Volkswagen‘s promise to one day sell a ‘one litre car’ – as in fuel needed to cover 100km (60 miles) rather than engine capacity – came a step nearer in Tokyo with the global introduction of the Twin Up.

This plug-in hybrid uses a diesel electric powertrain similar to that in the futuristic XL1 experimental car revealed three years ago.

The major difference is that the Twin Up has a more powerful electric motor and a larger lithium-ion battery to cope with its greater weight (1,205kg).

The motor has been uprated from 20kW to 35kW while the battery storage is 8.6kWh instead of 5.5kWh. The nose has had to be lengthened by 30mm so the powertrain will fit under the bonnet.

“It was easier to change the car than the transmission,” VW said.

The company claims 256mpg for the car, compared with just under 314mpg for the XL1. Respective CO2 figures are 27g/km and 21g/km.

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The powertrain pairs a 50bhp, 800cc two-cylinder diesel engine – half a diesel Golf engine – with the electric motor and a seven-speed twin clutch gearbox.

The car is said to run in full electric mode for up to 37 miles at a maximum 77mph. As a hybrid it produces a combined 75bhp and 215Nm of torque and, as a diesel can reach 90mph. It has a range of close to 700 miles using both power sources.

A full recharge takes two hours using a standard domestic socket. Battery power can be reserved until needed such as when entering cities where there are emissions taxes.

At the moment the Twin Up is only a study but has been designed so that it can be built on the same production line as the combustion and electric versions if a business case can be made for it.

“The XL-1 was a lighthouse car for us and we wanted to show that the lighthouse could be turned into a regular production vehicle,” VW said. “If people are interested we could maybe go the next step but it wouldn’t be very cheap.”

A Golf using similar technology will go on sale and is likely to be at the Geneva show next spring. That one will have the 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine with electric motor and a target of 188mpg.