Rear-drive battle: Lamborghini Huracán RWD vs Audi R8 RWS
Lighter, more nimble, cheaper: are the entry-level supercar siblings the ones to have?
Normally, both of these cars are 4WD. Here, they’re both rear-wheel drive. Usually, because these are supercars, the manufacturers would find some tenuous justification for charging more (money) for less (driven wheels). But no, these two newcomers are the entry level versions of the Audi R8 and Lamborghini Huracán.
No point delaying: if you enjoy road driving and have already decided that the R8 or Huracán is for you, then these are the models to go for. They may be the most affordable versions, but they’re also the sweetest handling, best balanced and most enjoyable cars in their respective ranges. I know the dealer will be trying to upsell you, and that some perverted sense of status means you may want to spend more, but don’t worry, you can still do that: the Lambo’s Viola Mel paint is £12,885. And while you might be thinking 4WD is safer, supercars are better with a frisson of edge and snap. Plus you save weight as well as money.
But before I get carried away with telling you how they differ (and they do) and which one’s best (one is), I’d like to fill you in on some history, because it will give you an understanding of what’s going on here.
Words: Ollie Marriage // Photography: Luke Marriage
Audi bought Lamborghini in 1998, a deal done after Lambo had approached Audi about purchasing the 4.2-litre V8 engine to go in its new ‘junior Diablo’. Under Indonesian ownership at the time, they didn’t have the money to develop both car and engine. Audi, under Ferdinand Piech’s guidance, realised it would be easier to simply buy Lambo (which it did for a rumoured $110 milllion). The investment helped both – Lamborghini got the money to kick start the Gallardo (and develop a fresh V10 for it), Audi piggy-backed it and developed the R8, initially with the V8 that Lamborghini had been after all along.
The Gallardo (the Huracán’s predecessor) landed in 2003, followed by the first gen R8 in 2006. And that was the way of things: these were two-seat, mid-engined, 4WD (yes, always 4WD) supercars. But in 2009 Lambo got itchy and launched a limited edition, rear-drive only Gallardo, the Balboni. It’s an itch they’ve scratched a few times since. But it was still a surprise to see Audi join them in 2018 with their own take on a limited edition rear-drive R8, the RWS – for Rear Wheel Series. Funnily enough, the boss of Audi Sport at the time was Stefan Winkelmann, who two years earlier had moved there from… Lamborghini.
So there’s the backstory. The limited edition R8 RWS of two years ago has now become, with very few modifications other than a minor facelift, the RWD and a permanent part of the range. Audi’s rep may be built on quattro and safety, but there’s clearly a lurking appetite for something wilder. Of course there is for Lamborghinis, because they’re Lamborghinis.
Audi owning Lambo means these two are very closely aligned. Both brands are cagey about this, but the aluminium chassis for both cars is made at Audi’s Neckarsulm plant, while the V10 engines that power them come from Audi’s Gyor engine facility in Hungary. In total it’s thought 70 per cent of parts are shared. Yet there’s a big difference in price. At £164,400, the Huracán Evo RWD is almost £50k more than the R8 RWD. It’s got more power (602bhp vs 533) and equipment, and it’s also worth pointing out that ten years down the line old Gallardos are still worth about £50k more than old R8s.
You can see the family resemblance in the basic proportions, but the Lamborghini’s wedged nose gives it a cab forward stance and a sense of restless movement. And the shaping of the intakes behind the door is just gorgeous. In comparison the Audi sits more statically, looks more relaxed. Inside, this gives each car a very particular feel. The Audi is more comforting. The top of the windscreen is further ahead, enhancing the feeling of space ahead of you. There’s some lovely detailing, especially the heating dials, but mainly you have an instant sense of understanding: you know where to put stuff, you know how things operate, there’s no confusion. If you’ve driven any other Audi, you’ll already know how good Virtual Cockpit is, if you haven’t, you’ll have it sussed in five minutes.
Lamborghini has never had much success trying to integrate Audi’s infotainment systems, to the point that for this facelifted Evo version, it’s actually added a new screen on the centre console. Win. Better functionality, some actual logic to the operation. There’s even a bit of storage behind. But it takes a while to notice this, because the cabin is just so dramatic. Yes, the starter button lurks under a candy red flip-up cover and the seat slides not via a discreet black handle on the floor, but a big silver lever between your legs, but beyond that, from the screen graphics to the toggle switches, it’s just flamboyant.
And although the first thing that strikes you is that the windscreen plunges down to a vanishing point somewhere around your toes, you soon realise there are some things it does better than the Audi. Delivering a good driving position for starters. It’s hard to work out whether the pedals are further down the footwell or there’s more steering reach or you're seated lower or you’re just sited slightly differently in the chassis, but the effect is a more natural seating position. And yes, the firm chairs are less forgiving and push at your lumbar spine, but you soon get used to them.
Neither has done anything to improve front boot space. The loss of front driveshafts will have freed up space, but these RWDs are clearly a dynamics exercise, not an excuse to extract further benefits. Neither has anything like the front boot volume of a McLaren 570 or Ferrari F8, so you’ll end up using the shelf behind for that essential umbrella.
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I’d love to tell you that these cars don’t conform to their national stereotypes, but that would be a lie. The same basic V10 lurks in both, but in the Huracán with different cylinder heads and what must be a much emptier exhaust tract, it’s vastly noisier and more triumphant. Both have switchable exhausts depending on which mode you’re in, but in gentlest Strada the Huracán out-vocals a fully ramped-up R8. Quite often you want the former to calm down a bit, the latter to just maybe gain a bit more edge – the R8’s V10 is smoother and more cultured. The powerbands sit in the same place – you get lovely, lag free response and hot hatch pace at 3,000rpm, and from 5,000rpm onwards you’re really flying, both soaring towards an 8,500rpm cut-out (little known fact: in launch mode you get an extra 500rpm).
In a turbo era, this V10 is divine. It’s so satisfying to have that accuracy of response between pedal and motor, and a powerband that actually develops and does more than just slam the torque home as soon as it can and attempt to sustain it to the redline.
Both are astonishingly fast, but the lighter, more powerful Lamborghini wins the power to weight battle (399bhp/tonne vs 334). It also has substantially shorter gearing, pulling nearly 1,000rpm more at 70mph (which drives down economy 2mpg and drives up CO2 emissions 31g/km). It’s comfortably the more explosive of the pair. The Audi takes a second to get into its stride, while in the Huracán there’s no hesitation, you’re already gone, strident V10 howling in your ears. Plus it celebrates the upshifts with big, arching levers, rather than clicky little plastic finger-pads. The official figures say the Lambo is 0.4secs faster to 62mph. It’s not, because both have to manage the same traction issues most of the way there, but above that the Huracán takes off – from 62mph to double that it’s a second faster, and much more of a sensory bombardment in the process.
Variable steering ratio. I used to hate these systems as they made cars unpredictable – they had slower racks around the centre for stability, then quicker for response. But being non-linear made them unpredictable. Whatever advances have been made, they’ve worked for Lamborghini. You don’t get the feeling the steering is a heartbeat slow responding and although turn-in can have the car diving for the apex even more readily than you were anticipating, you get used to it. There’s an eagerness that suits the car. The Audi, with a much slower rack with more turns between locks, feels slow to turn in and doesn’t pay you back by having better steering feel. Yes, it’s marginally more natural, but I’d actually take the Lambo’s set-up.
Supercars don’t make much sense, so you might as well have a daft, purple one
Neither gives much in the way of feedback, so you rely on the suspension for that. The Audi is good here, striking a tidy balance of everyday comfort with good control. The Lamborghini isn’t as calm – although that’s more down to the constant noise and higher revs than the firmer ride. Is the trade-off worth it? It depends what you want your supercar for. The Huracán RWD is more immediate, has a sharper front end and is more alert and communicative. It’s always up for it, egging you on, the leader of the gang. The R8 RWD adapts to you, doesn’t want to intrude, is a subservient partner. Driving one daily? The R8 makes more sense of course, but then it doesn’t have the habitability or visibility of a Porsche 911 Turbo or the versatility of anything with a boot in the back (AMG GT etc).
The Lambo makes no excuses. There’s a little more NVH and the firmer seat transmits that, and I quite regularly found myself wishing the damn thing would pipe down a bit and stop so accurately transmitting my speed across such a broad swathe of countryside. But I was smiling at it, shaking my head. It’s a silly supercar, less dynamically talented than a McLaren or Ferrari, but up for a good time, all the time. And there’s a lot to be said for that – supercars don’t make much sense, so you might as well have a daft, purple one.
Traction? Grip? Suppose we should mention these, since that’s what sets the cars apart from their 4WD counterparts. I haven’t so far because unsticking foot-wide rear tyres just isn’t going to happen unless you massively provoke them. Both have sophisticated traction systems, but the Audi’s is way too sensitive, a flashing orange light a near-constant companion unless you opt for the ESP’s Sport setting. You will. The Lambo is better calibrated – not just with the traction, but the modes. You flick through Strada, Sport and Corsa on the steering wheel. There’s no manual settings, but you don’t really need them. The damping is good across the board, you basically use the Anima as a volume control.
You are aware of less corruption through the steering when you exit corners, and a need to be patient and moderate the throttle rather than just plant it and go. You’re more involved, have to manage the tendency to run wide. Personally I find this good. You’re traveling a little slower, but have to think more, turn up and take part.
Note on speccing. Audi has ensured the RWD remains the entry model by removing many things from the options list – you can’t have adaptive dampers or carbon brakes for instance. Lamborghini takes the opposite approach: give them everything and charge them for it. Carbon brakes, racing seats, forged composite cabin bits, magnetic suspension, rear wheel steer. It’s all there for the asking. Our test car came in at £217,517, the Audi £117,740. And quite rightly for many of us, the question of which is better comes to a shuddering halt right there. They basically compete for different audiences. But of course, that’s the whole point.
Base this test on value and of course the Audi wins. But which of these two makes the most of its underpinnings, fulfils the role of a supercar better? Well, that’s got to be Lamborghini. It sucks you in and justifies its price with its pomp, noise, sense of occasion and stomping pride. It is a shamelessly arrogant car, and there’s something rather endearing about that. I came away from the Audi impressed, thinking that to have a naturally aspirated engine with this authority, smoothness, sound and reach, for lightly-specced 911 Carrera S money was bloody great. But in the Huracán Evo RWD the engine is just another part of the celebration of driving. The rest of the car is elevated, it’s more alive and interactive. By far the more expensive here, but viewed through Lambo-lens, the cheapest Huracán. And also the best.