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2022 Audi R8 RWD first drive review: More fun for less money

Way less expensive and a whole lot more fun, the Audi R8 is at its best with rear-wheel drive.

Why don't all islands have race tracks?

Audi

Strong winds are blowing sand and gravel across the tarmac at Circuito Maspalomas, turning this tricky track on the island of Gran Canaria into a slippery mess. These are definitely less-than-ideal conditions for a morning of supercar driving. And ironically, it's where Audi -- a company that built its reputation on the performance benefits of grippy all-wheel drive -- is launching its new rear-wheel-drive R8.

This isn't the first time Audi's offered a RWD R8. In 2018, Audi introduced the small-batch R8 RWS (for Rear-Wheel Series), limited to just 999 units globally, of which 320 came to the US. Now, the RWD R8 moves from contract work to full-time employment, enjoying a permanent position in Audi's supercar lineup. You can even get it in both coupe and convertible body styles. Awesome.

Mechanical changes for this rear-wheel-drive car are minimal, and none of them detract from the usual R8 excitement. Audi's 5.2-liter V10 is the star of the show, with predictably linear power delivery that makes you want to rev the bejesus out of this engine to eke out every ounce of oomph. This naturally aspirated V10 sounds freaking awesome, too, so bonus points to anyone who gets the R8 Spyder; drop the top, nail the throttle and enjoy that sonorous song.

The R8 RWD has a small power deficit compared to the Quattro model, but it's not a big deal. The V10 produces 562 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque with the rear-drive setup, a decrease of 40 hp and 7 lb-ft compared to the R8 Quattro. In the all-important 0-to-60-mph race, RWD R8s are 0.4 seconds slower than their all-wheel-drive counterparts. None of this makes a difference in the real world, by the way -- anyone who tells you they can legitimately notice the extra 40 hp or less-than-half-a-second acceleration time disparity on public roads in a car like this is a liar liar pants on fire.

RWD or Quattro, the R8 is a star.

Audi

Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission manages the V10's power, and it's been slightly modified for RWD duty. You'll need all seven gears to reach the R8 Quattro's 205-mph top speed, but the rear-drive R8 hits its 201-mph v-max in sixth with seventh serving as an overdrive. And hey, if you even remotely give a hoot about fuel economy in a car like the R8, you'll be happy to learn the RWD version is a little more efficient, with EPA ratings of 14 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined -- improvements of 1, 4 and 2, respectively.

The R8 RWD is 67 pounds lighter than the Quattro, thanks to the removal of the front differential, prop shaft and multi-plate clutch. The RWD car also has a stiffer front anti-roll bar, a solid rear axle (instead of the Quattro's hollow construction) and the rear wheels have increased negative camber. These changes are applied to both the R8 Coupe and Spyder, with the latter weighing an additional 97 pounds due to its electronic roof mechanism. Speaking of which, if you want to drop the top on your R8, the whole action only takes 20 seconds and you can do it at speeds up to 31 mph.

On the smooth highway route around the Spanish island, the RWD R8 feels as pleasant as the Quattro. One of the R8's best attributes is just how easily it can settle down and behave like a regular car when you just have to run an errand or commute across town. It's as docile as an A4 in traffic, just without driver-assistance technologies like adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assist helping along the way. You do get Audi's Virtual Cockpit cabin tech, though, which is as excellent now as it was when it debuted.

Audi's Virtual Cockpit is the centerpiece of this driver-focused cabin.

Audi

The benefits of the RWD car become clear when you get the R8 off the highway and drive this car like it's meant to be driven. The steering is livelier and more communicative, with absolutely no understeer if you come into a corner too hot. The lighter chassis and one-way power delivery just makes the RWD R8 a lot more playful -- less like the proverbial scalpel but a more rambunctious and entertaining steer.

On track, the R8 truly rocks. Even with Circuito Maspalomas' dicey conditions, the R8 is largely unflappable as it charges into turns. Switch the stability control to its sport setting and you can induce the occasional controlled slide, but if your back tires hit a dusty patch and things start to get a little hairy, a flick of the steering wheel quickly reins it all back in.

Do note the RWD R8 doesn't come standard with the Quattro model's same performance kit, so you'll want to add the $12,900 Dynamic Package to get things like ceramic brakes, 20-inch wheels, Michelin Cup 2 tires and single-piece carbon bucket seats. Definitely add $1,400 for the speed-sensitive variable steering and by all means get the $3,600 sport exhaust option because, I mean, why the heck wouldn't you?

Hot damn, the R8 still looks fantastic.

Audi

The great news is that, even with all these add-ons, the RWD R8 is still a total bargain -- relative to the Quattro version, anyway. Pricing for the rear-drive 2022 R8 starts at $145,895 for the Coupe and $158,095 for the Spyder, including $1,495 for destination and a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. Adding the aforementioned options to a RWD Coupe brings the as-tested price up to $163,795, meaning you can also throw in the $5,900 Premium Package (Alcantara headliner, Bang & Olufsen audio, etc.), $3,500 laser light LED headlights and $5,600 carbon fiber exterior package and still not touch the R8 Quattro's $200,295 base MSRP (including destination and gas guzzler, natch).

Unless you really need the extra 40 hp, 7 lb-ft and 0.4 seconds of acceleration for bragging rights (you don't), do yourself a favor and get the R8 with rear-wheel drive. It's more fun, less expensive and looks as rad as any other R8. Audi can trumpet the benefits of Quattro all-wheel drive all day long, but this company's iconic supercar is absolutely at its best with two fewer driven wheels.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.