That's a nod to one of the creators of the original 1990s Hypercar project, from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). In short, the project championed fuel efficiency that was three to five times better than an ordinary passenger car, with an ultra-light structure, the extensive use of composites, and a hybrid powertrain.
We recently drove the XL1 on roads surrounding Volkswagen's Wolfsburg, Germany headquarters, and can testify that it's at once not like any other new or development car we've driven. It really is everything we'd expect of the concept, which aims to maximize efficiency without compromising usability too much. Yes, of course it's a little compromised—and frankly a little fragile-feeling—but it's emerged from Wolfsburg with a fun-to-drive element that we frankly hadn't expected.
Part vintage sports car?
Distilling it to a reference point: From behind the wheel—if you can manage to block out all the elements of futurism for the moment—it drives a lot like a vintage sports car.
There's no power assist, and this system, with its great centering, as you're so directly connected to the narrow 115/80R16 front tires (145/55R16 in back), reminds us what we're missing in bigger and heavier new vehicles. On the other hand, bumps ping through the carbon-fiber (plus some aluminum) structure, exposing the lack of noise insulation, and the structure doesn't feel rigid in the way that we've become used to in today's new cars.
When we get to the soundtrack, the vintage-sportscar comparisons do fall apart. Maybe cross it with just a bit of the aural personality of a perfectly-running Trabant. Whichever reference comes to mind—maybe a motorcycle engine running at limited revs, maybe an emergency generator—the 0.8-liter diesel twin has an unusual character in a car.
That engine—think a 1.6-liter TDI lopped in half and you really won't be far off—produces 48 horsepower; and packaged with it is a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (DSG). Also, there's a 27-hp electric motor system sandwiched in there—fed by a 5.5-kWh lithium-ion battery. With a full charge, the XL1 can go 31 miles, while the powertrain altogether produces 68 hp and 103 lb-ft in its 'boosting mode.'
You can manually select a pure-electric mode, although that mode was unavailable in our test car, so although the XL1 would take off on very light throttle applications in electric-only mode—and at lower steady-speed cruising the diesel twin would cycle on and off a bit like an A/C compressor, it seemed—the engine would be on whenever we were accelerating significantly.
Not quick, but perky enough
Some other sources that already drove the XL1 have called this a sluggish vehicle, taking an almost agonizing time to accelerate; but it's really all about expectations. Put the shifter in Drive and the XL1 feels quite perky—at least up to about 50 mph. Above there, the diesel twin and electric motor even together are a little less on their game; we reached 125 km/h (78 mph) pretty easily, but we wouldn't plan on a lot of two-lane passing. Top speed is limited to 99 mph.