This is the VW Up Lite concept, a 116mpg four-seater, unveiled at today’s Los Angeles motor show and likely to make production within the next three years.
The VW Up Lite, which took 18 months to develop, exchanges the rear engine/rear drive platform and upright, boxy styling of the previous Up for a more conventional front engine/front drive layout and a new, sleeker body.
Ulrich Hackenberg, VW's head of R&D, cautioned that the Up Lite production car was probably too expensive and outlandish to make production in the show stand form.
“The car features expensive materials like aluminium and carbonfibre, expensive batteries and an expensive diesel engine too, so it would be triply difficult to bring to market at a good price," said Hackenberg.
“Our experience with the VW Lupo 3L showed us that customers aren’t prepared to pay very high premiums for economy cars of this size, so any production version of the car would have to be designed to be cheaper to manufacture."
The production version of the Up Lite would be likely to look more like the standard Up. The bespoke design of the concept car is intended to test public reaction to a sportier version of the Up, but won’t influence the look of the first Up production cars.
On that theme, Hackenberg said the Up Lite was part of a wider pool of Up cars planned by the firm.
"We want to create an Up family because we are fairly certain that the segment will grow and we need more variations and derivatives," he said. "We also need a combination of powertrain strategies.
"At Frankfurt there was an EV version of the Up and that will come to market in 2013 and the first prototypes are already on the road. A plug-in range extender will be here by 2015. We built it to see if customers demand an eco-car to look different. In my opinion the visualisation of a car like this needs to be unique. There’s a danger of conformity and it’s important to look different."
Klaus Bishof, VW's head of design, said the car had been designed to look "futuristic".
"Our mission to make it look futuristic," he said. "It looks like it’s carved out of a block of aluminium. Every line has a reason; it all shows the technical ability of the concept."
The Lite’s styling uses elements of current VW design, with a front end that draws inspiration from the Polo and Golf. At the rear, the car’s unusual narrow hatch and flared wheel arches are taken from the L1 concept car. At 3840mm long (almost as long as a Polo) and 1400mm high, it’s lower and longer than an Up, helping to give the car a Cd of just 0.23.
All the windows are completely flush with the car’s body to improve aerodynamics, and the car has an active front air intake that opens when the engine bay needs extra cooling. Door mirrors have been replaced by a pair of smaller and lighter cameras.
The body is built from steel and aluminium, with the body’s upper section built entirely from aluminium, and carbonfibre is used for the roof and some structural components. That means the car has a kerb weight of just 695kg.
Under the bonnet is an 800cc, two-cylinder diesel engine with 50bhp and 88lb ft, based on the 1.6-litre diesel used in the Golf Bluemotion. But to achieve the 96mpg headline figure the driver would have to activate the car’s Eco mode, which cuts power to just 36bhp. The engine can also shut down when coasting.
It’s backed up by an electric motor sandwiched between the engine and the seven-speed DSG transmission. The motor can power the car by itself for 1.25 miles, or assist the engine under acceleration, making the car a full hybrid.
Only minor changes would be needed to put the car into the production and it is essentially production ready. The basic looks will remain unchanged, with the major changes needed being for passenger knee clearance and added safety protection.
Gregor Dietz, VW's concept cars boss, told Autocar that the Up Lite was a realistic target for production.
"It's realistic we can build it," he said. "It won't be cheap, though, because of the propulsion system. But it could be a high-level member of the Up family."
Dietz said the firm would also consider doing diesel and all-electric versions of the car.
Hackenberg said the Up Lite showed VW's commitments in wanting to become the world's most environmentally friendly car maker.
"We want to be the world’s most environmentally friendly car maker," he said. "The Up Lite takes the L1 concept and makes it a more customer-focused concept. No other four-seater is so sustainable."