The options raced past my eyes like the fruit on a slot-machine drum. Maybe I’d fuel half a dozen passes down the drag strip in Dick Landy’s wheelying ’65 Dodge Coronet. Pull off one flying lap of VW’s Ehra Lessien test track in a Bugatti Chiron. Maybe I’d hook up with Markku Alén and ride shotgun as he went maximum attack on a section of the Tour de Corse in a Lancia 037, because that’d be almost as much fun as doing it badly myself. I could have picked any of those. Instead I picked a diesel hybrid.
Not just any diesel hybrid, though, but Volkswagen’s incredible XL1, so named for its ability to travel 100km on one litre of fuel. That’s 313mpg in old money. VW imported 26 into the UK for Brits who paid £98,515 for the privilege. At that price, if you bought one to save money on the commute, there really wouldn’t be any oil left by the time it had washed its face. But the fact remains, this is the most frugal car ever put into production.
Yeah, I know, choosing the most frugal car on the planet to make your last gallon last longer sounds as misguided as watering down the world’s last pint of beer 10 times over to make it do the same. Better to enjoy the pure hit and, forever after, the memory of it, right?
But there’s one very good reason why I chose it. I want to split my gallon in two. Driving solo is fun, but the real thrill is always in the chase, so I’d share my gallon with a friend and duel to the death. Which, given how frugal the XL1 is, might take a while, even with only half a gallon in the tank.
And that’s because the XL1 was built with the single-minded focus we normally only see in the craziest supercars, and much of their tech, too, only repurposed to maximise eciency. It features a carbon chassis, ceramic brakes and gullwing doors. It looks like the love child of a Citroën SM and McLaren Speedtail, shrunk to 2:3 scale. The XL1 is tiny. Shorter than a Polo and further from the sun than a Ferrari. It weighs just 795kg. And it’s huge fun to drive. That part I wasn’t expecting.
The unassisted steering feels unfashionably heavy – and unfashionably communicative. Driving one is a physical experience, but the feel and accuracy of the front end keys you into corners like no other fuel-sipper, and quite a few supposed sports cars I’ve driven. The puny 115mm front tyres don’t flop onto their sidewalls on corner entry and, because 55 per cent of its mass sits over the real wheels, the XL1 barely needs to slow for bends. Which is good, because you really want to maintain momentum in the XL1. First, because the carbon brakes are dicult to modulate, and second, because there are scooters with more poke. Power comes from a combination of a 5.5kWh plug-in battery and 27bhp electric motor, which has a range of up to 31 miles. But not how we’re planning to drive it, it doesn’t. At higher loads and speeds the tiny 800cc, 47bhp diesel – half a Golf TDI’s 1.6 – takes over, but push the throttle down hard beyond the detent and the two power units team up to provide a combined 68bhp and 103lb ft of torque.
The XL1 isn’t fast, but it’s fun to extract what performance there is. Top speed is limited to 99mph, and 0-62mph takes 12.9sec. The crazy 0.186 Cd factor means the XL1 requires just 8bhp to cruise at 62mph. Accelerating through the gears, you surf a wave of low-rev torque that gives you a satisfying tap on the shoulder. There’s no manual mode for the DSG transmission, so for my hypothetical duel I’d just mash the pedal and go, hope to be ahead by the first corner, and then keep my eye on the not very good camera-based side mirrors (tech that only just made it to Audi’s e-Tron) and be prepared for any attacks from behind. And I’d flip the bird to Moody, Smith and Walton as I passed them, parched at the side of the road.
I’ve chosen the 313mpg XL1 for a reason. I’d split my last gallon in two. Driving solo is fun, but the real thrill is always in the chase