Volkswagen’s XL1 is a Diesel-Powered Coupe That Achieves 260MPG
One of the most important cars debuting at the 2013 Geneva Auto Show this week was not a ridiculous Lamborghini or Ferrari. Although the many new supercars that bowed at Geneva are certainly extraordinary automobiles, realistically they will be owned by very few. At 250 examples, so will the Volkswagen XL1. Unlike the exotics from Italy, however, the XL1 features new technology from VW that will likely trickle down throughout its line in the coming years as MPG requirements for new cars continue to rise. So what makes the XL1 such an essential part of Volkswagen’s future? How does 260 miles per gallon sound?
Volkswagen claims to have reached this staggering number thanks to obsessing over several critical factors: keeping the car ultra-lightweight and extremely aerodynamic, and planting a miniscule engine under the hood.
A carbon fiber tub and body panels are the first steps in piecing together the XL1’s weight puzzle. The bones and skin of the XL1 are made of carbon fiber and carbon fiber reinforced plastics, and XL1 chief engineer Dr. Ulrich Hackenburg knows that new manufacturing processes will allow these exotic materials to be made at a much lower cost. CAR Magazine reports: “… a normal carbon piece takes 10-20 hours to be finished, including the autoclave baking process. By injection moulding carbon sheets between superheated, pressurised plates, carbon pieces could be made quicker, cheaply and with less waste. Plans are also afoot to heatform super-strong polycarbonate car bodies.” So while the XL1 will be made by hand, in future applications or even a full scale production run of the XL1, CFRP will play an integral part in keeping weight down and by association, fuel consumption. The rear window has been eschewed in favor of a pair of small polycarbonite windows surrounded by the CFRP panels. The final car weight is expected to be roughly 1750lbs, or a couple hundred pounds lighter than a Lotus Elise.
When it is released to the public, the XL1 will be the most aerodynamic car ever put into production, undercutting the current leader, the General Motors EV-1, with a drag coefficient of 0.186. This is made possible by the teardrop shape, covered rear wheels, and side cameras instead of mirrors, for which Volkswagen had to receive special permission to use. Door handles are also integrated into the bodywork for air to flow uninterrupted along the sides, and special floor panels direct air along the bottom. At less than 4 feet tall, the XL1’s low center of gravity keeps the car firmly planted to the ground, and an offset passenger seat helps keep the car narrow. Jalopnik‘s fantastic production analysis is certainly worth a read for those interested about how the car is constructed.
The engine is the last major component to the car’s extraordinary MPG figures. A 0.8L 2-cylinder turbo-diesel making only 47hp is hooked up to a 27hp electric motor, and both are connected to VW’s 7-speed DSG transmission. The results are not exactly blood pumping, as a 0-60mph run takes 12.7 seconds, making it slightly slower than a Honda Insight. Lighting the tires on fire for a blistering drag run is obviously not the XL1’s priority, however, and the Insight can’t match the 260mpg figure of the VW. Assuming there’s enough runway, the XL1 can theoretically hit 100mph.
The Volkswagen XL1 will hopefully not be a repeat of the Chevrolet Volt’s ridiculous fuel economy claims of 230mpg that General Motors asserted back in 2009. The almost fanatical approach to keeping weight at an absolute minimum and utilizing a tiny turbo-diesel suggest that real world consumption will be more in line with VW’s projected figures than the ones Chevy initially posted for their midsize four-seater. The XL1 is rumored to cost roughly £100,000, and none will be exported to the US.
The Xl1 is an interesting engineering exercise that combines the reduced cost of fueling an electric car with the versatility of a normal combustion engine. It is reminiscent of the first Honda Insight, both in shape and in purpose. While the second Insight only existed to compete with the Toyota Prius, the first was truly original and uncompromising in terms of achieving the lowest fuel consumption rate possible. So is the XL1, and I can’t wait to see how Volkswagen uses its technology in other applications.