New Audi R8 RWS 2018 review

Audi Sport removes R8’s front drive shafts for RWS model, but is it a sweeter, more rewarding driver’s car as a result?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

We can’t help feeling Audi could have nudged the performance envelope further to help differentiate the R8 RWS from its quattro sibling. It feels very much like the standard car (no bad thing) in normal driving, and only when you’re fully committed does it reveal its true traits. It’d be nicer to engage the R8 RWS at slightly lower speeds, which together with more adjustability would have made it the purer driver’s car that Audi was after. But that engine and sweet damping mean it’s still a great performance car, and no doubt the 999 owners will be thrilled.

The R8 RWS marks a significant step for Audi, for this mid-engined model is the firm’s first rear-wheel drive series production car. RWS stands for Rear Wheel Series, denoting the two-wheel-drive setup, a development path inspired by the brand’s successful R8 GT3 racer and one Audi Sport says it’s followed in a quest for a purer, more rewarding driving experience.

A quick glance at the vital statistics says it should be a positive step. The RWS uses the standard R8 as its base, so the 533bhp naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 remains, sending drive through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. 

Best supercars on sale

Losing the centre differential and front driveshafts from the four-wheel-drive car, among other components, means the RWS is also 50kg lighter. There’s also been a commensurate adjustment in the car’s chassis setup, with an RWS-specific sport suspension tune that incorporates a 10 per cent stiffer front anti-roll bar and a new steering calibration. There are some very minor tweaks to the dampers (not stiffer, we’re assured), while the spring rates remain the same. 

Unless you’re pushing quite hard it’s difficult to sense these subtle alterations, as the RWS feels very much like the standard car. The damping is still just as good on a flowing road, controlling the body well but providing a supple platform; the steering is fast and accurate but doesn’t offer the feel you get from a 911, while the aluminium spaceframe construction gives the car plenty of rigidity. 

Like the R8 quattro, it’ll push into understeer (maybe earlier than you might think), but unlike the all-wheel drive car it’s more difficult to neutralise with the throttle – as the front wheels can’t pull you out.

This means you have to commit to bringing the car’s rear axle into play, at which point the RWS’s window of playfulness opens wide and its level of delicious adjustability becomes apparent. It sounds obvious, but it feels very much like an R8 without a pair driven front wheels.

There’s a nice balance to be found; the removal of the quattro setup means the RWS’s weight distribution is now more rear-biased at 41:59 front to rear – compared with 44:56 on the standard car. You can just about sense this in normal driving, while pushing harder on a track reveals the Audi’s more amusing side. Purity though? We’re not so sure. 

The engine is a constant, however. Despite the lack of four-wheel drive (traction is still surprisingly good), with launch control, the RWS still sprints from 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds – and the Coupe will hit 198mph flat-out.

It’s the way it delivers this kick that makes it. The R8 is one of the few performance cars left with a big, naturally aspirated engine, and it’s this, along with its driven rear axle, that defines the RWS. The engine wails to its 8,700rpm rev limiter, spewing out a rich and rounded but aggressive note that turbocharged rivals simply can't match.

The gearbox is equally as impressive, slotting home ratios at full throttle with not so much as a hint of shunt, while downshifts are just as smooth and announced by a flare of revs and a volley of pops and bangs. The R8 RWS’s powertrain, at least, isn’t short of personality. 

Just 999 examples of the rear-drive R8 will be built. With the Coupe priced from £112,450, it’s the most affordable R8 yet. For that, you get a plaque inside to highlight its limited-run status, an optional decal that runs the length of the body, and some other black styling details outside.

There’s a good level of kit, too. Audi’s advanced 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit takes care of infotainment and is easy to use once you’ve got your head around the system. LED headlights, leather and Alcantara sports seats, and all connectivity tech you’d expect are all standard, too.

If it matters to you, Audi claims the RWS will return 22.8mpg and emit 283g/km CO2, but what might be of more interest is the car’s usability. Despite the lack of front differential, there’s no more luggage space, so you’re still limited to a miserly 112 litres in the nose. It’s enough for a couple of squashy bags, though, while there’s an extra 226 litres behind the seats, which makes it even more useful.

Most Popular

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time
Vauxhall Astra teaser 1
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time

The new Vauxhall Astra will get electrified powertrains and a more premium image
8 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
New Vauxhall Astra prototype review
Vauxhall Astra prototype - front
Vauxhall Astra

New Vauxhall Astra prototype review

A new Vauxhall Astra is on the way and we've driven a prototype ahead of its official arrival
14 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
New Porsche Macan facelift prototype review
Porsche Macan prototype - front
Porsche Macan

New Porsche Macan facelift prototype review

We get behind the wheel of a prototype version of the facelifted Porsche Macan SUV
13 Jun 2021
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Car group tests

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300

The capable Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport goes up against its new Cupra Leon 300 sibling in this hot hatch battle
12 Jun 2021
'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'
Car manufacturing
Opinion

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'

Steve Fowler points out the fresh issues facing global car manufacturing
9 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai production begins in Sunderland
Nissan Qashqai - front static
News

New Nissan Qashqai production begins in Sunderland

Nissan will offer every school child in the North East of England a place on the Nissan Skills Foundation course to mark 35 years of manufacturing in …
14 Jun 2021
Illegal car modification hotspots revealed
Volkswagen Polo exhaust
News

Illegal car modification hotspots revealed

Gloucestershire has the highest proportion of illegal car modifications, with altered number plates the most common breach
14 Jun 2021
New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp
Tesla Model S facelift - front
Tesla Model S

New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp

Range-topping version of the Tesla Model S officially unveiled, with a sprint time of 0-60mph in less than two seconds
10 Jun 2021
New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle
Volkswagen T7 Multivan - front
Volkswagen Caravelle

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle

The Volkswagen T7 Multivan MPV switches to the MQB platform and adds plug-in hybrid technology
10 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
New hydrogen-powered Land Rover Defender prototype in development
Land Rover Defender
Land Rover Defender

New hydrogen-powered Land Rover Defender prototype in development

The Land Rover Defender FCEV prototype will be assessed for off-road and long-range zero-emission motoring
14 Jun 2021