Monday, 30 June 2014

The Volkswagen XL1 is more important than you might think

I CAN only conclude David Cameron’s vow to get tough on all those City bankers is finally having an effect.

Why else would Volkswagen launch a car which – as far as I can tell – is designed specifically with them in mind? The rising stars of RBS, HBOS and Lloyds have long had a fascination with flashy German metal, as evidenced by all those Porsche 944 Turbos the Gordon Gekko generation drove in the 1980s and all the Audi R8s which have been lining London’s shinier streets these last few years.

However, all those efforts to get tough on bankers’ bonuses must be having an effect because the latest bit of German exotica to hit Britain’s roads uses a combination of an 800cc diesel engine and an electric motor rather than a whopping great V10. It’s also considerably smaller than a Ford Fiesta, won’t do 100mph and will be comprehensively outdragged at the lights by a diesel Skoda Fabia.

Yet the Volkswagen XL1 costs £98,515, making it more expensive than the BMW M5, the Porsche 911, the Maserati Granturismo and the Jaguar F-type. In essence, it’s a small city car you’d need to be on a Fred Goodwin-esque salary to even contemplate affording – and I still love it.

The XL1, aside from having a wonderfully sci-fi moniker which renders it cool in an instant, is significant because it opens up a whole new front in the long-running war of the supercars. Put simply, it does for MPG what the McLaren F1 and the Bugatti Veyron did for MPH. I’m aware of the irony of blowing the best part of a hundred grand on a car which takes saving money at the pumps to the extreme, but it somehow ekes 282 miles out a gallon. Try doing that in your Ecoboost Focus.

Doing 282mpg would – at the current going rate for diesel - get you from The Champion’s front door to Land’s End for a little over £8, and in a mad miniature two-seater which looks a bit like a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing crossed with something out of The Jetsons. Somehow, I think pursuing the edges of what’s possible with fuel economy has got to be more relevant than the battle to be the first out with a production car that does more than 300mph. In the same way the Jaguar XK120 eventually gave us everyday hatchbacks that could crack 120mph, maybe one day we’ll all be driving cars that do upwards of 200 to a gallon.

The first time I see some City stockbroker type driving an XL1 won’t be a moment of utter contempt. It’ll be quiet respect for someone test-piloting the future.

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