And now for something completely different. Having brought you the skinny on the supercar wars going on between Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren - with a not exactly attainable Rolls Royce thrown in for good measure - we’ve saved the best thing from the Geneva motorshow until last.
While that might sound perverse based on the picture above, for our money the Volkswagen XL1 is the closest thing we’ve seen to the future of the car and so has got us rather excited. If you grew up as a kid with the likes of the Jetsons and the notion that flying hover boards might one day help us to wiz around, we reckon you’ll like the XL1.
It’s VW’s vision for the future of the efficient car, pushed to its absolute limit with the best technology we have today and the best brains Germany could throw at the problem. You might be looking at it thinking it looks like a concept, but no, they’re going to build it, exactly like the photos you see here.
It’s an idea that’s come from the Grandaddy of the VW group, a man called Ferdinand Piech. He’s responsible for Audi being where it is today, the reason VW now own Porsche, and is perhaps the most influential guy in the car industry.
And his pet project has been the so-called L1 for many years now. L1 stems from the fact that in Europe fuel economy is measured in the number of litres used per 100km, rather than MPG. Today, the very best, most-efficient cars can manage to cover about 100km on about 3 litres of fuel. But it’s been Ferdinand’s dream for some time to make one that needed only 1 litre to cover 100km. The equations are difficult, but for those of you scratching your heads with the maths, it’s equivalent to the car being able to achieve in excess of 280mpg (235mpg in US gallons).
In true VW style, the company claims it has beaten its own target figure and that the XL1 in fact needs only 0.9l of fuel to do 100km. But it’s the technology it uses to do this that makes it interesting.
The XL1 is a two-seater, and in between the cabin and dinky boot, there’s a 48 horsepower, two-cylinder diesel motor coupled to a hybrid system that you can plug in, so that the car will do 50kms in electric-only mode. Which sounds a bit puny really, but the XL1 can do 100mph too and 0-60 in about 12 seconds - which isn’t fast but arguably "fast enough". But what VW’s really done to make it all so economical is rip weight out of the car and make the shape super-aerodynamic. The L1 is therefore narrower than a normal car, because the passenger sits on a staggered seat that’s slightly behind and to the side of the driver.
The front is almost completely flush and - for the first time on a production car - VW’s persuaded legislators to let it use cameras instead of rear-view mirrors. The image you get is projected on to two small phone-like screens in the doors. You get old-fashioned wind-up windows though, because the unit weighs less than an electric lifter would. Oh, and - like those supercars - the structure is made out of carbon fibre. The upshot is that it weighs about 750kg (a Tesla’s twice that) and has the lowest drag coefficient of any car to have gone on sale to date. It’s also little over a metre tall - and it’s this diminutiveness that will be the first thing to strike you about the XL1 when you see one.
Wind-up windows apart, VW isn’t really going to make you suffer to hypermile, because the cabin’s got wonderful bucket seats trimmed in leather, pretty much stock VW switchgear which is dull, but all works perfectly, and a Garmin-based nav screen and infotainment system from the Up. The best bits are the wing doors, which aren’t a million miles away from the supercars on the other stands in Geneva.
There’s just one little problem, which you might have guessed would raise its thorny head. VW isn’t committing to a price just yet, or indeed how many XL1s it might make. But the rumour kicking around the car industry right now is that’s it’s going to cost about 70 grand and VW’s thinking of making only about 500 of them at first. Which, we suspect will mean that your jaw is now on the floor.
We won’t deny it’s expensive, but we’ve little doubt that for the pioneering, early adopter individuals who buy them it won’t matter that much. And it’s certainly more attainable than the supercars we’ve featured from Geneva. More importantly, we’d suspect you’d attract just as much attention in one of these as in LaFerrari. Most importantly, perhaps, it just feels like progress, it’s a technological marvel and it looks - and feels - like the future. The price might seem nuts, but just like those supercars, we’re very glad it exists.