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201324 Feb

volkswagen xl 1

Dolphin-inspired design ensures low Cd of just 0.189.


Dr Ferdinand Piech is a visionary. The man challenged his engineers to produce some of the world’s most iconic motorcars, and they’ve delivered. The Bugatti Veyron, the fastest production car of all time, was a Piech dream. So was the Volkswagen Phaeton, a luxury limousine built to the highest standard. And now this – the Volkswagen XL1


Legend has it that back in the year 2000, at the turn of the new millennium, Piech asked his engineers to design and develop a one-litre car. By that, he meant a car capable of travelling 100 kilometres on a single litre of fuel. (In Germany, fuel efficiency ratings are in litres per 100 kilometres, or x/100 ). In 2002, the first prototype, the L1, was revealed. Since then, the car evolved to the XL1 which we see on these pages today.

While the original concept sought to accommodate two people in tandem, one behind the other, in the XL1 a more conventional side-by-side seating arrangement has been arrived at, with the driver sitting slight ahead of the passenger.


vw xl1 schematic


The styling draws inspiration from nature, with Volkswagen’s engineers and aerodynamicists studying dolphins for clues to reduce drag to a minimum. The XL1 scores a figure of just 0.189 Cd (coefficient of drag), making it one of the most aerodynamic cars ever produced.
The overlying ethos of the XL1 is to look at every component of a motorcar and optimise it to the utmost, while still delivering everyday practical motoring, so be it the aerodynamics, the powertrain, the tyres etc, every part of the VW XL1 chases the highest possible efficiency.


The Volkswagen XL1 uses CRFP or carbon fibre reinforced polymers for a large part of its construction, including the monocoque tub, body panels and even the front anti-roll bars. The entire car weighs just 795 kg, which while not the lightest (the Tata Nano weighs less), is still very lightweight, considering the cars passes all crash and safety legislation in Europe.

Of this figure, 227 kg represents the entire drive unit including the battery, 153 kg the running gear, 80 kg the equipment and 105 kg the electrical system. That leaves 230 kg, which is precisely the weight of the body – produced largely of CFRP − including wing doors, front windscreen with thin-glass technology and the highly safe monocoque. A total of 21.3 percent of the new XL1, or 169 kg, consists of CFRP. In addition, Volkswagen uses lightweight metals for 22.5 percent of all parts (179 kg). Only 23.2 percent (184 kg) of the new XL1 is constructed from steel and iron. The rest of its weight is distributed among various other polymers (e.g. polycarbonate side windows), metals, natural fibres, process materials and electronics.


vw xl1 interior


Thanks to CFRP, the XL1 is not only light in weight, but very safe too. Aluminium impact beams are concealed within the swing doors, and if ever the XL1 rolls over in a crash, pyrotechnic screws on the lower structure make it easy to prise apart the monocoque to access the passengers.

Sustainability is equally important, and the use of a natural, wood-based material for the dashboard moulding and recyclable fabrics for the upholstery ensure that the XL1 will be environmentally friendly to use, produce and recycle over its entire lifecycle.


volkswagen xl1 powertrain


Volkswagen’s engineers have deduced that a diesel and electric hybrid powertrain is the best possible solution to achieve the dream target of 1 litre per 100 kilometres. To this effect, a rear-mounted two-cylinder diesel engine and electric motor are used to power the rear wheels, driving through a 7-speed DSG gearbox. The hybrid unit, comprising the electric motor and clutch, is positioned between the TDI engine and the DSG gearbox. The electric motor doubles up as the flywheel as well, and while coasting or braking performs as a generator too, recharging the battery.

However, the diesel engine can be decoupled from the drive entirely, propelling the XL1 on electric power alone for up to 50 kilometres, depending on the available charge in the battery.

The two-cylinder TDI diesel engine displaces just 0.8 litres, and is essentially half of Volkswagen’s more common 1.6 TDI unit, which powers the VW Vento for example. This engine produces 48 PS / 120 Nm, and is aided by the electric motor, which is rated at 27 PS / 140 Nm.

The electric motor assists the diesel engine while starting off from standstill, or when the driver requires more acceleration. Still, the combined power of the drivetrain can get the XL1 from standstill to 100 km/h in just 12.7 seconds, which is quicker than the Polo 1.2 TDI for example. Top speed is electronically limited to 160 km/h.


The VW XL1 has sophisticated double wishbone front suspension and ceramic front brakes, and these have been chosen as much for light weight as for optimum performance. At the rear, the XL1 utilises a more conventional semi-trailing arrangement.

The tyres are ultra-low rolling resistance construction, 115/80 R15 in front, and 145/55 R16 at the rear.


Probably one of the coolest aspects about the XL1 is its swing doors, which look truly futuristic in their operation. Further, the XL1 has no outside rear view mirrors, relying instead on rear view cameras which project an image onto two screens on the inside of the doors, called e-Mirrors. These e-Mirrors are factory adjusted as the XL1 rolls out of Volkswagen’s Osnabruck facility, but provide a broad field of vision boasting more coverage than conventional mirrors.

The Volkswagen XL1 also has a small 120-litre boot, which should be enough for odds and ends and the run to the shops, but don’t expect to carry your house with you.


The XL1 will not come cheap, that’s for sure, but it will surely be well received. It epitomises green while also appearing very, very cool, and while not many people will achieve 111 km/l in daily driving, even rear world figures shall be expectedly shattering. With a theoretical range of more than 1,000 kilometres, the Volkswagen XL1 won’t be reduced to an about-town novelty, like so many others of its ilk, but will actually be able to travel across continental Europe quite capably. Where exactly you will keep your luggage is another matter altogether, but the XL1 is a workable, viable peek into the future of personal mobility.


vw xl1 rear


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