Volkswagen XL1, wheeling a 262-mpg orb: Motoramic Drives
Since the dawn of the combustion age, true car nuts have disdained gas mileage as the obsession of the weak-minded and unskilled; there’s no bigger punchline in the business than the Toyota Prius. The success of the Tesla Model S has begun to change the culture, but when it comes to supercars, faster and more powerful roughly equals better, while efficiency gets dismissed with prejudice.
Well, the Volkswagen XL1 may be the transformative alternative-energy vehicle, the one that finally arouses the car fiend from his gas-hungry stupor. The XL1 is a different conception of a car, a German engineer’s dream of hyper-miling. It contains no driving joy or spirit, just lots of cool, stripped-down design details, an anschulss of movement and MPG that gets an average of 262 mpg. This is ze car we’ve been waiting for.
The XL-1 doesn’t have a rear-view mirror, which makes sense, since it also doesn’t have a rear window. Other things not present in this car: Wheels thicker than a street bike’s, a backseat, or any semblance of wind resistance. It has a drag coefficient of 0.189, which, if you’re not keeping score, is almost impossibly low, less that your average bumblebee’s. Because of this, its engineers claim the XL1 can glide at reasonable speed on the autobahn using only eight horsepower.
Now that I’ve actually driven the XL1 on the highway, I don't doubt it. The thing is so compact and thin I’m surprised they didn’t just slip it underneath my hotel-room door along with my departure notice. The XL1 looks like a Blade Runner hovercar and drives like something from Disneyland’s Autopia, but without the attendant stink. Though it has an “S” mode, which ostensibly means “sport,” you’d be hard-pressed to detect such a function in the powertrain. “This,” one of its engineers told me in Germany last week, “was not the focus of our development.”
The XL1 represents the car as blue-ribbon science fair project. But unlike other megacars, which are built to maximize speed and power, this one, more than ten years and upward of a billion dollars in the designing, contains not one centimeter of wasted space or poundage. The engineers eliminated power steering because it would have added 10 kilograms. For maximum lightness, the core of its body and chassis is comprised of a one-piece molded carbon-fiber monocoque. The magnesium wheels get wrapped in custom-light Michelin rubber. The windows lower with hand cranks. There’s no radio — the sound system wraps through the Garmin GPS — and no place to plug in your smartphone, because Bluetooth is lighter.
All of this results in a car that weighs 1,753 lbs. Under its rear hatch lies a two-cylinder diesel that generates 47 hp, which would have been fairly weak in 1960, much less in the era where the average Hyundai generates up to 200 hp. The XL1 has a 27-hp electric battery, which can propel it about 31 miles on its own, up to 62 mph. It can fully recharge, Volkswagen says, in an hour and a half. The maximum speed overall, using the full hybrid drivetrain, is 94 mph. There’s a 2.6-gallon fuel tank, which lets the XL1 achieve a total range of 310 miles — since it can't be run at maximum efficiency all of the time.