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Ten years of the Volkswagen XL1

A look back at a super-efficient VW.

It’s ten years since the outlandish VW XL1 appeared, so it’s time to remind ourselves of what it was all about.

The motoring world was a very different place a decade ago when the Volkswagen XL1 was announced. The combustion engine was still very much king, and for anyone wanting to take a more eco-friendly approach to driving there was the all-electric Nissan Leaf launched in 2011 or the hybrid Toyota Prius. And not a great deal else.

Nowadays, of course, it’s all about the rush towards electrification and as the ban on cars powered purely by internal combustion looms it seems not a day goes by without the launch of a new EV. But let’s go back that ten years and re-visit a car that, well, was a bit unexpected. Not to mention attention-grabbing.

Volkswagen is a company that has never been afraid to innovate, but even for them the announcement of the XL1 was somewhat left-field. They’d been toying with the idea for a super-economical vehicle for a few years, but the appearance of this aerodynamic car at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show still caused a few sharp intakes of breath.

For one thing it looked like nothing else on the road. The incredibly sleek bodywork – constructed in large part from lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced polymer – was an aerodynamic masterpiece, and featured supercar-style swing-up doors. And then there was the technology beneath the skin.

Ten years of the Volkswagen XL1

Claimed to be the most fuel efficient vehicle in the world, the Volkswagen XL1 was powered by a 48bhp, two-cylinder diesel engine paired with a 27bhp electric motor. A 5.5kWh lithium-ion battery allowed an electric only range of more than 30 miles, but it was the overall economy claims that grabbed the headlines. The official numbers said it should be capable of 313mpg with CO2 emissions of just 24g/km.

Those were spectacular figures, and while (just like today) you weren’t likely to achieve such parsimony in the real world there was certainly the potential to sip tiny amounts of fuel. It wasn’t just the innovative powertrain that helped achieve this, though. Alongside the slippery aerodynamics a focus on lightness meant the two-seater weighed in at just 795kg. As well as the high-tech materials used in its construction the XL1 boasted ceramic front brake discs and magnesium wheels shod with skinny, low rolling resistance tyres.

VW planned to make just 250 examples, so it was going to be a rare beast, but it was also going to be an expensive one. Pricey cars don’t raise much of an eyebrow today but the XL1 carried a price tag of nigh-on £100,000 and that, quite frankly, was a lot. It put the car in somewhat rarefied company, although anyone tempted to part with this much cash was getting something that would garner attention like little else. At least you wouldn’t be spending much on fuel…

Fast forward to 2023 and its looks still have the power to draw a crowd, and owning something this rare will also hold its own appeal. Which brings us to buying one, and you won’t be surprised to discover that they aren’t exactly common in the classifieds although we did find a couple for sale, both with asking prices the other side of £95,000.

Ten years of the Volkswagen XL1

It’s still an expensive proposition, then, but as the complete antithesis to the never ending procession of super-fast, super-heavy SUVs we can’t help thinking it’s more than a little tempting…

Find more info:

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Association of British VW Clubs

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