There's an awful lot about the Audi R8 RWS which ought to bring joy to even the most jaded enthusiast: this is now the cheapest R8 on sale, yet it's also the lightest, the rarest and, er, the most oversteery. It's being offered exclusively with a passive suspension set up and also comes as standard - in case you hadn't noticed - with one of the finest powertrains to grace a modern motor car. All for £15k less than an AMG GT C...
By and large the Rear Wheel Series variant drives just like a regular V10 car - which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it's as approachable and manageable as the all-wheel drive cars on the road, and on the other, it's just as easy to level the familiar 'slightly too good and therefore a bit aloof' accusations at.
There simply isn't the transformative dynamic change on the road that many were craving; either from the switch to rear-wheel drive or from the weight saved as a result. Perhaps the ride is more fluid and less abrupt now - it's beautifully done, in fact - but the standard 19-inch wheels and passive suspension might just as easily account for that. The same goes for the speed: 50kg is not enough to make this feel any more accelerative than a 540hp AWD version - even if that does mean it's still bordering on the alarmingly potent. The steering, moreover, is perfectly well geared and accurate enough, although removing the corrupting influence of a power hasn't suddenly made for the lucid, communicative R8 front end that true enthusiasts crave. Y'know, like the last one.
On an admittedly poor test route, with the RWS in Dynamic mode and the traction control's leash partially slackened - "to allow controlled drifts", says Audi - there are one, perhaps two, occasions where the R8 feels rear driven. This is in the merest unwinding of lock out of a corner, too - nothing more dramatic. And while Audi omnipotence may appear a churlish criticism, in a car specifically designed for purists (and collectors, interestingly), it seems a shame not to let those purists feel a bit more of what's going on beneath them. With just a bit more coming back through the pedals, wheel and seat, it would be a much more satisfying road car.
It's especially frustrating because the R8 RWS is a sublime skidder arounder when offered the chance to cut loose. Audi had a couple of cars, quite a few cones and even more Continental winter tyres (because the surface was too abrasive for summers) on the launch for some opposite lock oikery, where the car proved supreme. You can take liberties with it that you shouldn't be able to in a mid-engined, rear-drive, 540hp car - rotating it on the brakes if you want and then just waiting to pick your angle and get back on the power. The window of oversteer opportunity is huge, inviting you into bigger bungs and sillier slides, all controlled by that exquisitely sharp V10. It's poised, balanced, gorgeously adjustable and immensely enjoyable. Name a car that wouldn't be in the rarefied situation, perhaps - but it did reveal a vice-free, responsive, agile chassis. In fact the biggest hurdle was feeding that stupid flat-bottomed wheel...
There's no doubt that the RWS is an exceptionally good car (because it's a Mk2 Audi R8, after all, meaning you could put a three-cylinder diesel in it and still finish up with something desirable). Its problem is in being neither one thing nor the other. Merely introduced as a rear-wheel drive addition to the range it would have been fine - better even, had the power been reduced to nearer 500hp and the price lowered to £100k. In launching the model as a 999-car global run, however, and making heavy-duty reference of the LMS while putting silly 'because race car' stickers on it - not to mention creating Audi's first mid-engined, rear-drive car in the process - expectations are inevitably raised to the point where Neckarsulm has no real intention of meeting them. It's even more disingenuous to claim motorsport kudos and then also make a convertible.
As something like the old GT, a rear-wheel-drive R8 with weight removed and some attitude injected, the RWS could have been something really special, something to battle GT3s and GT Rs on the road as successfully as the race cars do on track. It's patently obvious that the potential is in the second generation model, so to see it unrealised in such a low volume version feels a missed chance. Speculators would still have bought it because it was rare, and the purists might have finally had the visceral, engaging, exhilarating R8 they crave.
Therefore the RWS ends up feeling not unlike the Huracan LP580-2 with which it shares a fair amount: fast, capable and enticing enough, yet lacking the focus and clarity a truly memorable supercar would've evoked. For too much of the time it feels like every other R8; which is to say very good - but why make another version that feels broadly the same when two others already exist?
As (surprisingly) the most affordable R8 on offer and the one capable of the best powerslides in the ideal scenario, it's an easy car to recommend but ultimately a tough one to emphatically champion; perhaps a more extensive UK test will reveal more, but it feels like those waiting on a truly memorable driver's R8 may continue to do so.
SPECIFICATION - AUDI R8 RWS
Engine: 5,204cc, V10
Transmission: 7-speed S-tronic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 540@7,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 398@6,500rpm
Top speed: 199mph
Weight: 1,665kg (EU including 75kg driver)