A decade after Volkswagen revealed a humble but promising prototype 1-litre concept car, the 261mpg XL1 has been green-lighted for production, marking one of the most exciting breakthroughs in environmental technology from a company whose innovation has recently been second to none. In this case the old cliché - 'the future, now' - really does apply.
The XL1 is a plug-in hybrid, and after covering up to 32 miles as a zero-emissions vehicle a tiny 47bhp two-cylinder diesel engine awakens to increase range to over 300 miles, averaging 314mpg with combined emissions of just 21g/km carbon dioxide. Power is transferred to the rear wheels through Volkswagen's smooth 7-speed DSG unit.
These incredible figures are achieved firstly by a drag coefficient of 0.19 – the lowest ever attained by a production vehicle – and also extensive weight saving measures. A CFRP (carbonfibre reinforced plastic) monocoque and thin window glass help contribute to an overall weight of less than 900kg, which in turn means the XL1 can travel at a steady 62mph using just 8.3bhp. In electric mode, only 0.1kWh energy is required to cover more than a kilometre. The XL1 doesn't fall down when it comes to more traditional measures of performance, however, and although it won't break any speed records, a top speed of 99mph and a 0-62mph time of 12.7 seconds is more than respectable.
When we spoke to Paul Bucket, Volkswagen's UK PR boss, earlier this year, he intimated that the company were at a crossroads as to whether the XL1 should be a hyper-exclusive machine available to those few able to afford it or if it should be priced at a more attainable level and made in higher volumes – perhaps as a BMW i rival. The production line that manufactures the XL1 bodies is capable of producing 500 of the hand built carbonfibre tubs a year, so there is some room for flexibility, but it looks like the XL1 will be sold as a kind of pilot scheme - producing 50 examples - before any more ambitious sales strategies are put in place. Volkswagen being as pragmatic as they are (Bugatti Veyron aside), only a strong business case will precipitate a full production run.
The XL1's packaging is unsurprisingly neat, with lithium-ion battery sitting just behind the front axle and the engine/electric motor more traditionally mid-mounted.
The interior seems utilitarian at first - and it is - but the minimalistic cockpit is entirely becoming in a car as technologically advanced as this. Things have changed since the L1 Concept that was shown in 2002 and 2009, and in the interests of everyday usability Volkswagen's designers and engineers have abandoned the earlier cars' tandem seating arrangment in favour of a more conventional side by side, althought slightly offset, layout.
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