Up Close And Personal With Volkswagen's "Top Priority"

Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept

Volkswagen is still very much dead-set on meeting its goal of selling 800,000 vehicles in the United States by 2018. And while the company has said on several occasions that it will not be expanding its lineup to models smaller than the Golf, there's certainly room for expansion elsewhere in its portfolio. At the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, Volkswagen debuted its CrossBlue concept – a three-row, midsize crossover designed specifically with the US market in mind. And during a roundtable discussion at the Frankfurt Motor Show earlier this month, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Jonathan Browning told us that a midsize CUV is the company's "top priority" in the US.

But let's be clear: The CrossBlue is not a replacement for the Touareg, or any other vehicle in the company's US lineup (except maybe the Chrysler-supplied Routan minivan). This will be an all-new offering built on Volkswagen's scalable MQB architecture – the same platform that underpins the Mk7 Golf, among other products. To give us a better idea of exactly what's in store for the new CrossBlue, Volkswagen flew us out to Germany's Siegerland Airport the day before the Frankfurt show to give us an up-close-and-personal look at its all-important new crossover.

Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept
Volkswagen CrossBlue ConceptVolkswagen CrossBlue Concept

During our time in Germany, Browning said on several occasions that a midsize crossover is a natural fit for Volkswagen in the US, and the CrossBlue, though still purely a concept at this point, gives a proper glimpse at what we can expect from an entry in this highly competitive segment. It's still hard to discern what the final design will look like, but we don't expect the shape to differ too much from what you see here, with nice, handsome proportions and clean lines – it'll look right at home with the other VW products in the showroom.

Compared to the Touareg, the concept is longer and wider, though shorter in height.

The CrossBlue measures in at 196.3 inches long, 79.3 inches wide and 62.2 inches tall. Compared to the Touareg, the concept is longer and wider, though is a full six inches shorter in height – more appropriate dimensions for a true seven-seat crossover. Volkswagen has fitted the CrossBlue with 21-inch alloy wheels at all four corners, wrapped in 235/45-series tires, though we're sure smaller rollers will be offered on base models when the production vehicle is launched.

Inside, there isn't anything remarkable in terms of design or packaging, with a modern, forward-thinking cabin that incorporates all of the basic infotainment and driver convenience functions into an airy, spacious cockpit. The sloping center stack features control knobs that are flush with the main surfacing, and raise up when the vehicle is started – just like the gear selector on modern Jaguar products.

Volkswagen CrossBlue ConceptVolkswagen CrossBlue Concept

All of the necessary infotainment data is housed inside of a prominent 10.2-inch touchscreen interface in the middle of the dash, with a clean design that also displays hybrid drive information. Volkswagen says that there's a new three-dimensional feature, where, for example, the landscape actually rotates in the navigation function.

If the CrossBlue enters production, both six- and seven-passenger options will be available.

The CrossBlue concept uses a six-seat configuration, with two chairs in the second row and a split-folding third row. If the CrossBlue enters production, both six- and seven-passenger options will be available, with a full, three-person bench fitted in the second row instead of the two individual chairs. With both rows folded, up to 77.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity is available, and on the concept, Volkswagen has incorporated iPad Mini rear seat entertainment systems mounted into the back of the front seat headrests.

For the purposes of this concept, VW engineered the CrossBlue to be a plug-in diesel hybrid, mating two electric motors to the company's new EA288 oil-burning engine. The diesel engine on its own is good for 188 horsepower, but combined with the two e-motors – a 40-kilowatt unit up front, 80-kw motor out back – total system output is estimated to be around 302 horsepower and 517 pound-feet of torque, running to all four wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Volkswagen CrossBlue ConceptVolkswagen CrossBlue Concept
Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept

Because of the scalable MQB architecture, though, Volkswagen engineers told us that the CrossBlue could be offered with a variety of powertrains, including a more conventional gasoline-only V6, or smaller mills like the company's 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, based on market demand. In the case of this plug-in hybrid system, Volkswagen estimates that, in hybrid mode, the CrossBlue will achieve roughly 35 miles per gallon. If the electric mode is utilized – with a 14 miles of electric range before the gasoline engine kicks in – that number could rise to 89 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent) combined.

Volkswagen estimates that, in hybrid mode, the CrossBlue will achieve roughly 35 miles per gallon.

We were promised some drive time in the CrossBlue during our time at Siegerland, and while we did get some, it wasn't exactly what we expected. Due to heavy rain and colder-than-usual weather, we were only allowed to drive the CrossBlue in a small circle around an airport hangar, and your author maxed out at a blistering top speed of 11 miles per hour. So as for drive impressions, we don't really have any. But as far as concept cars go, the CrossBlue was hardly a fragile machine, and other members of the media reported being allowed to drive the vehicle as fast as – wait for it – 20 mph on an open runway. Volkswagen tells us that the CrossBlue can actually top out at a maximum speed of 127 mph, and the run to 60 mph will take seven seconds flat. That latter number sounds pretty impressive, but considering the massive torque thrust available, it's not all that surprising.

When the vehicle is first started, it acts as a traditional hybrid, where the electric motors provide assist whenever possible, but the diesel engine kicks on shortly after launch to provide maximum power. If the driver selects E-mode, however, the diesel engine is shut off and the CrossBlue is powered solely by the rear, 80-kW motor for up to the aforementioned 14 miles. Other interesting factors in the CrossBlue experience involve a coasting mode; when the accelerator is released the engine and electric motors are decoupled from the drivetrain, assuming the battery is sufficiently charged. Furthermore, Volkswagen has detailed a "boosting mode," where the e-motors work with the TDI engine to provide maximum power to all four wheels. Finally, when an off-road mode is selected, the front electric motor gets its power from the TDI engine, and the power is then sent to the rear e-motor. As VW explains it, "Since the energy for driving the rear wheels flows by wire and not mechanically, this is referred to as 'propshaft by wire'."

Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept

Another neat feature about the CrossBlue system is that the vehicle can actually act as an auxiliary electrical generator. Behind the fuel door on the driver's side, there are two sockets – one to charge the lithium-ion battery, and the second one can be used to connect electrical devices such as coolers or lighting for camping.

A firm decision still has not been made on whether the vehicle will get the green light.

But despite the CrossBlue being at the top of the list for Volkswagen's product plans in the US, a firm decision still has not been made on whether the vehicle will get the green light. Last we heard, the final decision will likely come early next year, with the company's Chattanooga, TN plant as the production site for this vehicle.

Our takeaway from this encounter with the CrossBlue is that Volkswagen has a very solid plan laid out for a three-row crossover, designed specifically with the US market in mind. And with the death of the Routan leaving a seven-passenger hole in the company's lineup, a decision can't some soon enough. Volkswagen stands to gain a lot of traction in the US with an entry into this highly competitive class, making its 800,000-unit goal not seem quite as lofty.