26 Feb 2013

VW XL1 - futuristic eco car. Should we be interested?

Volkswagen have released more details of their production ready hybrid, the XL1.  Is it of interest to petrolheads?

We like power.  We like V8s.  We like speed.  We like handling.  We like to enter THE ZONE.  So why the hell should we like the Volkswagen XL1?

The world is not running out of oil.  America and Canada are sitting on trillions of barrels of untapped black gold.  We could, if we wanted, just keep chucking petrol into our cars until we die.  But we have to take two things into account.

The first is that burning our favourite hydrocarbon is having an impact on our planet, and will continue to do so.  The second is that legislation is becoming ever stringent and taxes on our driving pleasures ever higher.  Governments like to collect our tax so they can give it to other people.  Governments also like to try and stop us killing ourselves, or other people, so they make sure car makers make cars that are less likely to do so.

Legislation makes fast cars heavier and increasing tax makes fast cars costlier to run.  We might not dispute the environmental impact of burning fuel but we know that governments hide behind green measures purely to collect more tax from us.  In that regard they are evil, and boringly unchanging.

So it falls to clever people, like Volkswagen, to deliver cars like the XL1.  It uses not much fuel, and it is of surprising interest to petrolheads.

VW quote three stats ahead of the usual guff about drivetrains and electric motors.  The first is that the XL1 weighs 795kg.  The second that it has a Cd of 0.189.  The third that it is only 45 inches tall.  That is incredibly light, incredibly efficient at cutting through the air and incredibly low to the ground.  It makes the Lotus Elise seem like a square headed elephant in comparison.

Light, low and slippery is good.  That means fast, right?

Now for the engine(s).  The diesel engine is a 2 cylinder affair of unknown capacity which produces 47bhp and the electric motor is a 27bhp unit.  Total power is 74bhp.  The gearbox is a 7 speed DSG.  Top speed is limited to 100mph.  0-62mph takes 12.7 seconds.  Economy is 261mpg.  Emissions are 21g/km of CO2.

The XL1's body is constructed from Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer and weighs 230kg, the drive train, including the battery, weighs 227kg, the running gear weighs 153kg, the electrical system weighs 105kg and the equipment (mainly the interior) weighs 80kg.

Volkswagen are very proud of these figures.  They don't normally quote them because they are so excessive on most cars.

The XL1 is certainly not fast, and it's tyres are skinny so it might not be very good round corners - but it is a step in the right direction.  It doesn't use new technology but it takes existing technology and refines it to the nth degree.  Until we get hydrogen fuelled motors and can wilfully burn water and air in our V8 supercars the XL1 represents the immediate future of motoring.  Lighter, smaller, more efficient, cheaper to run.

And that is of interest to petrolheads.  Theoretically at least.  Let the early adopters drive the XL1, we can benefit from its advances in our road cars.

And early adopters will be able to drive them.  VW is producing the XL1, in limited numbers.  The first models will arrive to market in 2014 and it'll cost in the order of £30,000.

Someone's got to write the future.  This is one version.  Petrolheads should be interested.