Say what you want about the former VW chairman and chief executive’s borderline despotic management style, but he always knew how to push engineers to their limits, creating unique cars in the process. 

The Volkswagen XL1 plug-in hybrid is definitely that, and Piëch watched over the project from its very beginning, when it debuted in 2002 as the one-seater 1-Liter Concept. Eleven years and another concept car later (the 1L), the evolution was complete as VW engineers finally managed to fulfill Ferdinand Piëch’s task of building a production car that would average 1 liter of fuel per 100 kilometers, or 235 mpg. 

Not only did engineers accomplish that, but they also set the bar higher, with the XL1 boasting an official fuel economy rating of 0.9 l/100 km (261 mpg). This video from Doug DeMuro covers in great detail how they managed to hit this incredible milestone.

Gallery: Volkswagen XL1

Suffice to say the key ingredients were aerodynamics, lightweight materials, and a 47-hp 0.8-liter two-cylinder TDI diesel engine working with a 20-kW (27-hp) electric motor, a seven-speed DSG, and a 5.5-kWh lithium-ion battery. 

Thanks to this complex powertrain, the XL1 is able to cover up to 50 km (31 miles) in all-electric mode, a respectable figure even today for PHEVs. Since this car is all about mind-blowing numbers, allow us to mention a few more. It only weighs 795 kg (1,752 lbs), it has a 0.189 drag coefficient, and it cost €111,000 when new (the equivalent of around $150,000 at the time).

Given the price, it’s not surprising that VW only built 250 of them and probably lost a lot of money on each one. Making a profit was never the point, though, as the XL1 was created as a technological showcase of what VW was capable of doing at the time. 

As you can imagine, Doug had a field day with the XL1’s many quirks and features—and yes, he even got to drive it!

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