Do you remember... 2008 Audi R8 V12 TDI

03rd April 2018
Ethan Jupp

You wouldn’t think it now in what appear to be the twilight hours of diesel but there was once a time when the fuel was lauded as our saviour. Ten years ago, or thereabouts, oil-burning beasts were coming to market that legitimately put into question the future of petrol as our performance fuel of choice.


Golf GTD, Octavia VRS, TT TDI ­– all using more or less the same rorty VAG four-pot that could genuinely put the fright on the Civic Type R of the day.

Diesel was flowing onto the racetracks of the world, too, with Audi’s shock debut in 2006 of their R10 TDI top-level endurance racers. The results were conclusive, with a first-time-out victory for the TDI V12-engined machine at Le Mans. Diesel cars would take a further eight Le Mans victories, with Peugeot snatching one from Audi in 2009 with their 908 HDi FAP. 

Remembering the apparent public apathy for the fuel today, tales of the glory days of diesel almost feel like they’re from a parallel universe, like a fiction from a comic book. Nothing galvanizes that feeling more than the existence of the Audi R8 V12 TDi Concept. Yes, the peak of oil-burning love must have been when Audi were very seriously considering fitting a big smokey V12 to their newborn supercar. Don’t believe us? An excerpt from a review of the concept by Autocar ten years ago (almost to the day), follows thus: “It's still a concept car for now, but only until the dust settles, the media monitoring results come in, and Audi's suspicions are confirmed. It's convinced, you see, that the time of the mid-engined, V12, diesel-powered, quattro-driven sports car has come.”


At the time a possible production version was touted to cost around £100,000, pack near-on 500bhp, hit 62 in under 4.5 seconds, hit 200mph and return as much as 25mpg. Thinking about it now, a turbocharged petrol Porsche Carrera S can return nearly all of those figures – albeit not at the same time. Spoiler alert, perhaps diesel wasn’t to be the be-all performance fuel of the future… 

Anyway, Audi all loved-up with their Le Mans success were all-but absolutely convinced that this was the way to go. The engine itself was a 6.0-litre twin-turbo dry-sumped and slightly tickled version of the unit available in the then-new Q7 V12 TDi – yes, you could genuinely buy a Q7 with a V12. At the time of the media drives, it was throttled back from 738lb ft of torque to 369Ib ft for the sake of the longevity of the A4 transmission that had been subbed in for packaging purposes. In spite of that, the car’s performance seemed to convince reviewers of the TDi's viability for production, even in a marketplace full of screaming naturally aspirated Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches. A somewhat backward foreshadowing of our love of torque that makes today’s electric cars so difficult to ignore? Seems that way.

The production car’s demise is sadly as boring as the original idea was balmy. Audi put on their sensible trousers and concluded that sales alone couldn’t recoup the extensive costs involved in shoehorning that V12 engine in the R8 – fully powered and with a gearbox that could handle it. The idea of an oil-burning R8 didn’t die there, though, with strong rumours of the 4.2-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel being subbed in in place of the V12. We now know that never happened and of course, that Audi and VAG’s love affair with diesel would eventually turn sour. Oh, what could have been…

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