Should You Believe the ‘Hype’ On VW’s ‘261 MPG’ XL1?

Volkswagen’s “261-mpg,” range-topping, limited-production, diesel plug-in hybrid wundercar is either hyperbole or one extreme hypermiler, or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Even with careful driving, real world mileage from the XL1 is said to sometimes plummet to less than 50-percent of VW’s exalted claim, according to Automobile magazine.

The mystical European concept of a “one liter car” – that can burn one liter of fuel for 100 kilometers, or 235 mpg – is something VW says the XL1 thoroughly achieves with room to spare, but this it said it verified on its generous test cycle in Europe.

Myths were shattered however when Automobile sent a big heavy driver – six-feet, eight-inches tall and weighing 264 pounds – to occupy the driver’s seat of the two-seater on a press drive event in Switzerland.

On a six-hour trip from Lucerne to Geneva the car netted about 160 mpg, said the writer, describing the adventure in Automobile’s July printed issue.

“In theory, the XL1’s 5.5-kwh lithium-ion energy cells provide about 30 miles of electric-only driving. In reality, it is almost impossible to maintain the steady pace required to reach this goal, wrote Automobile of the 1,753-pound, super aerodynamic car with 47 horsepower diesel power merged with 27 horsepower electric motor. “ … After 135 miles in test car number three, the trip computer reports the equivalent of 147 mpg, an average speed of 23 mph (which, even for Switzerland, is very slow), and 127 miles of range,” he continued later in the article.

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“This isn’t the whole story, because my consumption hovered around 118 mpg in test cars one and two,” continued Automobile’s writer, “ excellent for a two seater that can top 100 mph but below par among a competitive group of pussy footers.”

In short, the writer said he and others really tried to nurse the drive to achieve better mpg, he never went faster than 78 mph, but this is what he got.

We weren’t told what other writers got, and for certain someone at Volkswagen has somehow managed well over 200 mpg, even if it was not reported on this day.

And, to help balance the account, Automobile’s writer does add that mpg in excess of 100 mpg is still fantastic, and the XL1 is very fun to drive.

“The steering is honest and keen, the chassis is firm and stable, the brakes are prompt and well balanced, the skinny tires have more grip than their small contact patches suggest,” he wrote, suggesting more potential for VW’s car only expected to sell 1,000 units in Europe.

In a separate story in the same issue, Automobile suggested the XL1 could morph into a “groundbreaking” sports car. It’s cd is 0.19, its curb weight is absurdly low, and all it needs is more motive power – such as from an off-the-shelf GTI turbo – and perhaps suspension, tires and brakes updated to handle the extra forces.

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Automobile says VW is in fact considering whether the XL1 could be modified to embarrass a Porsche 911 without too much re-engineering. With help from more zing under the hood, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde treatment could turn VW’s hypermiler into a sub-$50,000, 1,875-pound, carbon-bodied aerodynamic arrow of a car that can sprint an honest 0-62 in 4.5 seconds, and nearly top 190 mph – and, at around $50,000, half the expected price of the hypermiler version!

Or so the ruminations go, yet dependent on decisions by VW’s “bean counters.”

Or, yet further, is this a continuation of the “hype” cycle that keeps frothing up excitement and selling magazines – this time, however, it could be either potential hyperbole again, or one day we may see the XL1 turned into an ultralight hypersports car

To be fair, this is hypothetically possible. Maybe it will happen. We’ll keep you posted.