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BBC Autos

Most fascinating green car of 2013: Volkswagen XL1

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

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    (Volkswagen)
  • Revolutionary road
    (Volkswagen)
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    Rear wheels are enclosed to help lower the XL1's coefficient of drag. (Volkswagen)
  • Revolutionary road
    The XL1 is built around a carbon-fibre-reinforced-polymer (CFRP) skeleton. (Volkswagen)
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    The XL1's diesel-electric powertrain is positioned just behind the cabin, for optimal weight distribution. (Volkswagen)
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    The passenger seat is installed slightly aft of the driver's seat, to afford more lateral room. (Jonathan Schultz)
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    Screens embedded in the doors receive real-time images from door-mounted cameras, which replace traditional side-view mirrors. (Volkswagen)
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    Despite the XL1's radical architecture, the cabin is reassuringly car-like. (Volkswagen)
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    (Volkswagen)
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    XL1s in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Jonathan Schultz)

HIDE CAPTION

For all the XL1’s otherworldliness – hyper-aerodynamic shape, carbon-fibre architecture, rear-view monitor screens – its neatest trick may be how familiar it feels to drive.

Piloting the 261mpg marvel through Volkswagen’s corporate base of Wolfsburg, Germany, the XL1 behaved more like the Golfs and Polos in my midst than some priceless Sunraycer prototype. And yet the technologies embodied by the XL1 represent the very vanguard of automotive engineering.

There is the carbon-fibre-reinforced-polymer (CFRP) body, which helps it achieve the lowest coefficient of drag of any car from a major automaker. There are those door-mounted monitors, which relay unambiguous, real-time footage to the cabin. The diesel-electric hybrid system still feels crude, but ringing through the powertrain’s din of ticks, gurgles and whines is another sound, clear as a bell – the sound of progress.

Read more about the Volkswagen XL1 here.

Second Opinion

BMW i3

(BMW Group)

Think BMW is all about hard-charging sporting cars? With an upright profile, motorbike-skinny tires and a battery-electric powertrain, the i3 challenges the very definition of a BMW. And that is no bad thing. – Matthew Phenix