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Car reviews - Audi - R8 - RWS

Our Opinion

We like
Epic V10 engine, sweet steering and front-end agility, excellent ride quality on fixed suspension, shows that quattro not often required
Room for improvement
Dual-clutch lacks intuition of Porsche PDK, does not naturally engage with rear axle like Porsche 911, cabin lacks special feel

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Audi logo27 Mar 2018

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

Overview

FOR what was originally tagged an ‘approachable’ and ‘attainable’ supercar, the second-generation Audi R8 certainly extended further from reach and became out of touch for several buyers.

While it remained a fantastic choice, the lack of V8 entry model or manual transmission meant the V10-only supercar started at a $350K opening price – almost $100K more than the $260K entry when the original launched a decade ago.

The new price point puts the Audi R8 up against the top end of Porsche 911 town and cuts some of the grass of its Lamborghini Huracan cousin (with which it shares its platform).

Now, however, Audi has been able to split the difference between original and current pricing, with the 40-unit R8 Rear Wheel Series (RWS) asking $299,500 plus on-road costs. As the name indicates, the front driveshaft and centre differential have been ditched along with quattro badges.

However, the Audi R8 also gains a new competitor set, with the Porsche 911 Carrera GTS, Jaguar F-Type SVR, Mercedes-AMG GT S and even the BMW i8 all costing within a few thousand dollars of this RWS. So then, how successfully can this Audi supercar return to its original turf?

Drive impressions

Stripping back current production models seems to be ‘in vogue’ at the Volkswagen Group.

Porsche started it with the 911 R by ditching a GT3’s huge wing and mating its superlative engine with a (then-unavailable) manual gearbox. Volkswagen Australia then launched the Golf GTI Original with only two doors and deleted standard kit.

And now Audi has topped that level of change with this R8 RWS – a significant change over the standard supercar given the brand has long gifted each of its RennSport products the surety of quattro all-wheel drive.

But why should a rear-wheel-drive supercar from Audi not exist? Executives argue that sometimes a change is simply fun and good, and indeed they do tag the R8 RWS as a purist’s special. Think of it as what the rear-drive BRZ is to the otherwise all-paw-only Subaru, and it will start to make sense.

What immediately becomes clear is that the R8 continues on the outside to look very special for the price. It sits low and wide with bulged-out front and rear tracks, and the rear tailgate glass continues to show off its 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 petrol engine.

Surely it looks more exotic than its entire competitive set, bar the now much more expensive Lamborghini Huracan.

The stance of the RWS also gives some clue as to how it drives. Sink into the sports buckets and reach out for the surprisingly small steering wheel, thumb the starter button mounted on it and then select Dynamic mode next to it.

This is no tarted-up coupe, but rather a properly designed low-slung model.

Sure, Audi’s colour display, switchgear and transmission selector could be confused for that of a quarter-of-the-price TT, and it certainly does not feel Lambo-special. But that is small criticism.

What the bones of this R8 mean for the RWS – the body is 79 per cent aluminium, 14 per cent carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, with a 1590kg kerb weight about the same as an Audi A4 sedan – is that it is not a natural champion of oversteer and sliding.

Sure, with the ESC switched off on a racetrack and grip limits exceeded it is – as we found with one wet-corner slide-and-repeat exercise at Victoria’s Phillip Island raceway – but when driving full laps at high speed the defining feature of this Audi continues to be its firmly planted poise.

Throttle response is sharp, due to the lack of a turbocharger, while torque of 540Nm does not come into play until 6500rpm – ahead of 397kW of power at 7800rpm and a heady 8250rpm cut-out.

This is an epic-sounding last bastion of natural aspiration, and it is an absolute joyful engine compared with the dull-sounding 3.0-litre turbo of the 911 Carrera GTS, in particular.

Conversely, the tuning of the seven-speed dual-clutch is far from Porsche-grade, with some attempts at intuition often resulting in it being a too-tall gear entering the corner then scrambling for a lower one on exit.

What the peaky deliveries mean, though, is that the chassis of the RWS is rarely overwhelmed, even with early pick-up of throttle on exit to a corner.

Around the trickier turns of Phillip Island this rear-drive R8 points immediately and sharply into a bend, then sling-shots out of them with distinction.

The overwhelming feeling is this: who needs quattro all-wheel drive?Conversely, on the road the R8 RWS rarely feels as though it wants to overtly engage its rear axle. There were a couple of corners where the Audi did not want to shift weight onto its back tyres to then encourage push from the rear – as a 911 Carrera GTS and even the all-paw F-Type SVR do.

Instead, it clings to grip and when too much throttle is applied the electronics quickly curtail any movement. It can be a bit more edgy, like a Mercedes-AMG GT S, though with far greater panache.

These are hardly criticisms, though, and more an explanation of different handling flavours. The R8 RWS perhaps feels as though it has the highest cornering limits, placed far above public road speed.

It drives with a lightness that extends to its ride quality. Despite rolling on low-profile 35-aspect tyres and using fixed-rate suspension, there is a firm subtlety to be found over bumps large and small. And that same description can be used for the lovely, sharp steering as well.

Ultimately the R8 continues to play an expert role in being the ‘everyday supercar’ – and the RWS strongly indicates that there is little need to pay up to $100K more to traverse to the flagship R8 V10 Plus quattro. That model really is epic in the way it drives, but ultimately its pricing places it too close to, for example, flawless Ferraris such as the $469,888 488 GTB.

As with the much-loved original R8, this supercar works best by bringing advanced mid-engine chassis technology to the populist – in relative terms – Porsche 911 Carrera sphere, and a price point that Mercedes-AMG more recently seized on just as Audi abandoned it.

The RWS strongly indicates that an original recipe really is best.

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