W​hy Audi's GT3 rival needs to be better than the R8 RWS

5w ago


Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera, driven it incredibly hard and then written about it. When he's not writing he's can be found fettling his 1971 BMW 2002 and trying to stop Wagtails defecating on his old Range Rover.


There have been rumours, supported by the boss himself, that Audi Sport will make a Porsche 911 GT3 rival out of its R8.

Inspired by the firm’s Nurburgring 24-winning R8 LMS GT3 race car, and because that car is rear-wheel drive, the road-going hardcore, enthusiast’s R8 will have a very un-Audi rear-wheel drive drivetrain. No all-wheel drive, no quattro.

Now, this is not a first. You might remember the Audi R8 RWS (Rear Wheel Series). It was only launched last year, so it really should still ring a few bells. But let's hope Audi's attempt at a GT3-rival will be more than a successor to the RWS.

The Audi RWS

The RWS was a good car, one that received many rave reviews. It got the reception it did because, for the most part, it felt like any other R8. There was that spectacular, sonorous 5.2-litre V10 and its truly wonderful 8500rpm rev limit. The RWS might not have had the full 612bhp of the quattro-equipped R8 Performance, but with 533bhp it was certainly fast enough.

We’d all like to sample a new R8 with a manual, wouldn’t we? But the dual-clutcher in Audi’s supercar is flawless, – so incredibly good that it’s actually a joy to feel it change gear instantly with such minimal effort.

The RWS, a 911 GT3 rival though? I don’t think so. The thing is, I don’t think the R8 RWS was a very good rear-wheel drive car. In the moments where it felt different from the quattro version, when you encouraged the rear wheels to spin enthusiastically, when you wanted to play as a hooligan, it just wasn’t very satisfying.

Not everyday, popping-down-to-the-shops type of activities, I grant you. But they are the sort of experiences you would want to revel in if you’ve chosen to buy a rear-drive R8 over an all-wheel drive one.

Was it actually a good rear-wheel drive car?

They’re the sort of experiences that track oriented, race car-inspired road cars often excel at, along with superior lap times. GT3s, GTSs, LTs, Black Series cars, they all immerse you into the driving experience so deeply that you have such a strong connection and all the facilities to be playful or serious.

You just couldn’t generate that sort of intimate, unbreakable bond with the RWS’s rear axle to be able to perform such exuberant tasks with any confidence. When the rear wheels started to spin, the RWS would react instantly and it felt as if it would pirouette out of control easily. Wet and cold tarmac would exaggerate the situation.

Instead, you’d shy away from anything too wild and any situation where oversteer might arise. You'd drive the car well within its comfort zone, keeping all four tyres stuck to the tarmac. Much like you might if it had all-wheel drive.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The all-wheel drive R8 is more secure than the RWS, and it's still capable of great feats in inclement weather. But better than that, it’s also more intuitive, predictable and gradual as you approach and go over the tyre’s limits. The all-wheel drive R8 is more fun and approachable than the RWS. It’s the more rounded car, especially if it’s fitted with the smaller 19-inch wheels.

The RWS’s weaknesses generate all sorts of thoughts: ‘is the R8’s platform so intertwined with its four-wheel drive system that it doesn’t work very well without it?’, ‘can that inherent Audi-feel go hand-in-hand with rear-wheel drive?’, ‘can Audi engineers really only develop front and four-wheel drive cars?’

Of course, the answers to all those questions is ‘no’. This is Audi, not some two-bit redneck firm unhitching prop shafts from any supercar it can lay its hands on.

What I think hampered the RWS was the decision to make it the entry-level R8 – it was, at £112,450, £13,680 less than the non-Performance quattro. I understand that it would have been a struggle for Audi to make its flagship car two-wheel drive, especially after a 40-year long pro-all-wheel drive campaign with its quattro cars.

But if this next rear-wheel drive R8 is going to be a real 911 GT3 rival, a car to take on AMG’s GT R Pro, something to give the McLaren 600LT a bloody nose, it’s going to have to be better than the quattro. It’ll only be a worthy adversary if Audi admits that four-wheel drive isn’t always best.