It’s not often you can truly say you’ve had a real glimpse into the future. Cars, much like any piece of technology, may undergo improvements year on year, but these can sometimes be no more than incremental adjustments, with an extra line on the bonnet or an extra few inches of space added to the back seats.
Well, that definitely wasn’t the case at our Benfield Volkswagen dealership on Scotswood Road recently, which was paid a visit by the very futuristic Volkswagen XL1, and with only 250 of these hyper hybrids produced in the world, it felt like a visit of regal proportions.
Rolling as cool as you like into the dealership’s car park, the XL1’s body shape received more than a few double takes from passers-by, with a hidden rear wheel design lifted straight from the next Tom Cruise sci-fi flick and swinging DeLorean-style gullwing doors that announced the arrival of the Volkswagen technician in an even more dramatic fashion than Marty McFly in the year 2015.
A quick mention of the visit on Benfield’s social media channels had a stream of Volkswagen fans turning up to gawk at the car’s incredible curves and otherworldly appearance. Such was the buzz that even former Olympic triple jump champion and Benfield ambassador Jonathan Edwards popped round to take the car for a spin.
With such a limited production run, the XL1 showcases the kind of cutting edge technology we can all expect in maybe 10 to 20 years’ time. However, we’re not talking the kind of technology that’s going to leave a Lambo in the dust, no, the XL1’s credentials lie elsewhere.
It’s interesting that today’s motorists prize fuel economy as highly as performance, with office workers just as likely to gather around the water cooler to play top trumps with mpg figures as they are with, mph, 0-60 and engine size. Well, when it comes to economy, the XL1 is in a class of its own, with the manufacturer’s claim of an average 313mpg making it the most frugal production car released to date and by some margin.
What has been achieved by Volkswagen’s technical geniuses with the XL1 can’t be overstated, with the car able to travel 100km on 1 litre of diesel, or in all electric mode over 1 kilometre on less than 0.1kWh.
Everything has been stripped back to make the car lighter and cheaper to run, with heavier features such as electric windows (which have been swapped for old-school roll up handles) and side and rear view mirrors dispensed with.
Absolutely every design decision made has been informed with weight in mind, from the magnesium flush wheels and carbon-fibre reinforced plastic body parts to the carbon-ceramic brakes and the polycarbonate windows. It’s a triumph in economical design; so much so that the car was rightly given its own pedestal at the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year exhibition earlier this year.
That’s not to say that the XL1 comes free of any bells and whistles. Mirrors are replaced with side monitors that transmit live footage of the outside world, with views extended far beyond those afforded by traditional side mirrors and the car’s ‘tear drop’ design provides visibility of the traffic behind you.
Taking the car for a spin (well, it felt rude not to) I was pleasantly surprised that, despite such a low seating position and a heavy emphasis on economy, drive quality hadn’t been compromised, with features such as a quick and light touch throttle response and an adequate top speed of 100 mph proving that this car can indeed function in the real world.
Handling was also a joy, with the unassisted steering, which although sounds slightly alarming in today’s world of power steering, is actually pretty nifty and utilises the car’s narrow design and thin front tyres to best effect.
With a reported 30 XL1’s released in the UK at a price of around £100,000, don’t expect to see one in the rush hour traffic any time soon. However, this car is about showcasing where the industry is headed and the huge possibilities of hybrid technology, and for that Volkswagen has to be commended.
Chris Knox (aka the Benfield Blogger) brings you regular blogs on an array of diverse subjects; from motoring industry news and reviews to the latest goings on at Benfield Towers, as well as what gets him riled up on the road.