Just around the corner: In the near future we could all be doing 313 miles per gallon

 

Cue spacy sci-fi soundtrack. The scene is a city suburb, the time not yet reached but within conceptual grasp. Straight dual carriageways laid out in a grid, linked by roundabouts and oddly free of restrictive speed limits, mark out some planner's vision of a car-dependent utopia.

A silver, pod-like, individual-transport module appears in the distance on the far carriageway, shaped something like an old-fashioned car but smaller, lower, narrower, sleeker. We, too, are in a similar silver pod and our view aft is via a pair of high-resolution, iPhone-like screens set just below the forward edges of the side windows. Rear-facing cameras just above and behind the front wheels capture the images with surprising clarity.

So, where are we? Milton Keynes, probably the closest Britain currently has to a future city and the home of Volkswagen's UK importer. And what are we in? A VW XL1, the most economical car there has ever been, despite a 99mph top speed and an ability to nudge 62mph (the 100km/h metric benchmark) in 12.7 seconds. It's a real car, albeit a cosy one with two seats. And you can, maybe, buy one.

This XL1 is no concept car, but it does represent a very serious research and development project for Volkswagen. An initial batch of 50 is already roaming the roads, and 200 more are to be built of which the British importer is hoping to offer 20 or 30. The price of early adoption is high, at around £94,000. So, what would you be adopting?

Something as state of the art as a car, currently, can reasonably be. It's a plug-in hybrid, of course; that's a future-facing must-have. Its structure is made of carbonfibre injected with resin at high pressure in a mould, one reason why it weighs just 795kg, while the front tyres are as skinny as a Citroën 2CV's, helping its slippery aerodynamics.

The engine is mounted behind the cabin, in unit with the electric motor and the seven-speed, double-clutch gearbox, which can work only in XL1-knows-best automatic mode. You might expect the engine to be a rough, vibratory thing given that it's an 800cc turbodiesel with just two cylinders, but a balancer shaft keeps the 48bhp flowing with decorum. The electric motor provides a further 27bhp, enough to zoom the XL1 for up to 31 miles on its own if the battery is fully charged. The motor can also add to the diesel's efforts when you want to accelerate hard, the combined outputs touching 69bhp.

Now, the vital numbers. On the official tests, the XL1 scores a scarcely believable 313mpg with a 21g/km CO2 output. Just think: if all cars could do that… But can it do so and still feel like a credible car?

The lightweight doors with their polycarbonate windows open upwards and forwards. I settle into the driving seat and pull the door closed, taking in a dashboard made from lightweight, plastic-covered wood fibre and a set of pure, simple instruments and switches. Some are recognisable from other Volkswagens, apart from those indicating electricity consumption and reserves. I press the start button and, noiselessly, we're ready.

We swish on to the road, various harmonic whines indicating electric activity aft; the engine joins in without the merest jerk as we accelerate harder. At cruising speeds, the engine runs very slowly but there's still plenty of acceleration available, and no wind rush at all. Despite the lack of power steering, unnecessary in a light car with narrow front tyres, the XL1 feels light, crisp and responsive when a roundabout inevitably arrives. It's fun to drive in the way a small, light car should be.

That sci-fi future is clearly sliding towards us. If this (price apart) is how small cars will be, then it can't come a second too soon.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

    £64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

    Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam