Even though Audi has been around since 1969, the brand’s first-ever rear-wheel-drive car came out in 2018. It was the R8 RWS, a limited-edition, less expensive version of the R8 sports car that lacked front drive shafts, weighed a whole lot less than the standard all-wheel-drive model, and had slightly less power. Audi has already repeated the RWS formula with the facelifted R8 that came out last year, but for 2021 the automaker is bringing it stateside as a regular member of the R8 lineup.
The rear-drive Audi R8 will once again serve as the entry point to the R8 range, and it will come in both coupe and topless Spyder forms—the latter being an option unavailable on the limited-run R8 RWS last time around. The entry-level, non-Performance-spec Audi R8s are dead for 2021, meaning if you want an R8 with Quattro all-wheel-drive, you’re going to have to spring for the Performance model. Since the rear-wheel-drive R8 is the “base” model, it misses out on a few things. Namely, you don’t get the full 602 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of the Performance model. Instead you’ll have to settle for “just” 532 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque from the same V-10 engine.
Spring for the RWD R8 coupe or convertible and you’ll also miss out on a few standard goodies that come with the Performance models, such as Audi’s laser lights as standard, (they’re optional on the RWD cars) and carbon-fiber “side blades” (the garnishes on the side intakes, which are gloss black instead on the RWD R8s). The rear-drive R8s also are claimed to be slower to 60 mph and have a slightly lower top speed.
According to Audi, R8 Performance coupe sprints from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds; the Spyder takes an additional tenth of a second to reach the same speed. Rear-drive coupe and Spyder, on the other hand, will take 3.6 and 3.7 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph; their top speeds of 201 mph and 200 mph slightly trail those of their Performance equivalents, which top out at 205 and 204 mph.
But the number that might make all the difference isn’t a performance figure—it’s the starting price. Audi R8 Performance models start at $198,195 for the coupe and $210,395 for the Spyder, while the RWD models cost a whopping $54,000 less. The rear-drive coupes start at $144,195, and RWD Spyders are priced from $156,395. They’re also $27,200 less than the now-discontinued, non-Performance AWD R8s.