spyder makes do with four airbags, but adds automatic rollover detection.

The R8 has never been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Audi's standard three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is the order of the day here, with service intervals pegged at 12 months or 15,000kms.

While the bulk of Audi's fleet is covered by a service plan that publishes servicing costs on the brand's website, the R8 range doesn't qualify.

Verdict

The Audi R8 RWS feels every bit as fast in a straight line as its all-wheel-drive sibling, and is honestly even more fun, and for significantly less cash.

Sure, you might trade off a micro-second here or there in the corners, but you're swapping them for a more engaging, more emotion-filled and more supercar-like drive experience.

And that seems like a fair trade to me.

Would you choose RWD or AWD? Let us know in the comments section below.

Pricing Guides

$299,939
Based on 6 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$299,888
Highest Price
$349,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
RWS 5.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $214,500 – 246,510 2018 AUDI R8 2018 RWS Pricing and Specs
Spyder 5.2 FSI Quattro 5.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $278,190 – 319,770 2018 AUDI R8 2018 Spyder 5.2 FSI Quattro Pricing and Specs
SPYDER 5.2 FSI QUATTRO PLUS 5.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $304,040 – 349,470 2018 AUDI R8 2018 SPYDER 5.2 FSI QUATTRO PLUS Pricing and Specs
5.2 FSI Quattro 5.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $262,790 – 302,060 2018 AUDI R8 2018 5.2 FSI Quattro Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.4
Price and features8
Design7
Practicality6
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Driving9
Safety6
Ownership7
Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

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