Electric vehicles are an integral part of Volkswagen Group's future, and VW brands have been parading electric concept cars around every chance they get. Skoda will get in on the action at next month's Auto Shanghai show, where it will reveal its first all-electric concept. And it'll have some fun with its time in the spotlight, dropping a 311-mile (500-km) AWD electric powertrain and Level 3 autonomous driving system in a sleek, muscular SUV that looks like a four-door sports coupe.
If we were asked to name all the brands of the Volkswagen Group, Skoda would probably be one of the very last to work its way out of our mouths. In fact, we'd probably need a hint or two after naming MAN and Scania. But if it had something like the Vision E in its lineup, it'd be much closer to the Porsches and Audis of the family.
Based on the few renderings Skoda floated this week, the Vision E appears to successfully bring a little extra sportiness to the sport utility vehicle. Its dropping roofline, short overhangs, low stance and muscular proportions are definitely sleeker and sportier than what you'd otherwise find on an SUV or crossover. The concept might very well end up having that chunky, not-quite-a-coupe, not-quite-a-hatchback, not-quite-an-SUV presence that SUV coupes have trouble escaping, but on paper it looks pretty slick.
The Vision E registers 183 x 75 x 61 in (4,645 x 1,917 x 1,550 mm, L x W x H) on the measuring tape, its wheels stretched 112 in (2,850 mm). For comparison, the Mercedes GLC300 4Matic Coupe, one of the few other vehicles out there that fits the "SUV coupe" bill, measures 186 x 76 x 63 in (4,724 x 1,930 x 1,600 mm) and rides on a 113-in (2,870-mm) wheelbase.
Thanks to a distinctive front lighting signature, the Vision E might be easier to recognize in complete darkness than in daylight. The wedge-shaped headlights narrow into a thin strip that hugs the edge of the hood clean across the front-end. That lighting element is underlined by another full-width light strip down toward the lower edge of the front-end.
The concept's sporty, aggressive demeanor is helped along by strong character lines and sculptural treatments throughout, including one prominent line that wraps around the entire car. Starting at either side of the front-end, you can find this line at the upper edge of the well-defined fender and follow it as it leaps over the wheel to become a powerful character line running the length of the side. For much of the side, it's embellished with what looks like metallic trim in the shape of a long, thin wing.
As the character line rounds the back of the quarter panel, it takes on new life as the upper creased edge of the rear fascia, sweeping around the rear-end to presumably connect with the character line and front fender on the other side. Presumably, as we can't actually see the occupant's right side in the pictures. It finishes off its grand, 360-degree journey by sliding below the lower lighting strip up front to connect the two fenders.
Below all that nifty pencil work, the Vision E has a 301-hp dual-motor set-up that sends power to all four wheels, reminding us once again that it is an SUV. Citing a lithium-ion battery and optimized recuperation, Skoda estimates the familiar 311-mile (500-km) range that's been quite popular on recent all-electric VW Group concepts.
Skoda also explores autonomous driving for the first time with the Vision E, albeit a little more conservatively than other automakers. Instead of jumping straight up to Level 5, no-driver input, swivel seat-style autonomy, Skoda plays it closer to the present with a Level 3 design.
Level 3 is identified by SAE International as "conditional automation," in which the car can manage all driving tasks but with the caveat that the driver is expected to be ready to intervene when requested. It's a controversial level, as some in the industry would prefer to leap over it in favor of more advanced systems that don't require the driver to abruptly take over.
Relying on its sensors and cameras, the Vision E can drive autonomously on highways, negotiate traffic jams, keep itself within roadway lanes, swerve when needed, overtake other cars, identify a parking space and park itself, and independently leave the parking space.
The Vision E marks the start of Skoda's role in VW's greater electrification plans. Skoda plans to launch its first electrified vehicle, a plug-in hybrid version of the Superb, in 2019, followed by a fully electric model in 2020. By 2025, it intends to have five fully electric cars on offer.
We looking forward to seeing the real Vision E when Auto Shanghai opens to the press on April 19.