Volkswagen XL1 138-MPG Diesel Plug-In Hybrid: Drive Report

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We didn't expect the Volkswagen XL1 to be as much fun to drive as it is.

Which makes it doubly a shame that Volkswagen won't be selling its radically efficient, two-seat, plug-in diesel hybrid XL1 model in North America.

At a price of 111,000 (roughly $153,000), the 250 XL1 cars that Volkswagen will build and sell in Europe are akin to a pricier modern-day analogue to the original 2000 Honda Insight.

Like that pioneering hybrid, the two-seat XL1 is supremely aerodynamic (its drag coefficient is 0.19), very light (1,750 pounds), and uses a tiny engine paired with an electric motor.

Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013

Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013

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Diesel twin hybrid

In this case, though, the engine is a 48-horsepower 0.8-liter direct-injected and turbocharged two-cylinder diesel (essentially half of a 1.6-liter VW four-cylinder diesel engine).

The XL1's 20-kilowatt (27-hp) electric motor sits between the engine and a seven-speed dry-clutch direct shift gearbox (DSG) dual-clutch automatic. Maximum combined output is 68 hp.

Also unlike the old Insight, the VW XL1 has a 5.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that can be plugged into the electric grid to recharge.

Volkswagen quotes up to 31 miles of all-electric range, though we'd caution that it's likely to be under fairly low-speed circumstances.

Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013

Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013

Enlarge Photo

It's the efficiency when running as a pure hybrid that's the truly impressive part: On the European cycle, the XL1 is rated at 138 mpg (1.7 liters per 100 km) once its battery is depleted and it's operating as a hybrid.

As always, take that figure with a large grain of salt, since European test cycles are very different to the EPA procedures that provide window-sticker fuel efficiency numbers.

Still, it's safe to say that the VW XL1 is a very, very efficient vehicle.

Dropping into low seat

Getting into the XL1 requires dropping into a molded-shell seat that's only a few inches above the pavement. The XL1 is just 2 inches above the pavement, the minimum allowed in Europe.

While it's visually long (153 inches), the XL1 is low (just 45 inches tall) and relatively narrow (66 inches).

The passenger seat is staggered about 6 inches behind that of the driver--though both seats slide and recline--which let VW take some width out by putting the passenger's left shoulder about 6 inches behind the driver's. They'd touch if they were parallel, but they don't.

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