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Green landmark: Volkswagen XL1

Let’s try to ignore the fact it’s rumoured to cost £100,000. Fact is, the VW XL1 is a remarkable achievement that deserves every plaudit. A long-term pet project of VW Group leader and engineering god Ferdinand Piech, it is a two-seat ultra-eco car that takes every other production car mpg record and tramples over it with fundamental force. Fuel economy? A full 313mpg. Even better than that, it’s a plug-in hybrid, with 50km of electric-only range. Piech wanted a 1-litre car: at 0.9 litres per 100km, this is even better than that – and, for 31 miles, it’s better still: a zero litre car. That the tiny two-seater is a plug-in hybrid at all is a masterpiece of engineering. Packaging the batteries and electric motor into such a compact car (it’s just 1153mm tall, but 3888mm long, 1682mm wide: a Polo is 3970mm long, 1682mm wide but 1462mm tall – and a Porsche Boxster is a full 129mm taller…) can’t have been at all straightforward.

Snapped! The Volkswagen L1 shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show 2009

Volkswagen L1 Frankfurt 2009 The original concept was first seen back in 2002. Piech drove what was then called L1 from VW HQ in Wolfsburg to a shareholder’s meeting in Hamburg (that same annual shareholder meeting will be held on 14 March this year: will he do the same with the production XL1?). The images were famous and Piech seemed determined to put it into production. A decade on, he’s done just that. The ‘one litre car’ is a reality. So, how does it do it? Well, weighing just 795kg helps, as does an aerodynamic drag factor of 0.189 (most family hatchbacks boast a drag factor of 0.3…). The tiny two-pot TDI engine, which produces 48hp, is mated to a seven-speed DSG gearbox and a 27hp electric motor: in combination with power from a lithium ion battery, this means the XL1 emits just 27g/km CO2 on the official cycle. Not that it’s a sluggard: it will do 100mph and will accelerate from rest to 62mph in 12.7 seconds. Normal car performance, not eco car lethargy. Oh, and Volkswagen has revealed sole delicious statistics – it needs just 8.4hp to keep cruising at 62mph, and will just less than 0.1kW to drive 1 kilometer. Your kettle is 3kW.

Production-ready: Volkswagen XL1 put through its paces

Volkswagen XL1 The body is made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic, and weighs 230kg. About the weight of three people. It’s ultra-thin yet just as strong as steel – and the use of carbon fibre reinforced pasts even stretches to the anti-roll bars. Amazing. Polycarbonate side windows ensure the weight saving continues: VW reckons only 23%, or 184kg, of the XL1’s kerbweight is steel and iron. It’s safe as a result, not something that you always sense from such lightweight cars. The clever, stylish swing doors even employ pyrotechnic screw opening to simplify opening in a rollover accident. The engine is, as explained, a 0.8-litre motor with two cylinders. Doing the maths suggests something VW confirms: yes, it is a 1.6-litre TDI Golf engine cut in half, sharing the same cylinder spacing of 99mm. It boasts many of the same emissions-reducing technologies as the 1.6 TDI too, such as recesses in the piston and common rail injection. There’s a balancer shaft too, recognising the fact two-cylinder engines aren’t inherently quite as smooth as a four-cylinder. Needless to say, it’s Euro 6 compliant: an oxidation catalyst and DPF ensure this. No, it seems, even tiny engines can’t avoid this expensive technology.

High tech: XL1 on the production line

Volkswagen XL1 production Rather cutely, VW says the body styling resembles a dolphin from above, particularly from the rear ‘where the lines optimally confirm to the air flow over the car body’. Basically, it narrows towards the rear, meaning the front is actually its widest point. Width is one of the key dimension growths over the concept L1 seen in 2009; this has enabled the front passenger to sit almost alongside the driver, instead of almost behind them in a staggered layout. There’s also a 120-litre boot at the back. Sports car small to reflect its two-seat nature – but still pretty decent for such an eco-focused machine, certainly comparable with the front boot of a Porsche Boxster. Many weren’t expecting any boot space at all… Oh, and there’s an amusing line in the briefing kit, too: if necessary, the VW XL1 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 12.7 seconds. ‘If necessary’. Because given such single-minded economy focus, who really would do such a thing? Most likely, people will be trying to get maximum economy from it. 350mpg? 400mpg? The challenge of XL1 drivers is not going to be performance but economy. VW says it will do over 500 miles with the TDI engine and e-drive system combined. Bet you there will be lots of people out there trying to smartly use recharging points to get much, much more. Bet you the MPG readout on the trip computer has four digits.

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Richard Aucock

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