Audi R8 RWS

With half the driveshafts Audi’s sportster comes alive

Cars tend to follow a certain pattern through their lives. As times goes by, demand for more of everything – more power, more comfort, more equipment – means cars tend to get heavier, flabbier, more expensive and less enjoyable over time. You only have to look at the Jaguar E-type to know it. Of course some find a way to reverse this trend, creating special lightweight editions, as Porsche does with its renowned GT-series cars, but these always cost the earth,

Now Audi appears to have decided to reverse the trend. After a dozen years of its R8 supercar gaining weight, power and cylinders, it has taken a substantial step back in the direction from whence it came. Not only that, but the company is charging less, not more, for the privilege. Some £13,680 less, as it happens.

The clue is in the title. ‘RWS’ stands for Rear Wheel Series’, meaning this is an R8 relieved of its front drive shafts, propshaft and differential to make the first ever mid-engined rear-wheel-drive Audi. In all other respects save a softened off front anti-roll bar to compensate for the weight lost in the nose and to quell oversteer, it is a standard R8, complete with the standard 533bhp V10 motor, not the 603bhp engine in the R8 Plus.

And the good news is you don’t have to go drifting it about the place to tell the difference. In fact you don’t need to do more than drive it around the block. It’s not just that the steering is lighter, it has a cleaner, purer feel you can detect at once.

The faster you go, the better it feels. I’ve not been much of a fan of this generation of R8 to date because their prices are close to bottom-end McLaren money and the driving experience simply doesn’t merit it, despite their undoubtedly titanic V10 motors. But the more affordable RWS really made me think.

I couldn’t give a stuff that it’s 0.2sec slower to 62mph than its four-wheel drive sister, not because in the real world the RWS would be quicker because it has the better power to weight ratio, but mainly because it’s so much more rewarding to drive. That slightly aloof feel and remote steering response has all gone, replaced by a helm that’s quick, accurate and as full of feel as you could reasonably hope in these days of electric power steering.

What do you lose? I’m really struggling here. It’s certainly not traction, not in any sense likely to inconvenience customers for whom snow is not a regular fact of life: with a 5.2-litre engine sitting ahead of the rear tyres, it is a traction monster even without four-wheel drive and it would be very surprising were it any other way.

My criticisms – an interior nowhere near worthy of the price, poor seats and a lack of a manual gearbox option – are common to all R8s I’ve driven. The only thing I can’t explain is why Audi has decided to limit RWS production to 999 units across coupé and spider formats. This is not just the cheapest Audi R8 of the current generation, but far and away the best. Audi should make more, and I suspect the strategic use of the word ‘Series’ in its title means that in time it will. At least I hope so.