By Matt Davis
World’s Most Efficient Car Impresses, Not Without Compromises
Among our many duties at the recent Geneva Motor Show, we were offered a pretty exclusive drive in the new Volkswagen XL1 hyper-efficient plug-in diesel hybrid. There is so much that is interesting about a car like this reaching production from a major automaker that it’s tough to know where to begin.
First off, you should know that – at least for this generation – there is absolutely no chance in Albuquerque that this “1-liter vehicle” (i.e. a vehicle that can burn just one liter of fuel to travel 100 kilometers, or 62.1 miles) will ever make it into the hands of North American customers. We, too, were having trouble imagining an XL1 in typical American traffic, surrounded by comparatively massive pickups and SUVs. The driving experience had us recalling a couple of weeks in 1999 when we drove the then-revolutionary Honda Insight hybrid on US roads. We keenly remember the feeling of being very small and vulnerable, even as we felt proudly green in our 61-mpg Tochigi pod. Thing is, the Volkswagen is smaller still, and nearly as light despite its more complex drivetrain and safety features.
In fact, the VW XL1 drive experience itself is very much like what we experienced in the Honda. Start talking about those details, however, and the XL1 reveals itself as a new way of seeing ultra-efficiency at work. The main technical difference is that the XL1 runs off of the parallel combination of a 27-horsepower electric motor that derives its current from a 5.5-kWh lithium ion battery pack, plus a 47-hp 800-cc turbocharged and direct-injected two-cylinder diesel engine. The whole parallel powertrain is located in back, while the 12V battery for ancillaries and the lithium-ion assembly, which can be charged via plug and gets some energy through brake recuperation, is positioned up front.