What is it?
A hyper-economical carbonfibre and gull-winged two-seater that is the culmination of more than a decade of engineering effort at Volkswagen. This started with Ferdinand Piech’s (now chairman of the VW supervisory board) turn-of-the-century vision of building a production car capable of covering 100km on one litre of fuel, or 282mpg.
The first concept was the 2002 L1, which combined a carbonfibre body, tandem seating, a side-hinged canopy and a single-cylinder, 8bhp, engine. The car weighed just 290kg. The L1 was demonstrated by Piech, who was then VW Group boss, and the company claimed fuel economy of 0.99-litres per 100km, or 238mpg.
The second-generation L1 was shown in Autumn 2009. This featured hybrid transmission combining a two-cylinder diesel engine and an electric motor. The problem with making the L1 production-ready was less the uncivilised tandem seating and aircraft-style side-hinged roof canopy and more the issue of it meeting crash test requirements.
Less than two years after the second-generation L1, VW showed the XL1 in the form of a series of driveable prototypes. VW engineers had taken a huge leap with the ‘one-litre’ concept by retaining the two-cylinder hybrid drivetrain but completely rethinking the body design.
Bringing the story right up to date, the final design is based around a supercar-style carbonfibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) monocoque passenger cell, with the passenger seat staggered behind the driver seat. This clever arrangement reduces the amount of shoulder room needed, allowing the body to be as narrow as possible for aerodynamic reasons. Crash protection front and rear is provided by large extruded aluminium crash boxes and the mid-mounted powertrain is also hung off the rear aluminium subframe. The whole assembly weighs just 230kg.
To make for easier access across the wide sills, the XL1 has large gullwing doors which cut right into the roof. If you end up upside down in the XL1, explosive bolts release the gullwing doors. The XL1 is 3.88m long, just 1.65m wide and 1.15m tall – which makes it 10cm shorter than a Volkswagen Polo, less than 20mm narrower but nearly 30cm lower.