Volkswagen XL1

31 Jan, 2011 11:16am Mike Rutherford

We drive the VW XL1 - world’s most economical car - on the streets of Doha to see what it feels like to return 313mpg.


At first glance, the XL1 is a five-star car if ever there was one. Any vehicle which covers hundreds of miles per gallon (or London to Marseilles on two!) has to be a godsend. And the fact the XL1 boasts unique looks, better-than-expected performance, plus F1-like safety features is the icing on the cake. But only when its super-stiff, heavy, awkward doors are sorted and VW confirms a sensible official price will the XL1 get five stars.
It’s the world’s most efficient car – and Auto Express has driven it! Revealed at the Qatar Motor Show, the quirky, low-slung VW XL1 gets gullwing doors, a two-cylinder turbodiesel engine and a 20kW electric motor.

With rear wheel covers, an F1-style carbon fibre monocoque, and other ultra-lightweight materials such as magnesium wheels, it’s meant to show how economical cars can be, boasting 300mpg-capability. But what’s it like to drive? Open the gullwing door and you sit very low in the cabin. However, that’s not an issue because the driving seat and steering wheel positions are spot-on. 

The overall look and feel of the XL1’s less-is-more cabin is beyond VW’s usually high standards, though. Press the logically positioned start button and the car’s heart silently starts to beat without indicating to the driver that it is doing so. Pulse starting, VW calls it. 

Slide the gearstick back as far as possible while nervously tickling the accelerator pedal, and the car launches itself with more vigour than it has a right to in view of its undeniably modest powerplants. A combination of virtually silent running, futuristic supercar styling and unprecedented on-road presence stops bewildered pedestrians and fellow drivers in their tracks.

When the tiny two-cylinder diesel engine kicks in, tricks are played on the mind and ear. This is and should sound like half a standard four-cylinder VW engine, as fitted to the Golf. Instead, the noise it creates is not unlike that of an air-cooled Beetle from the Seventies. The faster and harder the XL1 is propelled, the more the 800cc diesel overrules the electric motor and, curiously, the lower the noise levels are inside the car.

Brakes are strong, the steering pin sharp. Getting in and out of the cabin is difficult at first, as the doors are heavy and stiff. Not content with thrashing all of its current eco rivals in terms of exterior design, interior class, and technological breakthroughs, the XL1 is far more versatile than it looks.

It’s at its best when its diesel and electric power units are working together, helping each other out for maximum fuel efficiency. But there’s nothing to stop an XL1 driver with say, a slow 30-mile commute to and from work relying solely on zero-tailpipe-emission electric power – as long as he recharges each night. Conversely, it can be a conventional, diesel-only car, although it has just a 10-litre tank. 

The XL1 is more than a flight of fancy, though. UK drivers will soon be able to order one! VW chairman Martin Winterkorn says it will be going into limited production and on sale by 2013. A “most efficient car in the world” label and “affordable” price tag will be placed on the vehicle.
VW has yet to tell us just how affordable the XL1 will be – but it has to cost less than £30,000

Disqus - noscript

Jesus VW have you gone insane? Who would buy this thing? It looks like something from a 1980's sci-fi movie!

Nissan is releasing the Leaf now in February, GM the Ampera in 2012. And of course the Germans can't do it! They will try to get the very last mile out of the I.C.E until they absolutely have to release ev's or hybrids, simply because they don't want to have to spend the money, next they will find sales plummet because people will turn to alternative vehicles from alternative manufacturers. And the driving force (pardon the pun) will be fuel prices. Europeans are paying ridiculous amounts of tax on fuel and it will get worse! Completely unnecessary to put such burden on people when there is no alternative fuelled vehicles yet and when there is, ICE cars will be taxed off the road!

I think I'll wait for the Estate version or the SUV or the cross over or the Sports Hatchback. Oh, it's not an Audi? I thought it was. It's boring and has four wheels.

You are right, from the rear it is ugly, but not too different to the old Honda Insight - from the front the styling is quite conventional and therefore acceptable.
This is a hybrid and therefore I find the technology acceptable in this day and age. The fuel tank has a capacity of 10 litres, so it should be possible to get from London to Glasgow on one tank. As diesel approaches £6 per gal, I would be happy to drive make the journey for £12, show me a more acceptable / green alternative.

Wow, why has this taken so long? My Audi A2 1.2 TDI can still get 103MPG after 10 years on UK roads and Zero Road tax but it's more practical with enough room for a dishwasher and 2 adults. Let's have an affordable 4 seater with a boot as well as 100plus to the gallon.

looks a mk2 version of that old honda hybrid electric that they drove in California in the 80's. alot bigger and even uglier

It might look good on paper but at least try to make it blend in. It looks like something that would driven by the THUNDERBIRDS".. or "Joe 90"

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I love it! Too bad there is no rearward vision. At 313 mpg one could put up with a lot, especially when petroleum gets MUCH more expensive.

The shape is all about aerodynamic efficiency the teardrop shape is the best, so if you want 300+mpg then get to like it. No other manufacturer has got anywhere near this performance, so give credit where it is due.

Remember that? Good, coz neither do I... :)

I'm a tad too young to remember Gerry Anderson's first "Supermarionation" sci-fi puppet romp, Fireball XL5, but it would seem VW do.

In all honesty, the XL1 appears to have driven off the set of another Gerry Anderson creation, 'UFO'. Spec it in Gold, and the XL1 would look remarkably similar to Ed Strakers runabout from the classic 1970's series, in which an organisation is hell-bent on protecting Earth from wobbly UFO's, presumably driven by drunken aliens.

Although it is an excellent attempt by VW to produce an ultra efficient car, the challenging styling isn't going to be to everyones taste...

"Parker? Prepare the XL1 and bring it around to the front of the hise, would you please? We're going to London..."

"F.A.B. M'Lady!"

Interesting! certainly better looking than some of the cars that claim they will save the world. Interested to see what the MPG is in start stop traffic.

I'd buy one.
About time we saw something different looking.

Mating a small diesel with electric is just common sense.

LOVE the gull wing doors. :-D

let's be honest here though. 313 Mpg is not going to happen in real driving terms, although this said, I suspect that monster mile per gallon figures could still quite easily be achieved. 10 Litre tank sounds a bit restrictive but if that were to be increased then it will have a direct impact on the other fuel saving features. It's a very bold claim by VW to say that it is actually going to make this car available in limited numbers to the consumer. I really hope it happens to be fair to them, but at what price? I certainly have no problem with the technology. Mating a 2 cylinder diesel to a hybrid electric motor is definitely the way to go i think, certainly given that the all electric alternative is still somewhat limited in the the overall distance it can travel, and it still worries me what happens when in the likes of this winter and last, how the battery would hold out when all the demisters and air conditioning equipment was being used at full chat, plus headlamps, wipers and whatever else. At least with a hybrid if there isn't enough in the battery to power the electric motor on it's own, the conventional internal combustion engine can be used to regenerate it and take over responsibility for keeping things moving.

Actually, the shape of the XL1 is a little reminiscent of the old NSU of several years ago.

And more so underneath.
What is needed to save the world is diesel elcetric power plants retro fitted to existing cars. Shut down most of the car plants, sack millions - they are just wasting resources that could created greater wealth elsewhere.
There are 600 million cars in the world: enough for the rest of the century for all 7 billion people. If cars sales were stopped think of the millions of jobs created for mechanics etc. rather than parasitic salesmen.

Yet another "pie in the sky" eco car.
When will Governments,Car makers and Motoring journos realise that most of us cann't afford to buy these stupid green cars.
In my Town most people are struggling to put fuel in the tanks of their ten year old, £300 puntos!
These people live in a different World to the rest of us.

I'd buy one in a second and be delighted that few others liked it.


VW claimed 80mpg extra-urban for the Golf VI Bluemotion... I have to drive like a granny to even get anywhere near that and have yet to see the magic 80mpg appear on the MFD...

It's little short of a blatant piece of bulls***ing on VW's part.

I will not be queing to buy either the XL1 or any other VW for that matter after my experience... back to the blue oval next year!

The fuddy duddy old sticks in the mud are of course complaining that the looks are too futuristic, but personally I find them very evokative. Finally a piece of the Bladerunner/The FifthElement/A thousand other movies hollywood image of the future that we've been plied with for years that's actually coming true! And even if the looks require the slightest sense of adventure, there is surely a huge market to get the model started: who would buy a Gee Wizz, or even a Smart, or any of the other odd looking ecocars, when this one will do the same thing but so much better?

Why dont they make the back look as good as the front does and the mpg might drop to 200miles mpg. surely they would sell loads more then?

When an independent road test proves the mpg claim I might change my mind, but until then VW I dont believe you. On another point it has to be sensibly priced, when was £30k deemed sensible to the average man in the street.

Key specs

* Price: £30,000 (est.)
* Engine: 47bhp 800cc two-cylinder turbodiesel, 27bhp electric motor
* Transmission: Seven-speed DSG, rear-wheel drive
* Top speed: 99mph
* 0-62mph: 11.9 seconds
* Weight: 795kg
* Economy: 313mpg
* CO2: 25g/km
* Equipment: Electric windows, sat-nav, climate control, carbon-fibre monocoque, magnesium wheels
* On sale: 2013