New Volkswagen XL1 gets 261 mpg

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Volkswagen, with a complete lack of modesty, claims it is now building the most fuel-efficient production car in the world. The company says its new XL1, which will be built at VW’s plant in Osnabrück, Germany, will get about 261 miles per gallon in the European testing system. While that number would be lower in the EPA system, it’s still pretty impressive.

The XL1 is the latest in Volkswagen’s program to develop a car that can that burns one liter per 100 kilometers (235 miles per U.S. gallon) and bring it to production. They’ve been working on it for more than a decade. The first car was shown in 2002 and the second in 2009. The XL1 is the first of the cars green-lighted for production.

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Volkswagen’s sleek two-seater is powered by a plug-in hybrid system consisting of a two-cylinder, 800 cc (52 CID), 47-horsepower TDI diesel engine, a 27-horsepower electric motor, a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox and a lithium-ion battery. The car can run in pure battery mode for about 30 miles.

Volkswagen says greenhouse gas emissions are ultra-low. With the diesel running, the XL1 emits just 34 grams per mile of CO2. In electric mode, of course, there are no CO2 emissions.

VW engineers and designers also worked over the body to hit that mileage figure. The XL1 is 153.1 inches long, 65.6 inches wide and just 45.4 inches tall. That’s shorter and narrower than a Ford Fiesta and lower than a Porsche Boxster. The drag coefficient is 0.189. The front wheel covers have relatively small slots to cut down drag, while the rear wheels are so open they look almost like they are spoked; this allows sufficient wheel cooling under the fairing.

VW-XL1-3-ACP The scissor-style doors open upward and are cut deeply into the roof to make it easier to enter and exit the car. The door glass is bonded into the door to cut down on drag. Small panels in the glass can be opened to permit paying tolls, grabbing the take-out, or just enjoying some fresh air.

One big change from the earlier cars is the passenger accommodations: In the 2002 and 2009 cars, the driver and passenger were seated in tandem, like a bicycle built for two. In the XL1, they sit side-by-side, but the placement of the battery pack required that the passenger’s be positioned seat a few inches aft of the driver. Seems like it would make conversation awkward, but it beats talking to the back of someone’s head.

The car tips the scales at just over 1,750 pounds, which is about 613 pounds less than a Fiat 500 with a manual transmission.

While the sleek styling makes the XL1 look like it should be able to run with the supercars, there is a tradeoff involved with having an engine with a total displacement approximately equal to one cylinder of a muscle car V8: the car doesn’t actually accelerate; it accumulates velocity and does so in its own good time. Volkswagen says that “if necessary” the XL1 can do 0-62 in “just” 12.7 seconds, which is about the same acceleration rate as a Smart ForTwo. On the other hand, the XL1’s electronically limited top speed of 99 is higher than the ForTwo’s.

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Volkswagen hasn’t said how many of the largely handcrafted XL1 will be produced or how much they will cost. It’s probably of academic interest in the U.S., however; it’s highly unlikely that Volkswagen will even try to certify the car for this market.

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