A Closer Look at Volkswagen XL1: The Ultimate Efficiency Car
There was the mighty McLaren and the even more powerful LaFerrari—but the real star of the Geneva motor show was a little car. Not fast, not powerful, but very efficient. In fact, it could be the most efficient car in the world: the Volkswagen XL1. But there's nothing XL about it.
The L1 refers to its fuel consumption, only one liter per 100 km (235 mpg), because that's how we measure fuel economy in most of Europe. Actually, that's not even true. That number related to official testing, and the European method for measuring fuel economy of plug-in hybrids is flawed. But a few selected journalists have driven it, and early reports talk about 120 mpg when driving hard (the way journalists do). That is way better than anything else with four wheels, and more than 180 mpg is possible if the car is sensibly driven. The value to remember is that to maintain a constant 62 mph speed (100 kph) on a flat road, the XL1 only needs 6.2 kW (8.4 hp). So a very small and super efficient two-cylinder diesel is more than enough for its needs.
I stayed a long time looking at it in Geneva, and talking to Volkswagen's people. I even came back to it twice. This is the car efficiency fans have been waiting for. It's very tiny. 65 inches wide and 45 inches high, and it has teardrop shape. The back is narrower than the front, and it has masked rear wheels to obtain an incredible Cd of .189. Another value that betters anything else on the road, like the weight: 1753 pounds.
The more I looked at all the details, the more I was blown away but the best part is that the XL1 is a real automobile. The world has seen many prototypes of super efficient cars, but most were low budget roughly-built affairs—not the XL1. There's a radio, a navigation system, AC—everything's expected from a modern car is there, and it's well built like other Volkswagen cars.
Getting inside is not a problem, thanks to the large doors. Getting out is a bit more difficult because of the very low seat, but it's still manageable. And once inside with the door shut, the XL1 is a nice place. It's really narrow, but with a small center console, it still manages to feel roomier than a Tesla roadster or a Mazda Miata. With the car getting narrower above the beltline, shoulder room could be an issue but Volkswagen has cleverly moved the passenger seat a little to the back. The small steering wheel fits right in your hands and I recognized several buttons and commands from the Volkswagen's parts bin. They make me feel right at home, with the only thing strange being the wide A-pillars. Well, there's also the mirrors. Actually, there's a serious issue with them.
The Volkswagen XL1 does not have rear view mirrors. It has tiny cameras on each door, and small smartphone-like screens inside. That sounds nice, and it works great but sadly, it's illegal.
Volkswagen cannot sell the car as it is. I've heard that this regulation is likelty to change, but it may take a while. In the meantime, Volkswagen managed to get an exemption, but it's only valid for Germany and Austria. So if you live outside those two countries, do not look for the XL1 at a VW dealership anytime soon. Besides this issue, the XL1 meets all safety and emissions regulations. It's one of the cleanest car on the road, and its carbon fiber monocoque is incredibly stiff.
Running on battery, energy consumption is below 160 Wh per mile so that a tiny 5.5 kWh pack gives it a 31-mile range, and there's no doubt the XL1 is a winner. But it's also a killer. Efficiency fans will love it but EV fans should be afraid. People driving trucks complain about the price of gas, but gas is cheap if driving 1,000 miles only takes seven or eight gallons.
With many carbon fiber parts, the XL1 is expensive, and it's very clear Volkswagen will lose money on each one, but it has already committed to build a first batch of 250 cars. We'll see what happens after that.
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