Time off over Christmas is – if you’ll forgive the pun – a Godsend. It also means there’s plenty of time for reading, so I’d thought I’d try and sum up my motoring year month by month over the holiday period. It’s a year which has taken me around the from the Middle East, to California and to Japan and back and easily the most interesting and engaging year I’ve seen so far as an automotive hack.
January 2011 kicked off, as it usually does, with a trip to a freezing Detroit, which blended straight into a flight to the Mexican border, to try the new Mercedes CLS 63 AMG. January ended with a trip to Dubai to drive Volkswagen’s radical XL1 which claims 313mpg and 24g/km of Co2. It was a neat experience: just about the two extremes of motoring possibilities.
The AMG is a beautifully re-engineered (with bespoke steering and suspension systems) high-quality road car of extraordinary competence. Indeed, the driving experience on the roads around the Mexican border in the AMG would have been unimaginable a decade ago. It felt like it had been mostly machined from solid billet and delivered the kind of feedback through the driver’s contact points that wouldn’t have shamed an expensive bicycle.
In many ways, the CLS 63 AMG was just about the ultimate expression of the internal-combustion driven automobile, or at least one that tries to balance practicality with the need for speed.
Driving VW’s far more extraordinary XL1 was a shock because it made such a serious stab at the shape of driving in 20 year’s time. The carbon fibre-reinforced tub and bullet-shaped body played host to a remarkable drivetrain. A two-cylinder turbo diesel and electric motor are the key (along with an all-up weight of just 795kg) to the remarkable fuel economy.
The biggest surprise behind the wheel of the XL1 was the amount of time the engine was idle. Only when I pressed the accelerator did the motor spin into life and deliver another burst of forward motion. The slippery body and low rolling resistance meant the XL1 could cover a surprising distance on momentum and the odd push from the electric motor.
If this car is a fair representation of the future – and I think it is, even if we are looking at 2030 – we’ll be spending an enormous amount of time coasting around. Every downgrade will be an opportunity to take advantage of gravity and get us that bit nearer our destination without using the on-board energy storage.
Ultimately, though, both the CLS and XL1 are reasons to admire today’s car industry. It is simultaneously still polishing the proposition established by the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen, while looking far into the future.