The Volkswagen XL1 is the most fuel-efficient production car ever built. And after nearly ten years of development , I’m lucky enough to be one of the first people to drive it here in the UK. But what does a car that can do 313mpg feel like on real roads? I’m about to go and find out. The brain child of VW’s suprimo, Dr Ferdinand Piech, the XL1 was designed with one simple goal in mind – to create a usable everyday vehicle that would use just a single litre of fuel for ever hundred kilometres it travelled. Three concept cars and thirteen years of development later, it has now become a production reality. Hitting that target was a serious challenge, so the XL1 uses a gorgeous teardrop design shaped by aerodynamics to create as little drag as possible.The rear wheels are completely enclosed and even the wing mirrors have been replaced by a pair of emora video cameras to reduce drag. It sits just over a meter tall – that’s lower than most sports cars including the Porsche Boxster, and has the same footprint as a small supermini. While the entire car weighs less than 800 kilos thanks to its carbon fibre chassis. The scissor doors add a real sense of drama, and inside the hi-tech carbon weave is mixed with simple solutions like plastic window winders, and a fixed passenger seat.All to save weight. The XL1 is probably one of the rarest and most expensive production cars you’ll find. They reckon it’ll sell for just over £100,000 when it does go on sale in the UK and only around 20-30 cars are going to come here. Because of that, we’re not allowed to drive it by ourselves, sadly. So, we’ve got our technician here, Steve, who’s going to help us with the journey and talk us through some of the finer technical points. We’re going to start with a simple mpg test, so we’re going to turn the car on in full electric mode and do a short loop and see what kind of mpg we can get from the trip computer.Alright, so we’ve been driving for a little while now and at the moment we’ve used absolutely no diesel at all. There’s a little e-power meter here in front of me which shows me how much of the battery power I’m using at any given time. And although the weather is pretty bad, which never helps economy, like I said, so far there’s been no fuel used and no CO2 produced either. The electric motor and the two-cylinder engine are all mounted in the same place – just behind my head on the rear axel, which means that this is
actually a rear-wheel-drive car. But, you don’t have to drive it particularly gently to get that kind of economy. In fact, the trip computer is an old version of software, which’ll only read up to 200mpg, and apparently on the original launch, the German engineer was getting very frustrated because the car wouldn’t show higher than 200mpg.And when you’re getting upset that your car’s getting 200mpg, that’s when you know you’ve got quite an efficient car on your hands. Even with the electric motor and the engine, the XL1 still only makes around 68bhp, but that is enough to get it from 0-62 in about 12.7 seconds. Although the top speed is limited to just 99mph. However, driving around in e-power mode isn’t as serene as you might think. There’s all sorts of noises and you can hear the motors working and even the ceramic brakes – which are there for lightness rather than their high-performance characteristics – just kind of make this strange brushing noise as you use them.Anyway, now we’re going to drop it into sport mode, in the seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox, and see what it’s like when you drive it a bit faster like a GTi. So I’ve been trying to drive this car a bit more like a teenager for about the last fifteen minutes but no matter what I do, it doesn’t seem I can get it to budge off 200mpg. So, yeah, I think it’s definitely confirmed itself as what it says on the tin.The most efficient production car in the world. But we’ve been cruising along on the motorway and even at 70mph it’s surprisingly refined actually. The thing is for all the technical achievements on display in the XL1, the thing that really impresses me about it is its usability as a package. This is, essentially, an every-day car that you could use to commute in if you wanted to. The build-quality in this cabin is as simple and bulletproof as anything else in the VW range. And, there’s this beautiful, exposed carbon-fibre plastic all over the place and I just love the simplicity in this cabin compared to the incredibly complexity that’s going on underneath the drivetrain. I love that really stark contrast between the two. And the fact that something that looks like this thing does, like an absolute show car, that actually works and drives in the real world – that’s probably one of the most impressive things about it for me anyway. After we got back from our short drive we calculated the mpg figures properly, and the
results were staggering.In the route, while trying to drive as efficiently as possible, we achieved an incredible 403mpg, so in fact it actually beat the official figures of 313mpg, stated by Volkswagen. After driving it a little harder though that figure did fall, in fact, it cut in half to 196mpg, but still, that’s hardly going to break the bank. It’s easy to be cynical about cars like the XL1 but once you’ve seen and experienced it for yourself, it’s hard not to be seduced by the cutting-edge technology on board. It could be the shape of the future, and in some ways it’s even more exciting than the latest crop of hybrid hyper cars. But, don’t worry, it’s still going to be quite a while before this is what the next Volkswagen Golf looks like. .