Volkswagen doesn’t get in touch with its wild side all that often, and, even when it does, it can’t help but water down wacky ideas until you’re left with yet another smart-but-soulless niche filler. Take the ID.3, for instance. It was a relatively smart-looking thing in concept form, hinting that VW’s electric future might not be as mundane as we all feared. Oh, how wrong we were.
As it turned out, the ID.3 retained the overall proportions of the concept car, with smaller wheels and woefully unimaginative trim options turning a potential head-turner into just another hatchback. Wind back the clock a decade, however, and VW looked as though it was building up to its own take on BMW’s fledgling electric range spearheaded by the i8 and i3. At the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, both manufacturers would unveil sleek hybrid prototypes with tiny turbodiesel engines. BMW’s concept would ultimately release with minor changes as the i8, while a few tweaks would see VW’s prototype hit the market as the XL1.
Like the i8, the XL1 demonstrated that hybrid cars needn’t be as dreary as a Toyota Prius. Firstly, it wasn’t nearly as heavy as we’d come to expect from a hybrid – or what we’ve seen since the rise of the EV. That’s all thanks to a carbon fibre tub, carbon seats and polycarbonate windows, which added up to a kerbweight of just 785kg. Of course, it helps that it’s also absolutely tiny, with the XL1 coming in shorter than a Polo and lower than a Lotus Elise. VW at least managed to squeeze a second seat next to the driver in the XL1, whereas the 2009 1L concept had the passenger sit behind the driver, but they’re staggered like a McLaren F1.
But the XL1 wasn’t designed to be a lightweight sports car, rather a highly efficient hybrid with an aversion to the pumps. At the heart of it is an 800cc, two-cylinder turbodiesel engine producing 50hp, which is paired up with an electric motor for a combined output of 67hp (though the ad claims a punchier 75hp). Not much at all, frankly, with a 0-62mph trundle taking 12.7 seconds. That being said, VW claimed that a top speed of 125mph is possible if all of the car’s power was deployed in one hit which, in a car the size of an almond, sounds like fun.
Of course, we know the XL1 isn’t about performance. The really impressive numbers all relate to efficiency. At the time of its release in 2013, the XL1 had the slipperiest body of any production car with a drag coefficient of 0.189Cd. While the claimed economy of 313mpg may be slightly optimistic – especially as it was measured using the notoriously iffy NEDC system – you can still expect an average run to return a fuel economy in the hundreds. You can’t say that for most of today’s hybrid eco boxes today, can you?
Unfortunately, the XL1 never ended up spawning the sort of cool electric sub-brand the i8 did. A Ducati-engined XL1 Sport was shown in concept form, but was sadly never released. It wasn’t long after when the company was caught up Dieselgate and attention was swiftly turned to fully electric vehicles. But the XL1 legacy lives on with its 200-strong production run. This is one of the later examples that, despite having two previous owners, has only covered 201 miles. These were near-£100,000 cars when new, with this box-fresh example coming in at £95,900. There are certainly faster and more exotic cars around for the money, but few will get engineering buffs weak at the knees quite like the XL1.
SPECIFICATION | VOLKSWAGEN XL1
Engine: 800cc two-cylinder turbodiesel plus electric motor
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 67@5,700rpm (combined)
Torque (lb ft): 103@1,750rpm (combined)
MPG: 313 (NEDC)
Year registered: 2015
Recorded mileage: 201
Price new: £98,500
Yours for: £95,900
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