VW's futuristic XL1: Sporty looks, high mileage

WOLFSBURG, Germany -- The XL1 is Volkswagen's vision of an extreme high-mileage future commuter car. It marries a strong, lightweight carbon fiber body with slick aerodynamics, an efficient diesel-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain and sports car looks.

The result is 261 mpg on the European test cycle in a fun-to-drive Mazda Miata-sized car that reaches 60 mph in a respectable 12 seconds.

VW recently invited auto writers to test drive the 1,753-pound coupe on public roads in and around the company's hometown.

The Lamborghini-like doors open upward, exposing an interior whose two seats are offset; the passenger sits slightly farther back than the driver.

To save weight, VW used no sound-deadening materials, so every mechanical noise the car makes finds its way to your eardrums. And yet the experience is pleasurable.

You can hear the electric motor whirring smoothly as you roll away from a stop. The 830cc, two-cylinder turbodiesel sitting sideways behind you turns on when extra acceleration is needed or when the battery power runs low, and you can hear every stroke of the slow-running engine.

And when you step on the brakes, the ceramic rotors sound like two bricks rubbing together. Still, the car is entertaining to drive and you are acutely aware that you are using very little energy as you coast along with the ebb and flow of traffic.

The XL1 begins limited production this fall to test new manufacturing methods and to get real-world consumer feedback. VW says the car meets European safety standards and upcoming Euro 6 emissions requirements. VW has built 50 units and plans to assemble another 200 by year end in the old Karmann plant in Osnabruck, Germany.

The XL1's body is carbon fiber monocoque with steel, aluminum and magnesium.

Like other plug-in hybrids, the XL1 starts from a stop using the electric motor. The range on electric power is 31 miles with a top speed of about 50 mph. The transmission is a seven-speed dual clutch with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The XL1 is tuned for maximum efficiency, so the diesel engine turns slowly and pulls hard, which is where diesels are their most efficient.

VW engineers' goal to wring maximum efficiency from the XL1 left no part of the car untouched. The outside mirrors have been replaced with cameras to reduce wind resistance. The cameras give the driver front, side and rear visuals on the dash-mounted screen. It takes some familiarization time, but it works.

Some of the XL1's technology could appear in future VW production cars. VW spokesman Darryll Harrison says there are no plans to bring the car to North America.

VW did not say how much the XL1 costs to build, but the car is likely very expensive. It uses almost all proprietary parts and has a hand-built body, doors and unique powertrain.

You may e-mail Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

XL1 highlights
Engine: 830cc, 2-cylinder turbodiesel
Motor: 20-hp electric
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch
Horsepower: 48
Torque: 89 pounds-feet
Body: Carbon fiber monocoque with steel, aluminum and magnesium
Weight: 1,753 lbs.
Fuel economy: 261 mpg on European test cycle
Coefficient of drag: 0.19
Production: 250 units

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