This might become another future car we are promised but never get. At the very least, it would make a good prop car for a remake of Woody Allen's "Sleeper." But one quick drive reveals this much: The Volkswagen
XL1 is a real car, nearly as tangible as a Chevrolet
Lift the gullwing door, step over the wide inside rocker panel, and you settle into a comfortable Seat
with a wide, curved windshield and decent-size door windows with tollbooth access. Hit the starter button once without a foot on the brake pedal (real as the car feels, it isn't federalized, here or there). Blip the throttle and then put a foot on the brake and hit the start button again. From here on, any auto journalist who has driven any number of cobbled-together concept cars will realize the XL1 is remarkably complete. With switchgear you'd recognize from any late-model VOLKSWAGEN GOLF
or Polo, it feels like a factory-fresh car.
Slip the gearshift into "D." You can't sequentially shift the seven gears, because VW is pushing maximum efficiency. Let off the non-assisted brakes, tip in carefully, and the VW quietly, gracefully eases out from the hotel driveway into a nearly empty street. It's 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday in Doha, Qatar, and the stunt car drivers who make up the local populace are on busier streets a few blocks ahead. The XL1's entourage includes a Toyota Land Cruiser
cop car, a VW CC, and a VOLKSWAGEN Touareg
camera car leading, and another VOLKSWAGEN Touareg
covering the XL1's backside.
There's no rear window. The 74-horsepower plug-in hybrid midship powerplant, consisting of a lithium-ion battery-powered motor, a 0.8-liter two-cylinder turbodiesel (half the European market 1.6-liter TDI) with a much-needed balance shaft, and a seven-speed dual sequential gearbox (DSG) is in back, driving the rear wheels. While the fender-skirted two-door bodystyle recalls the GM EV-1 from some angles, the roof panel where the rear window would be is right off the Tatra T77. Sideview mirrors are tiny cameras halfway down each gullwing door panel, with video screens fairly low at the leading edges of the interior outboard armrests to reduce glare. They're effective, and VW engineers will speak hopefully about changing safety laws, but it's good to have that VOLKSWAGEN Touareg
covering in back.