Volkswagen's XL1 is a sort of 50th percentile supercar, immaculately surfaced and detailed

Our Verdict

Volkswagen XL1

New 313mpg hybrid points the way to making cars cheaper to use

  • First Drive

    Volkswagen XL1 first drive review

    We know that VW's futuristic hybrid eco-car packs phenomenal efficiency, but does the driving experience match up?
  • First Drive

    Volkswagen XL1

    Volkswagen's XL1 is a sort of 50th percentile supercar, immaculately surfaced and detailed
20 January 2011

What is it?

The 2008 Climate Change Act set a legally binding target for the UK to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. According to Volkswagen, if it reduced the average CO2 emissions of its vehicles by the same amount, the typical car of 2050 would need to produce CO2 emissions of just 24g/km. That’s 313mpg in Imperial measurements.

Incredibly, Volkswagen’s XL1 concept has hit that target with about 40 years to spare.

Read Hilton Holloway's blog

The reason it reached such a feat is a quirk of the official NEDC fuel consumption test. The XL1 is a plug-in hybrid, which means the test cycle allows a full charge of the battery to be included in the car’s range, yet the charging of the battery is rated as CO2 neutral. Take the 5kWh battery pack out of the CO2 equation and the XL1 returns a more realistic 141mpg. With a 10-litre tank, the car’s real-world range is 310 miles. With a full charge of the battery and maximum assistance from the electric motor, the range rockets to 688 miles.

Thomas Ingelath, who led the design work, described the creation of the XL1 body as “intensely technical”, with designers and wind tunnel engineers shunting backwards and forwards over the tiniest of radiuses.

Such was the effort deployed to keep the drag coefficient low that VW’s super-computers spent whole weekends cranking out simulations.

The upshot is just delectable – a sort of 50th percentile supercar, immaculately surfaced and detailed. Its Cd is just 0.186, 2.5 times lower than a contemporary Golf and better even than its conceptual predecessors.

However, in the efforts to build a much more serious and safe machine, the XL1 tips the scales at 795kg - virtually the same as a Mk1 Golf.

What’s it like?

When you stand next to the XL1, it looks impossibly small and it’s hard to imagine it swallowing two full-size adults. Even when the gullwing doors swing open, it doesn’t look promising. However, it is pretty easy to get into, despite the combination of the wide carbonfibre sill and very low (carbon-shell) seat. It then takes just a few seconds to realise that this is fantastically well planned interior, with a superb, slightly laid-back driving position.

Despite sitting so low and the fact that the A-pillar partly snakes across in front of the driver, the view forward out of the car is superb. The staggered seat position – the passenger sits further back than the driver – is inspired. Really, the cabin doesn’t feel cramped; it feels positively spacious.

The interior – much of the structure is made from “natural fibre” – is beautifully conceived and immaculately styled, from the tiny, flat-bottomed steering wheel to the shift lever. Indeed, the whole cabin – which weighs just 80kg – feels properly fettled and close to production quality. The digital rear-view mirrors – which have iPod-style screens let into the door skins – are a major advance.

The XL1 starts off silently via the battery and 26bhp electric motor (the combination has a range of 22 miles). Call up some acceleration and the 47bhp twin-pot engine fires up, initially, without the driver noticing, via the ‘pulse starting’ technique (this uses the electric motor to spin the diesel engine up to speed). However, once the combustion starts, the cabin is filled with a very odd metallic thrum from engine, which is mounted hard up against the rear bulkhead. But that, and the occasional resonance that’s generated by vibration through the hollow sections of the carbon tub, are all things that will be refined away over the expected 24-month pre-production development period.

Despite having such narrow tyres (115/80s on 15in front wheels and 145/55s on the 16in rear wheels, which are made of magnesium) the XL1 didn’t understeer around the Doha roundabouts and the steering is nicely weighted and accurate. The lack of a brake booster was alarming, though, especially as the car can put on a reasonable turn of speed. Shifts from the seven-speed DSG ’box were also hardly noticeable.

During the urban driving cycle I sampled, it was surprising how little the engine came into play. But that’s part of the strategy, because the slippery, low-friction XL1 requires just 8bhp to maintain a steady 60mph cruise.

Should I buy one?

Because this is a concept, you can’t. But much of the technology in the XL1 will start to migrate into mainstream VW models by the end of the decade and it will be inspiring to see a short-run series production version of the car on the roads in 2013. After experiencing the sense of drama involved in piloting this extraordinary little car, my advice to VW would be simple. Consider fitting the punchy VW 1.4 TSI engine in XL1’s rear end and create the world’s first truly green supercar.

Volkswagen XL1

Price: £30k-£100k; 0-62mph: 11.9sec; Top speed: 99mph; Economy: 313mpg (combined); CO2 emissions: 24g/km; Kerb weight: 795kg; Drag coefficient: 0.186; Engine layout: 2 cyls in line, 800cc, turbodiesel, plus 5kWh plug-in electric assist; Installation: Mid, transverse, RWD; Power: 47bhp (diesel), 26bhp (electric); Torque: 103lb ft (combined); Gearbox: 7-spd dual-clutch auto

Join the debate

Comments
23

31 January 2011

Autocar: "it will be inspiring to see a short-run series production version of the car on the roads in 2013"

What is the situation with this? You say it is a concept, yet this is not the first time I have read on Autocar that there may be a limited production run?

Autocar: "Take the 5kWh battery pack out of the CO2 equation and the XL1 returns a more realistic 141mpg."

That's more like it, the 313mpg figure is sensational headlining. However with the estimate CO2 per mile output of an electric car in the UK coming to around 80g/km the figure skews even more.

I commented before in previous articles about this car that I felt the head lines were unrealistic. I stand corrected about the completeness of this car as a concept, it does appear to have been more thoroughly engineered (safety etc) than I first thought. However, what I commented still stands, if this makes it to production (test figures aside) it won't get anywhere close to the "official" figures.

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

31 January 2011

While I'm a fan of the Leaf, I'd buy this over it in a shot. Even if it could crack 80-100mpg travelling at 70mph over long distance it'd be so worth it. It looks amazing, I want one. Now. VW, get a move on. Don't make it too much heavier, just get me one at £12k please :)

31 January 2011

[quote theonlydt]Even if it could crack 80-100mpg travelling at 70mph over long distance it'd be so worth it[/quote]

I'm not sure you could pedal it that fast!

31 January 2011

[quote TegTypeR]

What is the situation with this? You say it is a concept, yet this is not the first time I have read on Autocar that there may be a limited production run? [/quote]

This happens with virtually every concept car which receives a positive response. A PR spokesman will make noises about a 'limited production run' and it gets faithfully reported by the more gullible sections of the media, thereby prolonging the brand exposure for another few weeks - which is handy for that concept car which has just cost you millions to promote your brand image. GTbyCitroen, anyone? Or anything unveiled by Lotus...

I would love VW to build this car, but would like to see the media demand more concrete plans before rushing to publish production predictions.

31 January 2011

VW bosses - and both the management and supervisory board were in Qatar - take soundings from hacks who, by the nature of the job, have driven competitor cars and talked at length to the engineers and bosses of other companies.

The result is that after a couple of days with the hacks, the big bosses get a good sense of the likely media reaction. In Qatar they et it be known, after 48 hours, a short run will be made.

Indeed, I spoke to a very senior VW boss and told him that they should build the A1 range extender concept I drove last year. He was really interested in my opinion. Perhaps because I had also driven the Chevy Volt at length.

31 January 2011

[quote HiltonH]Indeed, I spoke to a very senior VW boss and told him that they should build the A1 range extender concept I drove last year[/quote]

Definitely. It seems such a logical concept that I was amazed to read that it had been knocked back. If they change their minds about this it and build it, it would be fantastic - as well as a genuine example of Audi vorsrpung durch technik which has been lacking for years in favour of more market-friendly but far less pioneering technology.

Apologies, Hilton, for my response which was too sloppy/lazy/rude in my criticisms about media reporting on future production plans - the article itself was your usual excellence of analysis and clarity of expression, and I certainly don't group your work with the any of the sub-par journalism across the web, including Autocar at increasingly frequent intervals.

VAG have been guilty of fuelling the "limited production" rumours for their own purposes for years, with previous incarnations of the 1L/100km eco-cars, the stillborn W12 supercar, various Audi concepts and the like, and they are no different to many other manufacturers. I am still suspicious of seeing this car in any form of production while remaining substantively similar to the concept.

31 January 2011

[quote Autocar]Incredibly, Volkswagen’s XL1 concept has hit that target with about 40 years to spare.[/quote]

When I can buy one from the miserable testiculators at my local VW showroom, is when they'll have hit the target.

31 January 2011

[quote disco.stu]VAG have been guilty of fuelling the "limited production" rumours for their own purposes for years, with previous incarnations of the 1L/100km eco-cars, the stillborn W12 supercar, various Audi concepts and the like, and they are no different to many other manufacturers.[/quote] But "we"'ve got the Veyron, and VW made a lot of specialities like the W8 Passat or the 1.4 TSi. I think that the ultra-eco car is as much Piech's dream as the Veyron, I bet they will build it. Hell, a big hooray for visionary CEOs who are car/technology nuts. BTW I saw online in Gran Turismo 5 a strikingly similar nick... Was it you?

1 February 2011

Yes please, even nicer than my much missed Mk2 Scirocco GTi, 878 kg and averaged 40 mpg even when spanked! VW can do performance and economy in a coupe. That was amazing in 80s this would be equally awesome 40 years on.

1 February 2011

Well Honda were pretty spot on with the shape of the first Insight weren't they?

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