Audi R8 V12 TDI Concept Is The Diesel Supercar You Might’ve Missed

Coming from a time when diesels weren’t frowned upon, the Audi R8 V12 TDI concept took the 2008 Detroit Auto Show by storm with its unusual engine. After the Avantissimo, Quattro Spyder, and the TT Open Sky Targa, the fourth episode of our weekly series about interesting concepts looks back at the mid-engined diesel supercar.

In some ways, the R8 V12 TDI concept was a taste of things to come in terms of performance-oriented diesels. Audi Sport kicked off its series of TDI-powered fast cars with the SQ5 TDI back in 2012, and now its European lineup has models includes the S4, S5, S6, and S7, along with the SQ7 and SQ8 SUVs.

Why do we like the R8 V12 TDI?

We’re finding the whole concept of a fast diesel car to be alluring, especially with a massive V12 engine behind the seats. The twin-turbo 6.0-liter pushed out a meaty 493 horsepower and 1,000 Nm (738 lb-ft) of torque through a six-speed gated manual gearbox, which by the way, we’re still sorely missing. A diesel supercar is practically unheard of, especially one that traces its roots to a Le Mans race car as the engine was adapted from the successful R10.

Is that all?

The original R8 design has aged gracefully and this R8 V12 TDI concept was also a bit more special than the road-going model. It had a swanky glass roof with a built-in NACA duct, while the air vents at the front and rear were enlarged. The red car was labeled R8 TDI Le Mans for the concept’s Euro debut at the Geneva Motor Show later in 2008, and it was arguably the more attractive version of the two showcars.

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Anything else?

Something good did come out of the R8 V12 TDI concept. While Audi ultimately decided against launching a production car, the engine went on to power the somewhat rare twelve-cylinder Q7 V12 TDI sold during the SUV’s first generation. It had the same output as in the R8, but it wasn’t able to match the supercar’s performance due to its higher curb weight.

Speaking of which, the R8 V12 TDI needed just 4.2 seconds to 62 mph (100 km/h) and topped out at more than 186 mph (300 km/h). The Q7 V12 TDI completed the sprint in 5.5 seconds and was limited to 155 mph (250 km/h).

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Why wasn’t the R8 V12 TDI built?

Audi axed the project, citing high production costs for what would have turned out to be a niche model. It was probably a wise decision in the end since not many people would’ve wanted a diesel over the naturally aspirated V10 FSI. Given the higher complexity of the massive V12 TDI with its pair of turbos, chances are the diesel version would’ve been even more expensive than the gasoline model, making it an even tougher sell.

Adrian Padeanu

Long-time fan of the fabled Four Rings.