(Pocket-lint) - Audi is a company that preaches all-wheel-drive technology. Its famous Quattro system has won numerous rally titles, ushered various Le Mans racers to victory and enabled ham-fisted drivers to enjoy cars with 500+bhp crammed underneath the bonnet without exploding into a ball of fire at the first corner.
As such, the decision to offer a rear-wheel-drive version of the Audi R8 shouldn't be brushed over. In fact, the R8 RWS (Rear Wheel Series) is the first production model to have power sent to the back wheels in the marque's recent history.
Audi has clearly listened to the more hardcore amongst its customer base and has delivered the rear-wheel-drive supercar many have been waiting for, but does this R8 still lives up to its reputation of the "everyday supercar"?
A rear-wheel-drive Audi?
The cynics out there could easily say that the RWS R8 simply came about because the German marque had to create something in order to legally field its R8 LMS GT4.
To an extent, that's very true, as the R8 RWS was largely developed alongside the aforementioned race car, but the decision to release a road-going variant didn't come easy.
"It is no secret that Lamborghini is part of the same group and they traditionally offer a rear-wheel-drive set-up. We didn't have to do this," explains Markus Haverkamp, technical project manager on the R8.
But Audi listened to a small proportion of its enthusiastic customer base that clearly demanded a more engaging R8 and decided to put 999 examples into production.
The vehicle itself, which is available in both hard and soft-top variants, features the same sensational 5.2-lite V10 TFSI engine that's found in regular R8 models, which pumps its 533bhp through a razor-sharp seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox.
Dig a little deeper and you'll discover that the front anti-roll bar has been stiffened, the mechanical dampers are firmer (no magnetic option here) and the rear wheels feature a little more camber.
Oh, and the R8 RWS is missing the driveshafts and differential hardware that's required to make all-wheel-drive function properly, which is where it saves most weight; it shaved 50kg from the R8 Coupe's overall kerb weight (40kg from the drop-top Spyder variant).
Apart from that, it's actually very difficult to tell this machine apart from other R8 models in the line-up, with only the new Audi Sport badge (nee Quattro) giving things away.
That's until you clamber into the cockpit, thumb the big red ignition button and hit the open road...
What's it like to drive?
It's absolutely scintillating behind the wheel. Not in the sense that it has you fearing for your life with every corner, though. Instead, the drivetrain and chassis set-up inspire so much confidence on the open road.
It's a proper drift machine given the right circumstances, too. Audi duly provided us with a concrete slab the size of several football pitches in order to back up that statement.
But where it really comes to life on a demanding mountain pass.
The steering calibration has been tweaked so it is sharper and more responsive than other R8 models, while the mild chassis and dynamic tweaks see it flow through corners like a dream.
True purists will still grumble at the fact the R8 doesn't quite engage the driver like a true supercar. But loosen off the traction control, pitch this machine into a corner hard and it wriggles around enough to raise smiles on even the keenest helmsmen.
Plus, the 5.2-litre V10 is an absolute monster, with its sonorous note screaming away just behind the driver's head, while myriad crackles, pops and bangs emanate from the exhausts with every lift of the throttle pedal.
Yet it still feels so manageable, and even on very damp test roads just outside of Madrid, the rear-wheel-drive set-up didn't really feel any less grippy than its Quattro counterpart.
Stick the dynamic drive settings into Comfort mode, which dials down the throttle and steering response, and the R8 RWS doubles-up as a very adept motorway cruiser, its cabin festooned in gadgetry to while away the longer journeys or regular commutes.
Equipment and tech
Nothing has changed inside the R8 RWS compared to the rest of the range.
That means the same fantastic Audi Virtual Cockpit takes care of all your infotainment needs. Navigation, music, phone pairing and vehicle information are all beamed to a high-definition 12.3-inch display that sits in place of the traditional instrument binnacles.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel is also covered in buttons to aid interaction with the Virtual Cockpit, as well as control Audi's Drive Select functionality and start/stop the engine.
It's an extremely driver-focused experience, which might not go down too well with your passenger, but it does mean everything is neatly laid out so not to distract driver from the job in hand.
On top of this, the R8 RWS is kitted out with heated seats, parking sensors and reverse camera, cruise control, and a decent sound system as standard.
Plus, there's a little plaque that reads "1 of 999" (no matter which number you buy, all badges are oddly the same), which is situated on the passenger side of the dash. A shame it isn't properly numbered, but it's the only way most will tell it apart from other R8s in the line-up.
In short, it's everything you'd expect from a £120,000 Audi - but it's a far cry from the full technological suite offered by the German marque.
Is it still a practical supercar?
Audi hasn't really changed anything when it comes to practicality, so R8 RWS owners still get a pretty measly 112-litre boot at the front of the car, which is just about big enough for a couple of backpacks.
There's plenty of space up front for a passenger to stretch out their legs, so clambering in and out of the low-slung machine is relatively easy.
On top of this, the RWS remains one of the easiest supercars to live with on a daily basis, offering the sort of Germanic build quality that suggests it would start and run in Arctic conditions, as well as a low-speed demeanour that makes it a doddle to pilot around a Waitrose car park.
The rear-wheel-drive set-up hasn't done much to blunt its sure-footedness on the road either. Granted, our test cars was kitted out with some pretty special winter tyres, but the levels of grip were silly high. Unless you live half way up Mont Blanc, it would be very difficult to recommend a Quattro cousin over this car.
Audi hasn't gone and unleashed a rip-roaring monster that will give the Porsche GT3 RS a run for its money any time soon, but it has created an incredibly entertaining R8.
The fact that it doesn't compromise on the everyday usability and that it costs less than its all-wheel-drive counterparts is just the icing on the cake. If, that is, you can get hold of one of the 999 limited editions.
The RWS is a joy to thread through some demanding roads and slide around appropriate expanses of concrete. But in reality, there's certainly room for Audi engineers to add in yet more driver engagement if they so wish.
Perhaps the only gripe is that fellow road users might find it difficult to tell this special machine apart from its all-wheel-drive counterparts, which is a shame, because it deserves the respect.