2013 Volkswagen XL1: The Whole Story of a Real-World 261-MPG Car

By · January 26, 2011

2011 Volkswagen XL1 Concept

2011 Volkswagen XL1 Concept

We're here to talk about electric cars, but imagine a car you could drive from New York to Los Angeles with 15 gallons of liquid fuel. The cost of the trip would be about $50. You'd spend more than that to feed yourself along the way. That sounds crazy and impossible, but it isn't. I know because I've seen the car that could do it.

The 2002 VW One-Liter

The Volkswagen One-Liter concept dates back to 2002.

It's not a car from some mad scientist on a remote island. It comes from the world's third largest automotive group: Volkswagen. And it's not new. It was built in 2002. Its fuel consumption is real. It has been measured at 235 MPG, which translates into one-liter-per-100-km, and that's the name of the car, the Volkswagen One-Liter. What prevents Volkswagen from putting it into production is that this technological wonder is hugely expensive to make. A carbon-fiber body, magnesium suspension parts, a custom-made 8.5-hp one-cylinder 0.3-liter diesel engine with an aluminum block. All of its components are made of titanium alloys, as are the wheel hubs. That One-Liter car would be as expensive to make as a 250-mph Bugatti Veyron.

I should also add that if the One-liter looks fantastic, like a spaceship a wheels—people would go mad to see this on the street—it would be a nightmare in daily use. The top of the car is below my waistline. Ingress/egress is difficult, and there's no trunk. Finally, performance is very poor, with a 74-mph top speed and the acceleration of a moped. So Volkswagen made the most reasonable decision: to consider this concept from a starting point from which it could develop a car that would still be super-efficient, but more user-friendly. That brought the L1, which was the star of the Frankfurt motor show in 2009.

The L1 in Frankfurt, 2009.

The L1 in Frankfurt, 2009.

It still had a carbon-fiber body, but its engine was a derivative of a production unit, the 1.6-liter diesel that powers millions of cars all over in Europe. It's a 4-cylinder that has been cut in half, hence a twin: a 0.8-liter 2-cylinder diesel, making 27 horsepower. That's far from exciting, but that diesel is not alone to power the car, because the L1 is a hybrid. It has a small 10 kW electric motor inside its 7-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission.

Together, the power available to the driver jumps to 29 kw (39 hp), giving performance closer to a normal car. Dry weight is 380 kg (838 pounds), whereas the first model was only 290 kg (639 pounds). Official word at the unveiling was that a production model was still several years away, but that Volkswagen was working on it, and that they would do it.

Now With a Plug

The third generation was unveiled yesterday. It's still a concept, but much closer to a regular car. Called the XL1, there's a big change: It's now a plug-in hybrid.

With a small lithium ion battery, range in electric mode is a 21 miles. This is modest, to my eyes—the relocation of the passenger seat is more important. Past models had the passenger behind the driver, but now it’s side-by-side, which is way better. Actually, the seats are slightly offset to give more elbow and shoulder room for both people. With doors that opens like a Lamborghini, the XL1 is 153-inches long and 66-inches wide and only 45-inches high.

The XL1 Interior

The XL1 Interior now has side-by-side seating.

The engine remains the diesel twin, but power is up to 35 kW (48 hp). The electric motor gets stronger too, now giving 20 kW (27 hp), and performance is now at least adequate. Zero-to-62-mph requires 11.9-seconds with a 100 mph electronically limited top speed. That's equivalent to a Honda Insight conventional hybrid. The engine, motor and 7-speed dual clutch transmission are all in the back, only the battery and the radiator are in front. The weight is up considerably, but at 1,753 pounds—you won't find anything with four wheels that's lighter on the road. Most important, the XL1 keeps its super-streamlined body, with a Cd of .186, and with that fantastically efficient hybrid power train, Volkswagen announces an incredible 261-mpg figure. So incredible in fact, that I don't believe it. Nobody should believe it. Volkswagen is not at fault, and I'm a big fan of Volkswagen cars, but the official European method of measuring fuel consumption of plug-in hybrids is not good.

2011 XL1 Concept

The car that could put help Volkswagen earn the ultimate green halo.

Nonetheless, I have no doubt this XL1 would be the most efficient car on the market by a huge margin. Volkswagen will make it real. We should expect it in 2013, still with a carbon-fiber body, but without all the expensive magnesium and titanium parts to make it affordable. I'm expecting the production version to get more than 150-mpg in normal driving with its batteries discharged. Nothing will come close to it. Volkswagen has said several times said that it wants to be Number One. This is the halo car to do it.


· Alan (not verified) · 7 years ago

A hybrid that makes sense - at last .......

· · 7 years ago

That looks like the GM impact!!

· · 7 years ago

150 MPG seems optimistic for the EPA combined cycles, with the VW running on diesel fuel alone. My Zing! (production version) is of lower frontal area, about the same Cd, and not much more than half the weight. I'd be very hard pressed to get 150 MPG, even with the Atkinson cycle engine planned for the later production cars. The VW engine efficiency would need to be over 50% to support 150 MPG. Seems unlikely. I'd guess slightly over 100 MPG would be attainable – still stunningly impressive for a loaded car of 2000 lbs. (My proof-of-concept Zing! at 540 lbs, gets about 100 MPG in charge-sustaining mode.

The XL1 is very cool, and I'd love to see it come to the US.

· · 7 years ago

The standard VW Golf diesel 1.6 TDI BlueMotion (not an hybrid) gets 55 MPG or in normal road-driving. Add hybrid tech, better aerodynamics, much less weight...

Think about the original Honda Insight, but with much more work put into it.

· batman (not verified) · 7 years ago

hey two seats! just perfect for me and robin!!!

· · 7 years ago

Even if it only gets 100 mpg, that is still very impressive and I like a two seater. Not every American like driving tanks. An American engineer, I believe this magazine carried the article, developed a converter that allows you to get 763 mpg. He had it on his Nissan. I believe he said that the converter would cost over 2,200 dollars until production. Why didn't any auto manufacturer pick up on that converter?

· · 7 years ago

Been following this "concept" for a while. Want to see a similarly high-efficiency vehicle that has the added benefit of exceptional performance (beyond 200 mph?). And unlike the VW concept, this thing is for real. Only real men (and women!) need apply.

· George Parrott (not verified) · 7 years ago

Go for it VW ! Let's get some truly creative technology actually INTO the marketplace. I was impressed with the original "1liter car" and the evolution is visually and functionally impressive. I would encourage a bit more battery range, but the general appearance and balance of diesel and EV is EXACTLY what I want at least for our second car in the household.

NOTE: I am still holding a deposit on an Aptera, and now have a Chevy Volt in the home garage and just received confirmation that our Nissan LEAF will arrive before the end of February. I am quite willing to put my $$ into this new technology as soon as it IS available.

· Warren (not verified) · 7 years ago


"Volkswagen will make it real. We should expect it in 2013"

Well, according to the email I just got back from VW...

"At this time, the XL1 is still in the concept stages, and there are no current plans to produce this model for the United States market."


Amen! The E/X/Zero-Tracer (have they finally settled on a name?) is the coolest vehicle produced...now...and probably ever. Now if I could only convince my wife to sell the house, and us sleep in the Tracer. :-)


· · 7 years ago

@Warren - I'm with you! Just boggles the mind how efficient a narrow, two-wheeled machine can be. And Fast? Forget about it!

As for the name.. yeah, more than a bit confusing. I say stick with "Tracer" and call it a day! Maybe G for gas and E for electric if they really need both. But once folks get to experience the E, the G won't be made any longer. Who wants to mess with the clutch and gears and pulling into a gas station?

· JJJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

"side-by-side, which is way better"

And why is that? It means the car is wider, so it fits in less places.

· · 7 years ago

@JJJ - agreed! One of the amazing things of cycling, motorcycling, driving a Tango, driving a Tracer, etc... is the astonishing visibility afforded by having either no windows, or having them right next to the driver on all sides. There are many benefits to tandem seating that shouldn't be ignored just because we're so used to side-by-side seating in our automobiles.

· · 7 years ago

This just shows the amount of effort that entrenched industries will go to to protect their beloved technology. In the '40's and '50's, the steam locomotive companies introduced some amazing innovations as they tried to show that steam was there to stay while diesel locomotives were eating away at their market.
Here we see VW doing the same thing. First the TDI, now this. Meanwhile, we'll see companies that build EVs easily trounce them as VW goes the way of the Baldwin Locomotive Works

· · 7 years ago

Tandem is the way to go for reduced frontal area, and can lead to lower Cd, compounding the effect. In a three wheeler, there can be crush space on both sides, improving crash worthiness. But, as I say in my website, the obvious advantage is that your girlfriend rides with her legs wrapped around you.

· · 7 years ago

Now the discussion just got interesting.

· · 7 years ago

Hi Ex-Ev1,
>>?First the TDI, now this.<<
You write as if this is a bad thing. If the LX1 can get 100-110 MPG on gas, then it will get 10 miles per kilowatt hour on electricity. (Making it, ostensibly, as efficienct as my avatar car, which is less than half the mass, and which uses 90% efficient, permanent magnet motors and a 98% efficient controller. One could wonder where their efficiency is coming from.). That electrical consumption makes the LX1 2.5 times as efficient as the LEAF and Volt, and twice as efficient as the EV1 was.

The TDI is the most efficient ICE used in any car (42% at peak) and can be run on biodiesel, unlike a Prius or 99% of the cars on the road in the US. The European Polo offers 70 MPG in the Euro test, so will be about 60 MPG here. VW has its own pure electric on the way (with Martin Eberhardt, the guy who designed your Tesla's batteries) working with them on battery design.

There are plenty of Johnny-come-latelies in the efficienct car and EV biz. VW is not one of those.

· · 7 years ago

Hi James.
The reason the car companies do not pick up the 763 mpg converters is that they do not exist.

A typical 25 mpg Nissan engine operates, on average, at 15% efficiency, peaking at 32% under ideal conditions (heavily loaded). Efficiencies over 100% are not possible, and in fact, even 100% is not possible in any real energy conversion. Going from 25 mpg to 763 would require a thirty-fold improvement in efficiency, to roughly 450%.

Without going to jail, I can claim that my avatar car gets 4100 miles per gallon: I drive 40 miles on electricity and then one more on gasoline. I use 1/100 gallon of gas and have gone 41 miles: 4100 MPG. This would be, in my view, very deceptive, because I can make up any trip length I want and come up with any MPG figure, all the way up to infinite MPG at 40 miles on electricity. I am completely ignoring the electric energy used. Advertising like this does not give a consumer an ability to judge one vehicle against another.

But back to the 763 mpg: there is no add-on converter that improves fuel efficiency at all, let alone by huge multiples.

The auto companies sell us what "we" want, and are quite good at that, although, undestandably, cannot tool up quickly enough for fluctuations in gas prices. Today's prices are high, but not astronomically high, and people continue to buy SUVs, because "we" want them. The Ford F150 pickup has sold as many as 900,000 units per year in the US. We have available many really excellent small cars, for which there is no waiting list at all, and we have many small cars that sit on car lots until the price of gas briefly peaks.

Finally, more people are realizing that it might make sense to think about the environment (resource consumption, CO2 emissions, security) and when gas prices have been high Priuses have sold well. That gives me hope, as does the fact that every car manufacturer has an EV ready or in testing: the manufacturers are willing to bet that people actually care about the environment. But the US consumer has a stunningly short memory. The price of a Prius on the used market followed gas prices almost perfectly back when we got up to $4,00 per gallon. Once gas dropped back down to $2.50, people were back to buying SUVs.

· · 7 years ago

@Ken Fry - I sure wish there was a way to communicate privately on these forums! Hate to do this... can you contact me off-list, please? darell*at*evnut . com.

· · 7 years ago

Hi Darell,
>> I'm with you! Just boggles the mind how efficient a narrow, two-wheeled machine can be.<<
My avatar started life on two wheels: take a marker to your computer screen and cover up everything to the right and left of the central fuselage, and you'd have the picture. No question that it is the way to go for superb streamlining combined with very low frontal area and low weight.

Motorcycles are steered by counter steering -- something made both more essential and more obvious when you are seated low. The Ecomobile lurched about when transitioning to the coutersteering mode at low speed, even when they added computer control of the outriggers. Although you are somewhat safer in an enclosed motorcycle (than in an open one), you suffer from no effective side impact protection, already a weak point even in low mass cars. Being instantly rolled by an impact is not a good thing. So, given that I did not want to kill off my customers, I went for three wheels, and huge side impact crush zones.

But as an old motor cycle road racer, I still love the idea of two wheels, and the feeling of carving turns, and can understand those who are willing to accept the 38 times higher likelihood of killing yourself on one as opposed to a car.

· JJJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

darelldd, yup visibility is another huge factor. I wish more auto makers were willing to give tandem seating a shot. And by more, I mean any.

· · 7 years ago

Volkswagen's been working on the project since 2001 with the full backing of the über-manager Ferdinand Pïech, so it will get real. Just give it some time. I'm expecting the production version to be unveiled in 2013, with deliveries starting in Europe in 2014, in the US the following year.

I'm not a big fan of the Peraves, or tandem seating. Your girlfriend/wife is used to seat on your side, would she enjoy being in your back? I think Volkswagen is right to work to make its concept super efficient, but still user-friendly, so that it's appealing to many.

· · 7 years ago

>> Your girlfriend/wife is used to seat on your side, would she enjoy being in your back? <<
Can't let this one go!
1. Just because we might be "used to" something sure doesn't mean we should continue it! We were "used to" keeping the races separated. We were "used to" not letting women vote. We are "used to" burning gasoline. Fear the change!
2. And this is my favorite - no, my wife is NOT used to being seated at my side. I don't drive in a car much. She's used to being on my tandem bicycle: http://darelldd.smugmug.com/Bicycle/2008-Rides/2008-Tour-De-Cure-1/08050...

And as we all know, I'm rarely the "target audience" for mainstream product.

· · 7 years ago

@Ken Fry,
The TDI is a waste of effort as far as I see it. Its adoption will only stretch our petroleum usage a bit further. It may allow yet one more generation to slack off and not have to really solve the worlds oil addiction problem but in the long run, it won't do anything.
You might also ask VW and Martin Eberhart (founder of Tesla Motors) why Martin Eberhart does not work for VW any more.
Also, the TDI efficiency at peak output is irrevelant. Probably less than 1% of all driving is done at peak output and I'd suspect that about 99% of that can be avoided since one does not need to jack-rabbit start or pass cars going up steep hills. I can't offer real-world numbers but I'd be surprised if the TDI averages better tha 25% efficiency and I suspect it comes closer to 20%.
I'd like to hear more about your avater car. Do you intend to put it into production? How? I'm one of those geeks who love efficient designs such as the EV1, the Aptera (althought I figure hell will freeze over before they go into production), the Tango, and the *tracer. I'd be interested in yours too but am skeptical that theres a good way to get it to a serious market.

· · 7 years ago

@ ex-EV1,
The TDI has been around for a long time, and has done its a share in saving fuel.

Regarding average efficiency for the TDI, I think your 20% figure is very close, and probably a little generous. The actual efficiency depends upon the installation, with higher efficiency in heavier cars, and of course on driving patterns. I mentioned the peak figure because it is a good yardstick for relative efficiency: the engines in a Prius, a Ferrari, a VW and a Honda Civic are all 5% efficient part of the time, 10% efficient part of the time, etc. Peak efficiency does not tell you everything about an engine, but can help separate the highly-efficient ones (like the TDI at 42% and the Prius at 38%) from the lower efficiency ones (like general aviation engines at 27% and lawnmower engines at 25%.) Peak efficiency is shorthand for a description of specific fuel consumption, which requires a fairly complicated graph to communicate -- and even that graph does nothing to describe operating efficiency as installed in a vehicle.

I've run hot and cold re VW over the years, but think their EVs could do well. One of my favorite VW's was built by a friend of a friend in engineering school, decades ago. It was a dragster with a 40 hp engine driving a hydraulic pump which charged an accumulator so big that it effectively was the chassis/body. By the time the car was at the starting line, the accumulator was charged and this "40 hp" VW would smoke all four tires via hydraulic motors at each wheel.

My avatar car is now in limited production. I don't want to hijack this thread with a sales pitch, so will email you off line.

· · 7 years ago

OK, you won! But I still think most couples enjoy to sit side by side (and I do).

The TDI efficiency is above 35%. Like all diesels, its efficiency is at its best at idle or at lower RPM with the considerable advantage over an Atkinson gasoline engine of making much more torque. A 1.6-liter TDI makes nearly twice of a Prius engine. So you can downsize more... If someone could make a Prius with a diesel, I have no doubt it would more efficient, but it would require some very smart control so that the diesel never goes above 2000-RPM, like on big trucks.

My avatar car is a abandoned project. I would like to use some picture of my newer project, but I can't yet.

· · 7 years ago

Hi Laurent,
>> most couples enjoy to sit side by side <<
I had a friend who had an old Triumph motorcycle, which vibrated incessantly. His girlfriend loved riding behind him. Decorum prevents my giving a full description here, but suffice it to say that she almost fell off the back as a result of a certain peak experience induced by the vibration.

>> Like all diesels, its efficiency is at its best at idle or at lower RPM with the considerable advantage over an Atkinson gasoline engine of making much more torque. <<
Actually, at idle, efficiency falls to 0%: if the engine is idling, it is doing no work. Peak efficiency (of 200 g/KwH = 42%) in the TDI is reached in a range from 1400 rpm to 2100 rpm. A series hybrid could be easily constructed so that the engine operates only in this range, or not at all. The Prius could be slightly more efficient with a diesel, measured in MPG terms (because the peak efficiencies are 42% vs 38%, and the Prius system tends to keep the engine well-loaded most of the time). But in terms of resource usage (and in the US, fuel cost) there is no advantage, because the energy content of diesel fuel is higher: in terms of BTU per gallon, diesel is a more valuable fuel.

Of course, biodiesel could be used in a TDI-engined Prius, which could be a large environmental advantage, depending upon how the biodiesel is made.

Here is a good discussion of TDI engine efficiency: http://forums.tdiclub.com/showthread.php?t=208125
Post #14, in particular, shows that with the TDI, it is almost always better to use the highest gear (lowest rpm) possible, supporting your point that 2000 rpm would be a good rpm limit. Also notable is that at powers between 20 and 70 hp, consumption of 210g/kWh or better can be obtained. That is a very broad range of high efficiency operation.

There are large gasoline engines that operate at about 10% efficiency at 20 hp. The TDI engine, at that hp, is about 4 times as efficient. The Lamborghini Murceliago gets a stunning 8 mpg in the city, despite being only 20% heavier than a Jetta TDI.

· owlafaye (not verified) · 6 years ago

Remember? VW had a 84 mpg 4 seat sedan in the 1960's....no one wanted it then.

Don't underestimate VW. This LX1 concept is coming and it is efficient...diesel is coming also...California will be forced to re-evaluate their standards for diesel engines. So what if a diesel emits a few more emissions than gas? If it is yielding twice the economy, why should they be forbidden? Common sense SHOULD win out.

· james braselton (not verified) · 6 years ago

hi there yeah 261 mpg with 9 gallon fule tank 2,349 mile and a 20 gallon fule tank with a whopping 5,220 mile range soo i might get mine with a 20 gallon fule tank

· kuldeep (not verified) · 6 years ago

2013 Volkswagen XL1 what a car? i love this car and really want to purchase it. hope it will soon at my home.

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