Volkswagen AG’s XL1 prototype, a plug-in hybrid that promises to thumb its tailpipe at every gas station in sight.
VW’s sleek, 1-liter two-seater owes its design cues to the Batmobile and its staggering gas mileage — .9 liters per 100 kilometers, or an estimated 260 mpg — to a combination of feather-weight clothing and a multi-technology heart.
The 1,700-lb body is made largely of aluminum and carbon fiber (including a Formula One-inspired carbon monocoque), while the ingenious powerplant consists of half of VW’s staple 1.8-liter TDI diesel engine mated to a seven-speed transmission. There’s also an lithium-ion battery-powered electric drivetrain, which VW says is good for 21 miles all by itself. The wicked torque inherent in all electric motors helps push the XL1 to 60 mph in a respectable 11.9 seconds, while top speed is 110 mph.
But really it’s the symbiotic nature of the two power sources working together that could push this slippery car (with an impressive .18 coefficient of drag) into the ranks of eco-superstars. Consider that although XL1’s diesel engine only produces 48 hp, VW says the vehicle can maintain 62 miles an hour on just 9 hp. That’s more like gliding than driving.
The best news about the XL1 is that aspects of its futuristic nature just might be visited on other VW models soon. VW has been working steadily to turn its vision of tomorrow’s car into today’s reality; the XL1 started as an oddball 1-liter, in-line seating design exercise in 2002 and later morphed into the fanciful but financially impractical L1 concept car unveiled in 2009.
By contrast, the XL1 seats two people side by side, features normally operating doors compared to previous jet canopy iterations, and steers clear of overusing wildly exotic and expensive materials such as magnesium. Last year, VW officials cited a 2013 production target for the L1 concept. There’s been no update to that announcement yet, and it seems unlikely that the XL1 in its current high-tech guise could be produced cheaply. But while it might not yet be the people’s car, the XL1 does at least seem like a vision of what the world may soon be driving.