“Hard brake,” crackles the handheld radio that’s tucked in the cargo net behind my head.
I note a tinge of urgency in the voice, which is coming from the driver of the R8 V10 Plus I’m chasing. We’re rapidly approach the end of the massive back straight of the Grand Prix course at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas – a twenty-turn, 3.4-mile configuration at one of the few facilities in North America that’s eligible to play host to Formula One-level events. After a few spirited laps around the circuit, it’s easy to see why. Before standing on the wide pedal I glance down at the still-climbing digital speedometer – 158 mph. Not bad for a “budget” model R8.
While the RWS, or Rear Wheel Series, is indeed about 25 grand cheaper than any other R8 model currently available, it’s what it doesn’t have that makes it special. And with production limited to just 999 models worldwide – 320 of those earmarked for the U.S. – its rarity only enhances the appeal. Though there are understated unique elements in terms of aesthetics and content throughout, it’s the mechanical changes that headline the RWS package.
“When you go from a V10 Quattro to the Rear Wheel Series, a couple of things change,” explains Anthony Garbis, product manager for the A4, A5, Q5, and R8 for Audi of America. “You lose the front differential, clutch pack, and driveshaft, and we move to a fixed suspension setup tuned specifically for this car with another half-degree of negative camber in the rear to help control throttle-off oversteer.”
Before standing on the wide pedal I glance down at the still-climbing digital speedometer – 158 mph.
Not only does that remove a healthy 110 pounds off the front end of the R8, it also makes the RWS the first rear-wheel drive production car in Audi Sport’s history. Intended as a purist’s machine, the RWS starts with a base price of $138,700, putting it in league with sports cars like the Porsche 911 GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT C, yet it undercuts both of them by thousands.
Getting to that price point did require some de-contenting efforts by Audi, but most of it can be added back to the RWS by way of the options sheet, as illustrated by our tester’s $154,400 price tag with gas guzzler tax and destination included.
Interior and tech
While the standard RWS does remove some luxury content from the R8’s cabin, it’s far from austere. 14-way adjustable sport seats swathed in nappa leather are equipped as standard, as is a lovely flat-bottomed and leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with a race car-inspired design that houses the engine start/stop button, drive mode selection toggle, paddle shifters, and infotainment controls, allowing drivers to access essentially all of the commonly used functions without taking their hands off the wheel.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit infotainment system is equipped as standard as well, a 12.3-inch instrument display that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and allows for the displayed information to be customized beyond just navigation and audio data. Switching to Sport mode rearranges the display layout entirely, placing a large tachometer in the center of the driver’s field of view that is flanked by performance statistics like a lap times, real-time horsepower and torque readings, and lateral G information.
Like most two-seater, mid-engined sports cars the R8 V10 Coupe is not particularly generous when it comes to storage, but with eight cubic feet on offer between the front trunk and the cargo area behind the seats, the RWS offers enough volume for most errands, along with a weekend getaway for two.
While other European automakers like Aston Martin and BMW have jumped on the turbocharging bandwagon to deliver big power for their high-performance models, Audi has remained steadfast with the R8. Motivation comes from a 5.2-liter FSI V10 engine that generates 532 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque, figures high enough to get the RWS to 60 miles per hour from rest in 3.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 199 mph.
The 12.3-inch instrument display allows for the displayed information to be customized beyond navigation and audio data.
Anything the naturally aspirated V10 might lack in mid-range torque is more than made up for by the banshee wail of the unobstructed exhaust system, replete with off-throttle crackles and pops that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end as I hustled the RWS around CoTA. While this tune of the engine is down 70 ponies and 15 pound-feet versus the all-wheel drive R8 V10 Plus, it’s certainly no slouch out on course.
Initially, it feels a bit odd to sense the back end stepping out in an Audi, but the RWS’s suspension tuning and well-sorted stability control systems allow for some progressive oversteer heroics that are easily modulated with the throttle. Provided that they haven’t been manually disabled entirely, the electronics gently intervene to reign the car back in before things have the potential to get out of hand. With less weight over the front end, the RWS feels notably lively on the track, eager to throw its mass around with minimal body motion, and demanding little effort to manage at jaw-dropping speeds.
As with all modern R8s, the dual-clutch gearbox is well behaved whether it’s left to its own devices or shifted manually, the latter of which offers the option of bouncing off the rev limiter at redline if you neglect to upshift or having the gearbox pull the next cog for you in those instances.
“The idea here is to have a pure car – there are no gizmos or gadgets getting in the way,” Garbis told us. “You have a naturally aspirated motor, a seven-speed dual-clutch, and rear wheel drive. It’s as close as you can get to our R8 LMS GT4 race car as you can get on the street.”
Initially, it feels a bit odd to sense the back end stepping out in an Audi.
While I’m not one to scoff at an effort to make a sports car as unfiltered as possible, Audi’s decision to do away with the adaptive suspension system for a fixed Bilstein damper setup does present a compromise out on the road, where the stiff spring rates offered enough compliance to be tolerable for every day street use and nothing more.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the taller sidewalls of standard 19-inch wheel and tire package might have alleviated some of that harshness versus the optional 20-inch rollers my tester was outfitted with, so buyers might want to consider their priorities when it comes time to check the boxes on the options sheet.
Audi offers a four year, 50,000-mile limited warranty along with one year or 10,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance, and four years of roadside assistance coverage. J.D. Power gives the 2018 Audi R8 a predicted reliability rating of 2.5 out of five.
How DT would configure this car
As a limited production vehicle with only a few hundred examples destined for U.S. shores, buyers don’t have nearly as many options to choose from as they would with a standard R8. For instance, all of the RWS models being sent to America are coupes (other markets will get drop-top variants as well), and exterior paint options are pared down to six colors versus the ten available on the standard R8.
Those looking to bolster the RWS’s luxury and functionality will want to spring for the Premium package ($7,800), which includes a 550-watt Bang and Olufsen sound system, 18-way adjustable seats with adjustable side and leg bolsters, an Alcantara headliner, and additional leather appointments. Those looking to ratchet up the visual drama can opt for the carbon interior accent package ($3,400). We’d consider the former essential, the latter less so.
Another indispensable option would be the Misano Red RWS stripe package ($450). It’s a nod to the LMS race car and one of the few cues to the uninitiated that identifies an R8 as an RWS model from a glance. It also looks pretty damn sharp.
With the caliber of hardware on tap in this machine and a starting price of under $140K, the 2018 Audi R8 V10 Coupe RWS S tronic is a worthy contender amongst its competitive set.
Sports cars – especially ones commanding this level of coin – are highly emotional purchases, and whether you prefer the mid-engine V10 wail of the R8 or the V8 bombast of something like the Corvette ZR1 is a highly subjective matter that’s based on priorities and personal taste.
Regardless, the RWS delivers on the promise of tractable rear-wheel drive excitement both on and off the track, while options availability ensures that buyers can get all the amenities and content they want from an R8. The fact that buyers of this limited production machine will own what is currently the only rear-wheel drive Audi Sport in the company’s history is just icing on the cake.