Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Words & pictures: Daniel Bevis

The Volkswagen XL1 is a phenomenal machine in many ways. Yes, we're all very cynical of manufacturers' claimed mpg figures and the XL1's headline-grabbing 313mpg seems frankly unbelievable, but VW assure us that a real-world 280-290mpg is genuinely achievable. Furthermore, the design is fantastically futuristic and spaceship-like; its tapering-cigar form wouldn't look out of place alongside Apple's current line-up, and those wide-angle doors imbue an unnecessary but magnificent sense of drama as you drop down into the sumptuous-yet-minimalist interior. It looks like a designer's pipe-dream, an unachievable concept - but this is actually currently in production. OK, with a six-figure price tag you're not exactly going to make your money back in fuel savings like you would if you bought a used Honda Insight, but that's not the point of the XL1: your hundred grand buys you cachet. While other cars in this price bracket may feature wild V8s and continent-crushing pace, the XL1 is no less exclusive and, arguably, is every much a headturner as any supercar you care to name.

Key to those astonishing mpg figures are a cleverly thought-out drivetrain and an obsessive approach to weight-saving and aerodynamics. The engine is a twin-cylinder 800cc diesel, bolstered by an electric motor that ensures all of the torque is available to you immediately (so, if the desire to hoon about takes you, it actually feels quite quick). It chuffs out a gnat's-fart 21g/km of CO2, and yet is rear-wheel drive and features carbon-ceramic brakes, polycarbonate windows, carbon-fibre seats, a carbon-fibre tub... if you don't mention the engine, it sounds like standard supercar fare.
So what Volkswagen's new baby is then, really, is a showcase of their future eco-oriented direction - the engine is just the right size for the up!, for example - which also, in this form, just happens to rewrite the formula for the modern 21st-century supercar. Sure, Jaguar may have cancelled their C-X75 project on the grounds that people spending this kind of money want at least eight cylinders, but perhaps they should have followed VW's approach more closely. Despite being ostensibly a low-power, small-engined hypermiler on 115-section tyres, all eyes were on the XL1 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. And rightly so, it's gorgeous. It's the acceptable face of eco motoring; five times the price of a Prius, but a thousand times cooler.

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