In production since 1974, the world-famous Volkswagen Golf compact hatchback is now in its seventh incarnation. And while the Golf platform has been a test-bed for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle drivetrains since the late 1970s, it’s taken Volkswagen forty years to officially bring production versions of an all-electric Golf and plug-in hybrid Golf to market.
Shortly after launch, the Volkswagen eGolf and soon-to-launch Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid account for a tiny proportion of Volkswagen’s total Golf sales. But when Volkswagen launches the eighth-generation Golf some time in 2019, its design will be heavily influenced by one of Volkswagen’s other plug-in vehicles — the limited-production, $100,000 Volkswagen XL1 Plug-in Hybrid.
That’s according to AutoCar, which says that the ultra-efficient two-seat car will lend some of its tech to the next-generation Golf in a bid to reduce the emissions output of every Golf model, plug-in or not.
The XL1 — which we were lucky enough to drive last October — is powered by a tiny 20 kilowatt electric motor married to a 47 horsepower, two-cylinder diesel engine. Although capable of all-electric motion, the XL1 is happiest when blending both power plants for super-efficient cruising, managing a 60 mph cruise with an unbelievably small amount of energy.
This efficiency isn’t just down to the XL1’s tiny engine and electric motor however: it’s due to its extremely lightweight aluminium construction and low coefficient of drag. With narrow wheels, a pronounced Kammback and rear view cameras taking the place of rear-view mirrors, the XL1’s coefficient of drag is just 0.189 — lower than that of General Motors’ legendary EV1.
Essentially a peek into the future of the Volkswagen family, the XL1 is simply too costly, too impractical and too compromised to be used as a daily driver, yet its almost test-bed existence has allowed Volkswagen to field-test energy saving technology which would ordinarily never make it to market.
It’s these features that AutoCar’s insider sources say will feature in the 2019 Volkswagen Golf. Built on the same underlying MQB platform as the current-generation Golf — which we also note is designed to take a variety of different fuel types and drivetrains — the 2019 Golf will be sleeker, and lighter than the current model, driving down fuel consumption. Expect more aerodynamic body panels, a sleeker design, and perhaps even rear-view cameras instead of mirrors. That’s if VW can convince governments around the world to allow them in a mass-production car, of course.
Yet in order to retain some practicality as a family hatchback, Volkswagen’s engineers will be forced to make a compromise between ultra-efficient design and day-to-day usability. With European targets mandating all new cars have an emissions output of less than 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2020, the next-generation Golf will need to examine drivetrain efficiency too.
While that may not mean an all-electric solution, AutoCar says Volkswagen is looking at several alternative-fuel, alternative-drivetrain solutions, including KERS-style hybrid flywheel systems. In addition, insiders say, Volkswagen’s engineers are developing advanced gearboxes capable of decoupling the powertrain from the wheels to maximise coasting at both low and high speeds, as well as working on electric turbochargers to increase the power output of small-cylinder engines.
Many readers will argue that Volkswagen is taking a rather illogical and indirect route on the path towards inevitable electrification of its fleet. But while we hope Volkswagen moves forward to introduce a wide range of plug-in and zero emissions vehicles we think it’s equally as important that VW decreases the carbon emissions of its internal-combustion engine vehicles.
Flywheel hybrid technology, combined with lightweight design and electric turbochargers won’t give the next-generation Golf the same fuel efficiency as a 100 per cent plug-in car. But if Volkswagen’s next-generation Golf can change the carbon emissions of all of its owners rather than just those wealthy enough to afford a fully-electric car, we think it’s a step in the right direction.
And a leaner, greener car fitted with futuristic fuel-saving technology, is an evolved form of transport, too.
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