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Super-high MPG XL1

It may only end up being a showcase model built in limited numbers, but Volkswagen seems determined to put its super-fuel-efficient XL1 into production, if only to have bragging rights to the world’s highest mileage car. As previewed to the media in February, the small two-passenger model delivers 261 mpg combined(!) in testing based on Europe’s drive cycle (which tends to deliver higher fuel economy estimates than the revised U.S. EPA test cycle).

To achieve those extraordinary numbers, which even exceed VW’s stated goal with this series of experimental  1-liter cars of 100 kilometers per liter of fuel, the XL1 uses  a lightweight carbon fiber body, a 47-horsepower 2-cylinder 800cc TDI (diesel) engine paired with a 27-horsepower electric motor and a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.  According to VW, it will be capable of running for up to 32 miles on its lithium-ion batteries alone. The total weight of the vehicle is only 1,753 pounds, less than half the weight of a typical sedan.

In size, the plug-in hybrid  XL1, which carries its two passengers side-by-side–but slightly offset–is slightly shorter and narrower than VW’s smallest European model, the Polo. The XL1 is 153.1 inches long, 65.6 inches wide and only 45.4 inches tall (shorter than a Porsche Boxster. It’s quite a bit more aerodynamic than anything else on the road with a 0.19 Cd, employing the vehicle’s curves and shape to channel the wind around the car and maximize fuel economy.

Volkswagen has produced two previous versions of this high-mileage car, but this is the first time it has said the vehicle will go into production. Guesses are that the volume will be low because of its price (which wasn’t announced, but is expected to be high due to the expensive technology included on the car) and the limited appeal of a two-passenger car.

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VW XL1 uses carbon fiber, exotic materials

Some reports have VW using the plug-in hybrid system and carbon fiber in other models, which would amortize the cost somewhat. VW has a new line of vehicles–the Up!, named World Car of the Year in 2012 and expected to launch in the U.S. later this year. The current European engine for the car is a 1-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine that delivers more than 50 mpg in combined driving (based on the European drive cycle).

There is some trade-off for the XL1’s high mileage. It’s top speed is regulated to 99 mph (pretty slow for the autobahn) and it will take 12.7 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph, which is an eternity if you’re trying to merge from a freeway on ramp. With its urban efficiency focus, it’s unclear where VW will take the car to beyond its home European market. Initially, the company is reported to consider it unlikely it will come to the U.S.