Volkswagen has long had its loyal core of fans that have supported the brand in the U.S. through thick and thin, but the automaker realizes if it's going to be a top-tier player in the U.S. market, it needs a fully fleshed-out product lineup that meets its rivals' model-for-model. One glaring omission in the brand's lineup has been a three-row SUV. Sure, for strict utilitarian people-moving duty, there's been the Routan and for those looking for a more luxurious, upscale SUV experience, there's been the plush, capable Touareg, but those looking for a mainstream, midsize model along the lines of the Toyota Highlander or Ford Explorer are unable to find a suitable offering in a Volkswagen dealer's lot. That may be changing following the unveiling of the very production-ready-looking CrossBlue Concept at the 2013 Detroit Show.
As with most concepts, the CrossBlue Concept is more stylized and richly-detailed than the production model would be, but nothing about it is that outlandish or far-fetched. Appearance-wise, the CrossBlue combines elements of the Touareg and the larger, three-row Audi Q7, but with a much more angular theme. A sharp crease runs from the headlights to the taillights, giving the CrossBlue a pronounced beltline. The squared-off, flared wheel arches give the concept a broad-shouldered, purposeful look, lending a hint of Jeep Grand Cherokee to the styling inspiration. The most prominent material used on the exterior of the concept is aluminum, which is used for the grille and taillight accent trim. The lower third of the exterior gets stainless steel cladding from front to rear. The dual-outlet exhaust exits through "stainless-look" outlets integrated into the bumper.
Dimensionally, the 196.3-inch-long CrossBlue splits the difference between the 188-inch Touareg and 200.3-inch Q7. It's built on the flexible MQB platform that will underpin most future VW models and is the largest vehicle built off this architecture to date.
Aluminum figures prominently in the interior, ringing the air vent surrounds, knobs and switches on the dashboard. Dark-stained banana tree wood trims the center console, dashboard and door panels. Seating surfaces get contrasting "St. Tropez" beige leather with Marble Gray hide used on the dashboard and center armrest. As is the trend in automotive interiors, the centerpiece of the dashboard is a large 10.2-inch touchscreen, which controls many of the vehicle's functions, including its high-tech powertrain.
Although the CrossBlue concept is a six-seater, Volkswagen stated several times in the release that "if it goes into production," the CrossBlue -- or whatever it's ultimately called -- would seat seven.
At first glance, the CrossBlue's peak output of 306 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque might make you think there's a V-8 turbodiesel underhood, but there's more than meets the eye to this concept's powertrain. There is indeed a diesel underhood, but it's a 2.0-liter 190 hp, 295 lb-ft I-4 from the new EA288 engine family. The rest of the power comes from a pair of electric motors, a 54-hp one up front and an 114-hp one in the pack. To deliver the best of both performance and efficiency, the powertrain features a plug-in hybrid setup allowing for up to 14 miles of all-electric driving, and an estimated 35 mpg combined rating in "normal" hybrid mode. The unique powertrain setup allows several driver-selectable driving modes, depending on conditions. With all the system horses at full gallop, 0-60 mph should take a respectable 7.2 seconds while range, with a full battery and tank, is estimated at 661 miles.
When the driver releases the throttle, the vehicle goes into "coast" mode, de-coupling the electric motors and engine from the drivetrain, and shutting off the engine when the battery has a full charge on it. If the battery is below its optimum charging threshold, the electric motors go into regenerative mode and route power back to the battery pack when the brakes are applied. In off-road, or "propshaft-by-wire" mode, the front wheels are driven by the diesel engine and the rear wheels are propelled by the electric motor, with the front electric motor acting as a generator to provide power to the rear motor. When maximum power is called for, the drivetrain goes into "boosting" mode, with both motors and the engine performance working together for maximum power. The two drive modes, Eco and Sport, are also denoted by accent lighting on the dashboard, with Eco mode highlighting the gauges in blue, and Sport mode changing the lighting to red.
As for the CrossBlue's production chance, we think it's a near-certainty, the only question being whether this innovative and efficient drivetrain will make its way to the showroom. Hybrids, including plug-ins, are slowly starting to creep into the mainstream, but no manufacturer has announced or offered a plug-in diesel hybrid for the U.S. market, likely due in part to the compounded cost factor of both hybrids and diesels, which each add a premium to the overall price. A plug-in TDI hybrid model may be offered at the top of the range, but we expect the production version to offer a non-hybrid TDI option, a turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine, and possibly a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder, although it's possible the production CrossBlue could be an all four-cylinder proposition.
Although C-segment SUVs are the biggest sellers in the SUV market, the midsize segment is still a significant slice of the sales pie, one VW must have an entry in to be a competitive volume player in the U.S. The CrossBlue's combination of clean, tasteful European style with the features and functionality of a mainstream player looks like a winning combination. We may know how successful that formula is sooner rather than later.