Verdict: Sci-fi looks and fun to drive at 313mpg
What is it?
A car with a sci-fi look and a Vokswagen badge. This is the XL1, a diesel-electric hybrid with a carbon fibre body, scissor-opening butterfly wing doors, and rear-view cameras instead of mirrors.
It is a design and technology statement on wheels, a “look at what we can do” car by Volkswagen, and a dramatic departure from the company’s mainstream range.
It is acclaimed as the world’s most energy efficient production vehicle.
It has head-swivelling, traffic-stopping style, is whisper-quiet for urban driving and has brisk performance, including a 100 mph top speed. It also has an eye-watering price, yours for £98,000.
So what’s special about this one?
It is an exploration into how exceptionally frugal a sleek, lightweight hybrid can be made to be.
The design brief was to create a car capable of using less than one litre of fuel per 100 kilometres, or 282 mpg in UK-speak.
Remarkably, the XL1 has an official combined fuel figure even better than that.
Its exceptionally modest consumption is 0.9 litres per 100 km, officially 313 mpg. So does it duck below the magic 95 g/km of CO2 output for 100% first year allowances? Just a bit. It’s CO2 emissions figure is 21 g/km.
Okay, what moves it?
An electric motor most of the time, supplemented by a tiny 0.8 litre diesel engine. It’s a plug-in hybrid, so you can recharge the battery pack as well as topping up the diesel tank. Unlike a pure electric car, there’s no range anxiety.
What’s it like to drive?
Good fun. It feels lively with brisk acceleration, and agile with flat, grippy cornering. There is very little body roll, and with rear-wheel-drive the handling has an engaging feel.
As it runs much of the time in electric-only mode, there is very little noise: the electric motor is whisper-quiet, passage of air over the slippery body shape is silent, and the only noise you really notice is some road rumble from under the body.
The diesel engine isn’t loud, but its low gravelly note is augmented by the minimal sound-proofing – to save weight there is not much excess padding – and the drum effect of the carbon fibre body.
The car is very low-slung, so you sit very low to the ground in seats that are one-piece carbon fibre shells, with no back adjustment. Even so, the driving position is quite comfortable with good fore-aft movement and tilt-adjustment.