2013 Volkswagen XL1 first drive

* Most fuel-efficient production car ever * Plug-in hybrid manages 313mpg; CO2 emissions of 21g/km * Limited run of 250 car; no suggestion of price...

2013 Volkswagen XL1 first drive

The Volkswagen XL1 is the most efficient production car in history, with a staggering Government fuel economy figure of 313mpg and CO2 emissions of just 21g/km.

The two-seater first appeared as a concept in 2011 and it was thought it would be used to help shape future fuel-efficient Volkswagens, but the company has now confirmed that 250 XL1s will go on sale.

The plug-in hybrid drivetrain uses a 47bhp 0.8-litre, two-cylinder diesel engine along with a 27bhp electric motor and a lithium-ion battery, which can be recharged from empty in only two hours.

Top speed is limited to 99mph and the XL1 is capable of accelerating from 0-62mph in 12.7 seconds

Whats the 2013 Volkswagen XL1 like to drive?
In some respects, the XL1 drives much like many other electric and hybrid cars, with the electric motor making for near-silent running at low speeds; the 31-mile pure-electric range means that most short journeys will be peaceful.

Unlike the Toyota Prius Plug-in or Vauxhall Ampera which use a petrol engine and an electric motor you do notice when the XL1 switches from battery to diesel power.

The two-cylinder engine is gruff when it fires up. It's at its worst at low speeds; as you get above 40mph it smoothes out and settles to a more pleasing thrum.

Aerodynamics are the main reason for that radical shape, and mean the XL1 has the lowest drag rating (0.189) of any car ever sold. This means it slips through the air with a whisper; there's no intrusive wind noise, despite minimal insulation. However, you can hear lots of road and engine noise.

In the bid to save weight, VW hasnt bothered with power steering, even though the tiny XL1 is surprisingly heavy to manoeuvre at low speeds. On the plus side the steering is very responsive which, combined with the rear-wheel-drive layout and well-controlled body movements, makes for an entertainingly nimble driving experience.

Gentle braking is dealt with by the regenerative system, which captures energy and uses it to charge the battery. This system is unobtrusive, though, and the brakes don't grab as much as those on some electric cars.

The XL1 also deals well with urban road surfaces, with a controlled and cushioned ride.

Whats the 2013 Volkswagen XL1 like inside?
You sit very low in the XL1, and the upward-opening doors and the wide sill make getting in and out a calculated affair.

There isnt a vast amount of space inside the XL1, despite it being a similar length and width to the VW Polo supermini. Your head is very close to the roof, meaning that very tall drivers will struggle to fit behind the wheel comfortably. The seat slides and tilts, but doesn't adjust for height. The wheel also adjusts for height and reach, so most drivers will have no problem getting comfortable.

The passenger's seat is next to, but marginally farther back from, the driver's, and there are very few cubbyholes one by the gearlever and a small compartment behind the driver's seat.

The XL1 uses a pair of cameras on the sides of the car, rather than mirrors, with the image appearing on two screens in the inside door panels. The screens are set lower and farther back than conventional door mirrors, and this takes some getting used to, as does viewing the artificial-looking images.

The boot is not large, at just 120 litres, but it's deep and regularly shaped, meaning it should easily take a pair of weekend bags.

Should I buy one?
As a technical achievement the XL1 is unparalleled. The gruff engine note at low speeds is the biggest downside, but this encourages you to stick to electric power when driving around town and use the engine at higher speeds.

While it isnt fast, the lightweight nature and lack of power steering makes the VW a hoot to drive, and being one of the 250 XL1 owners will be entertaining as well as informative.

It wont come cheap though. Volkswagen hasnt released a price, but has said that it may subsidise it heavily to make the XL1 affordable. We'll reserve rating the XL1 until a final decision is made on the price and a bigger production run.

Tom Webster

Toyota Prius Plug-in
Vauxhall Ampera

Read more Volkswagen reviews>>

Engine size 0.8-litre diesel and 20kw electric motor
Price from TBC
Power 74bhp
Torque 89lb ft
0-62mph 12.7sec
Top speed 99mph
Fuel economy 313mpg
CO2 g/km 21g/km