Our auto show coverage slogan is "always say yes." This time we said yes to a first drive of the Audi R8 V12 TDI Le Mans concept car, which looks ravishing in the same brilliant red paint scheme it wore to Geneva. But who really cares about paint? We were looking forward to stretching this one-of-a-kind vehicle to the limits. And by stretching it out we mean doing our best not to destroying this invaluable prototype by propelling it into a pot hole.
To make sure we didn't kill ourselves or, more importantly, the car, Audi provided three black Q7's driven by ex-cops for escort. I suddenly knew what it was like to be a Russian oligarch. Audi's best prototype protection feature is Uwe Haller, the car's affable project manager and my navigator. The car is his baby and he managed to point out every manhole cover on the road. This being New York it was a common refrain.
This prototype features the 6.0 V12 TDI, which produces a pavement destroying 500 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. How does it drive? For the purpose of self-preservation, this particular version was limited to half the torque and horsepower so that we couldn't have too much fun with it.
Nevertheless, the six-speed gear box worked, the engine revved up and the brakes clamped down hard. Maybe a little too hard. At one point Uwe winced and asked "did you hear that?" Did I hear what? The brakes were made a noise that made him very nervous. Was I about to get the Audi R8 fire experience?
Thankfully, that didn't happen. I waited as we turned back onto 11th avenue slowed down to get some daylight between myself and the lead Q7. There was a good 80 yards in front of us and I shifted into second and let that oil burner roar. How fast did I get? I'm not sure, but fast enough to make Uwe tense up (which makes me think 28 mph).
Though this wasn't a full force test drive experience, there was one feature of the car that works at any speed: style. We got lots of looks (helped by the escort) and people did the best they could to get pictures of me in the car. When people yelled I told them I was George Clooney. I don't think they bought it.
Credit goes to Audi for letting us take their precious concept car out for a spin on the less-than-stellar NYC streets. It either indicates Audi's abundance of trust or serious judgment lapses.