The Good Oil: When Audi diesels ruled the world
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Audi will turn its back on the development of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) from 2026 and transition to a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) brand through the 2030s. Like so many high-tech car brands, it’s evolving at dizzying pace.
Even now, it seems like a lifetime ago that diesel engines were the centerpiece of so many premium performance road cars, and heroes on the racetrack. But they really, really were.
In 2006, Audi won the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race with the R10 V12 TDI. Yes, that’s TDI for turbo diesel, the first compression-ignition car ever to win the endurance event. Audi diesels won another seven times: in 2007-8 again with the R10, a 1-2-3 with the new R15 V10 in 2010 (where the long range possible with diesel also helped it set a distance record that still stands) and then wins again in 2011-12.
The victory of the R18 e-tron quattro (still a diesel, albeit a V6) in 2012 was also the first Le Mans win by a hybrid vehicle. Audi did it again with the R18 in 2013-14, making 13 victories from 16 participations.
Much of the motorsport effort was in the name of promoting Audi and Volkswagen Group TDI technology for production cars, of course. It was all the rage back then, at least until it all came undone with the “dieselgate” emissions scandal in 2015.
Audi’s road-car division did get to have some fun along the way. At the height of its R10 V12 haze it decided it should fit the Le Mans engine to a road car.
Unfortunately, by the time it made the powerplant workable for an actual passenger model there was virtually nothing left of the racing engine, but never mind: the 2008 Q7 V12 TDI boasted a 6.0-litre engine with 1000Nm.
Just 50 were made globally. Audi also slotted the engine into an R8 supercar concept, although that never made production.
Despite the motorsport legend that lay behind it, Audi’s TDI V12 road-car project was pretty much an expensive waste of time. But fun.