2017 Frankfurt Motor Show: Audi goes rear-drive to keep competitive edge

2017 Audi R8 V10 RWS 1_main.j

AUDI says it had to create a rear-wheel-drive version of its iconic R8 V10 because it was losing sales to rear-drive rivals.

The frank admission, though, doesn't necessarily mean that Audi will expand its rear-drive roll-out, currently limited to the R8 V10 RWS coupe and upcoming R8 V10 RWS Spyder, to more models developed under its Audi Sport performance division.

It also shows that Audi is keeping a close eye on the R8's rear-drive competitors, including the Ferrari 488 GTB, the Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2,  the McLaren 540C, the Mercedes-AMG coupe, and even the enemy from within, the Porsche 911 Carrera GTS.

Speaking a day after the reveal of the R8 V10 RWS, Audi Sport chief executive Stephan Winkelmann said while the RWS was the first R8 in more than a decade of production to not wear a Quattro badge, marking a clear milestone for the company, it was unlikely any other rear-wheel RS models would join the rear-drive V10.

Stephan Winkelmann“The R8 is a car you don’t normally use on a daily basis and so there is room, being a super sportscar niche and segment," Winkelmann said. "The rear-wheel drive was necessary because 75 percent of the cars sold in this segment are rear-wheel-drive cars."

Winkelmann said the newest addition to the R8 family was conceived primarily as a coupe, but the opportunity to offer the car as a Spyder was enough to justify its inclusion in the range.

“It’s more a coupe style, idea and approach. The mix will be in favour for sure for the coupe, but I think that if you can extend the offer then we should do it. Then it’s up to the customers to decide.”

“In the future and for the time being, I don’t see another one coming up because for me the Quattro is one of the things which made Audi great, and together with the five-cylinder and aluminium chassis. All these features positioned Audi in a different way as a premium manufacturer and this is something we are not going to change.”

Audi R8 V10 RWSThe transition to rear-drive transmission for the R8 was made simpler after Winkelmann initiated the change of Quattro Gmbh to the new Audi Sport high-performance branch. However, the company’s boss said the RWS would have happened with or without the change.

According to Winkelmann, the Quattro name is now more accurately positioned within the company as a technology leader and not as the overarching brand.

“For me, the company name Quattro was wrong, therefore we changed it to Audi Sport. It was wrong because it's a feature, not a company, and for a quarter of a century they never played the brand.”

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