Three-row crossovers are big money makers. Cooler than minivans and more practical than five-seat crossovers, these big models appeal to families and continue to sell well. Volkswagen wants to join the action and announced its intention to join the three-row segment with the CrossBlue concept shown at the Detroit auto show.
Volkswagen, however, wasn't content to simply roll out a spacious crossover. The German brand's concept has an advanced diesel plug-in hybrid powertrain -- we also saw it last year on the five-passenger CrossCoupe TDI concept -- as well as electric all-wheel drive. Although much of the engineering for the CrossBlue was handled in Germany, Volkswagen says this vehicle was designed exclusively for the United States and Canada, with plenty of input from Volkswagen's North American teams.
The powertrain begins with Volkswagen's latest 2.0-liter turbodiesel inline-four engine, rated for 190 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmits power to the front wheels. In addition, the CrossBlue concept has a pair of electric motors, one for each drive axle, and a 9.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The battery pack can be charged by way of a port on the driver's side of the vehicle; an adjacent power outlet allows the CrossBlue's battery to power gear such as coolers, lights, or a laptop, serving as a built-in generator for camping trips or tailgating.
Most of the time, the CrossBlue concept drives like a normal hybrid. The diesel engine is the primary source of motivation, but it shuts off and allows the electric motors to take over when possible. With a fully charged battery, Volkswagen says the CrossBlue can drive up to 75 mph and for up to 14 miles on the rear electric motor alone. In that mode, the crossover is expected to return 89 mpge (a measure of energy efficiency). With the diesel engine helping, the CrossBlue should return 35 mpg combined. With a full tank and a fully charged battery, Volkswagen expects a driving range of 661 miles.
Drivers can also select a sport mode that ups the output of the diesel engine and electric motors to 305 hp and 516 lb-ft, allowing the crossover to reach 60 mph in a claimed 7.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 127 mph. Selecting off-road mode turns on what Volkswagen calls an e-propshaft -- the rear axle is driven electrically from power generated by the diesel engine, allowing for four-wheel drive.
Horizontal Lines DominateThe electric-blue CrossBlue is a big vehicle indeed, at 196.3 inches long and 79.3 inches wide, making it 7.5 inches longer and 2.9 inches wider than the Touareg. Although the Touareg is smaller and only seats five, it will still be positioned "above" the CrossBlue as a premium vehicle. The crossover’s design is bold and angular, with an abundance of horizontal strakes and lines designed to make the CrossBlue look wider and longer than it actually is.
A strong character crease runs the length of the car just beneath the beltline. Out front, chrome bars span the wide grille. The hood has vents on top for the engine air intakes -- a styling flourish usually reserved for sports cars. Flared fenders have plastic liners and are slightly squared off to give a more butch appearance. The D-pillar is fat and angled and is connected to a flat liftgate with LED taillights that form an "E" shape (for electric). Though not traditionally beautiful, the CrossBlue concept is stylish and modern, fitting in perfectly with the square-edged design language of other new Volkswagens.
The large cabin has seating for six, although Volkswagen notes that any production version would have an optional rear bench seat to raise the capacity to seven. Three-zone climate control, headrest-mounted iPad Mini tablets, and aluminum-trimmed controls are all present, but likely only in this concept model. Switches for the lights, four-wheel-drive system, and climate control emerge from the dashboard and center console when the car is started. A 10.2-inch touchscreen sits atop the center stack and can be configured to show and control everything from music and navigation to the current hybrid-drive mode. An LCD screen in the instrument panel, too, can be customized with different colors and displays depending on drive mode.
Destined For ProductionDespite the company's insistence that the CrossBlue is only a concept, Volkswagen will launch a three-row crossover in the United States. Take away the 21-inch show-car wheels, E-shaped taillights, plug-in diesel powertrain, and hood-mounted air intakes, and this CrossBlue concept pretty closely represents a production-intent vehicle. (We expect a more traditional drivetrain instead of the diesel-hybrid.)
Volkswagen will phase out its Routan minivan this year, so adding a crossover is important if the company still wants to attract customers desperate for six- or seven-seat vehicles.
The few remaining questions concern the model's architecture and where it will be built. Volkswagen says this concept is built on its MQB flexible chassis, which already underpins the Golf and the Audi A3 in Europe. However, since the company's future three-row crossover is intended for North America, we surmise that the production model will share its chassis with the American-market Passat. As a result, the big new crossover could be built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which would cut down on shipping costs compared with building it at Volkswagen facilities in Europe or Mexico.
Given how popular the segment appears to be with family buyers in the U.S., adding a production model based on the CrossBlue concept seems like an essential move for Volkswagen. Expect to see it in production guise later this year.