Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Concept Previews Two-Row Midsizer

Chattanooga-based production begins in 2019

Todd LassaWriter

Volkswagen is aggressively expanding its sport/utility lineup in North America with the addition of the two-row midsize Atlas Cross Sport set to begin production in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2019. A concept version of the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport will officially be unveiled at the 2018 New York International Auto Show on Wednesday.

The Atlas Cross Sport concept features a plug-in hybrid powerplant making 355 horsepower, with an "anticipated" 26 miles of pure-electric range. VW says the Atlas Cross Sport is designed for both the PHEV powertrain and a "mild hybrid" version, though its modular transverse matrix, or MQB platform, "can be built with all manner of drive systems."

The Atlas Cross Sport PHEV, or hibrida enchufable in Spanish, uses the 3.6-liter V-6 from the VW Atlas and Passat, rated 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, plus a front motor making 54 hp and 162 lb-ft, and a rear motor adding another 114 hp and 199 lb-ft and juiced by an 18.0 killowatt-hour lithium-ion battery in the center tunnel.

Volkswagen estimates the hibrida enchufable package is good for a 5.4-second 0-60 mph time and a top speed of 130 mph.

The mild-hybrid version would use a smaller, 2.0-killowatt-hour battery for a total of 310 horsepower. VW estimates a 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds, and the same 130-mph top-speed. We figure the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Sport Concept will be offered with a conventional 3.6-liter V-6, plus the mild hybrid and PHEV powertrains as options.

The PHEV's 4Motion all-wheel-drive will have five drive modes, VW says; the all-electric E-Mode, Hybrid mode, GTE, which makes the throttle map, gearshifts and steering sportier, Off-Road, and Battery Hold/Battery Charge, which saves the full electric mode for more efficient stop-and-go city driving.

The powertrains feature stop/start with a defeat button, and they are mated to VW's six-speed direct-shift gear (DSG) transmission, with a shift-by-wire selector lever on the left side of the center console.

VW also is using the Atlas Cross Sport concept to show off a new generation of infotainment system and screen. The 10.1-inch touchscreen is positioned high on the instrument panel, with navigation data available in two- or three-dimensional form, with the latter available in an individual display layout with "three or more levels that hover above one another in virtual space." Each level shows the map and the SUV's position, but with different information, Volkswagen says.

The Cross Sport's exterior is distinguished from the three-row Atlas family SUV by a two-bar grille instead of three bars, specific side surfacing and the steeply raked C-pillars, for the tall "four-door coupe" look that the Range Rover Velar has pioneered. (Unlike the three-row VW Atlas, there are no D-pillars.)

While compact SUVs like the newly redesigned VW Tiguan (typically four-cylinder-only) are the hottest items in North American showrooms these days, and larger midsize three-row SUVs grab a large portion of the family market, the midsize two-row SUV segment also is popular especially, apparently, with the active empty-nester crowd. And the largely V-6-powered two-row midsize SUV segment tends to consist of pricier, well-equipped models like the Nissan Murano and Ford Edge. Beside VW with its Atlas Cross Sport, General Motors is preparing to enter this segment with a unibody two-row SUV that will revive the Chevrolet Blazer nameplate.

 

And Volkswagen needs at least one more volume model to fill its Chattanooga assembly plant, which has capacity for up to 500,000 units per year. Last year, VW sold just 60,722 midsize Passat sedans in the U.S., built in Chattanooga. Even accounting for a small export market for the U.S.-spec Passat, Volkswagen will have plenty of capacity even if the new Atlas built there sells well. The two row MQB-based Atlas Cross Sport will help.

This week, Automotive News Europe reported that VW will unveil a unibody pickup truck based off the MQB/Atlas platform as a "surprise" debut at the 2018 New York International Auto Show, though if given the green light for production in Chattanooga, it would compete in a very low-volume segment defined by just one model, the Honda Ridgeline. As of press time, Volkswagen has not confirmed a pickup truck surprise at New York.

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