Ultimate School Run: Volkswagen XL1 Encounter

Superb result on the school run this morning, as a Volkswagen XL1 hybrid swooped in at Orla’s school: moving on a public road right in front of my eyes. Dads love the ultimate school run challenge – what car to take to freak their kids’ friends out – so I’ve seen and employed some cool school run cars in my time, but this was the winner by miles.

330 miles in fact, as that’s what the XL1 can eke from one imperial gallon of diesel. The 795-kilogram carbon-fibre body is beautifully shaped and exceptionally aerodynamic: a drag coefficient of 0.186 is half that of the Porsche 918 Hybrid. The XL1’s low drag means that 62 mph can be maintained on a level road using only 8 horsepower.

Volkswagen XL1 School Run 2

Volkswagen XL1 Encounter

I’ve loved the Volkswagen L and XL concept cars since the first one was shown in 2009. They are absolute fantasy cars, so what full-on madness to see one on the road and in the carbon fibre. A tiny machine at less than 4 metres long, it still has more than enough space to do 90% of your motoring.

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The styling is pure sports car, with the roof just over three feet off the ground. I could not resisting parking up for a chat with the driver, who turned out to be Volkswagen UK ‘s ‘hybridisation’ programme manager. He told me how only 32 examples are coming to the UK from the total production run of 200 vehicles: two will stay on the press and demo fleet while the rest are up for grabs. With names like Peter Gabriel on the customer enquiry list, I have no doubt that the XL1 will sell out pretty sharpish.

The hinged doors are light and easy to operate. Fit and finish across the body is sublime: Volkswagen actually developed and patented a new system for the manufacture of the Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer parts on the car called the Resin Transfer Moulding process. A bare chassis weighs just 230 kilograms, the complete interior weighs only 80 kilograms.

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Less than one-quarter of the car’s weight is iron or steel: just 184 kilograms. The car saves weight by using magnesium wheels, ceramic brakes and aluminum brake calipers, steering components and suspension.

Sitting in the XL1 is familiar Volkswagen territory, albeit the dash is reduced down to the (very smartly presented) barest essentials. Less familiar are the door mirrors: rear-facing cameras with iPhone 3G-sized screens embedded into the door panels. The seats are comfortable if a little flat and hard – light weight could mean sore arse in the long run – and anyone with bad knees won’t be buying this car: it is super low when getting in and out.

Volkswagen XL1 School Run 4

The XL1 has an 800cc two-cylinder common rail TDI diesel engine developing 48 PS, linked to an electric motor producing 27 PS. Total output of 75 PS is well enough in such a light car. XL1 has a seven-speed DSG gearbox. The electric motor can either work independently of the TDI engine or in tandem when accelerating.

Electric range is 50 kms, 0-60 is 11.9 seconds but the effect of seeing it on the road is where the real WOW happens. If I had the £98k required to put this car in my garage, I would be all over it immediately.

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