This is the R8 V10 RWS and no, that doesn’t stand for ‘rear-wheel steering’, smart alec. Audi has ditched Quattro in favour of rear-wheel drive for this variant and you can wipe that surprised look from your face. You saw this coming the day they changed the legendary Quattro GmbH name to Audi Sport. It’s been a little over a year since but Audi’s fabled private subsidiary, fueled by an 80-year legacy of motorsport milestones, is already doing things very differently. Change is good, they say — but should you really alter a formula that’s been thrilling enthusiasts since 2006? The mid-engine, two-seat supercar was born with the trademark Quattro permanent all-wheel drive system but as it transpires, it was holding it back...  

Audi got it wrong all those years ago because as good as it is, there were times the R8 felt a tad uncomfortable in its supercar skin. In spite of the tremendous engine, you could sense the chassis struggle to contain the heft of the Quattro. If you’re still wondering what all the fuss about rear-wheel drive is, let me enlighten you. It saves a whole lot of weight and this is of huge importance to supercars which are of course designed to go fast. By eliminating the R8’s extra drive shafts, prop shaft, multi-plate clutch and differentials which directed the V10’s might to the front wheels, it has a kerb weight of 1,590kg. That’s 50kg lighter than the all-wheel-drive R8 Coupe and goes some way in compensating for the lack of oomph on offer compared to the 602bhp range-topping V10 Plus. The newbie has an output of 540 horses which is plenty, but sure, you could add more power but this will merely make you faster on the straights. Taking weight off will make you faster everywhere, which the RWS proves. Aside from becoming lighter, this R8’s front wheels now only have to concern themselves with one job: steering. The burden of aiding traction has been removed which results in this number one of just 999 units delivering a purer and more dynamic driving experience. There’s less interference to contend with meaning the electromechanical steering offers more authentic feedback.

 

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Photos: Anas Thacharpadikkal

You’re now probably wondering that it must be a bit of a handful with all the power and 540Nm of torque produced by the naturally-aspirated 5.2-litre being directed to rear. Substitute the word ‘handful’ for ‘exciting’. This R8 is a thrill a minute. It’ll put goosebumps on top of your goosebumps. What Audi Sport has instilled into this car is much more intensity. It feels far more alive than any other R8 I have driven and dances to the slightest of inputs from the steering wheel. It loves nothing more than sliding around, kicking out the rear end any chance it gets but it’s controllable. It’s easy to hurl around the corners with a dab of the loud pedal without ending up in the scenery. It’s far more focused and pure. Yes, those marketing buzzwords are bandied about all the time whenever a carmaker launches a sportier new model — but they really do apply here. It’s maybe not as hard-core as iterations such as the GT or the LMX but the RWS has more driver appeal. A manual option would have made it even better but to be honest, the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch is superb and sure doesn’t leave you wanting. It partners the massive V10 perfectly shifting up quickly and down noisily. It really is impressive the way it slots home the ratios at full throttle with nary a hint of a shunt. The powertrain sure isn’t short of personality while the chassis has been tweaked and features a 10 per cent stiffer front anti-roll bar along with minor adjustments to the dampers which are stiff enough to remind you that you are in a supercar, but don’t feel overly harsh when you just want to cruise (that’s never, by the way...) but the spring rates remain the same as the standard model.

 

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Photos: Anas Thacharpadikkal

Aside from the rear-wheel drive offering, it also features a good amount of exterior and interior changes. At first glance, it might look like an R8 V10 as there aren’t any major physical transformations that alter the exterior but it has been packaged slightly differently for instance it packs an exclusive matte black grille, matte black air apertures at the front and rear, and a gloss black upper side blade. It doesn’t look as flashy as the R8 Audi Sport Edition which celebrated the success of the R8 LMS race car but if you were worried that you won’t stand out in the crowd, fear not for it is dressed with a red racing stripe which runs from the bonnet to the rear end ensuring you’ll get plenty of looks.

As for the interior, it is still standard R8 and that’s fine because it was already really good however, it does get a pair of fancy leather- and Alcantara-covered sports seats. There’s an optional 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system but why tick that box when you have a V10 singing for you? Best of all is that this special edition comes with a numbered emblem on the dash and our tester is the first one to leave the Audi Böllinger Höfen site in Heilbronn. Every glimpse of it serves as a reminder that this is a legitimate limited edition model. Priced at Dh514,000, it costs far less than the R8 Coupe V10 FSI Quattro S tronic which is Dh582,225, and dare I say, offers more of a thrill behind the wheel. I’d say more than any other R8 Audi has ever built, this RWS is the most appealing driver’s car. It’s far more playful than the others in the range and in spite of losing 0.3 seconds to the stock R8, it hits 100kph from rest in just 3.7 seconds which is still earth-shatteringly fast. Top speed is limited to 320kph which I think you’ll find is plenty.

 

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Photos: Anas Thacharpadikkal

Can we expect more goodies like this from the division? Who knows. The change in name may be the only legacy of Stefan Winkelmann’s brief tenure at the helm. Since repeating the rear-wheel drive trick with the Lamborghini Gallardo and Huracan at Audi, he’s left to head up Bugatti. Some might have raised a questionable eyebrow at the fact that the least expensive R8 Audi makes is also the most rewarding, but they’ll be raising both in astonishment when they take this rear-wheel drive gem for a spin. It’s finally been designed the way it ought to have been from the beginning and is definitely the one I’d have.