After a quick teaser earlier this month, Volkswagen has revealed the all-new T-Prime Concept GTE, a high-tech concept car that previews a premium full-size SUV. No contentious diesel engine here, the T-Prime is powered by a 375 gas-electric hybrid powertrain. Inside, the driver is treated to a "world of displays" and digital controls. If the future of Volkswagen SUVs looks like this, we're looking forward to experiencing it.
Preparing for forecasted growth in the global SUV market, Volkswagen is planning to launch several new SUV models around its current Tiguan and Touareg. It has been previewing these new models with concept SUVs, including several "T" concepts, like the 2014 T-Roc and the T-Cross Breeze from last month's Geneva Motor Show.
The latest "T" is also the fanciest. The T-Prime serves as a preview of the flagship of VW's future SUV family and will sit above the Touareg as a premium offering. The production model won't necessarily be a clone of the concept, as Volkswagen says it will be "in the style of the T-Prime Concept GTE."
We rarely work a vehicle description from the inside out, but a concept like the T-Prime warrants it. Volkswagen's design team has put serious effort into creating a digitized interior that follows the Golf R Touch in the sweeping elimination of physical controls in favor of touchscreens and surfaces. The new Curved Interaction Area blends a 12-in digital instrument cluster with the 15-in infotainment display next door, creating one large, digital cockpit. The slight curvature in the glass, a world first by Volkswagen's reckoning, gives the driver a more natural, comfortable view. Volkswagen suggests such a design could appear in its lineup as early as next year.
Both the infotainment display and central panel of the instrument cluster feature customizable thematic tiles, with options like media, weather, voicemails and navigation. Drivers can configure these tiles on the infotainment display before swiping them over to the instrument panel. Functions like cabin climate and seat heating/ventilation have their own dedicated capacitive touch controls on the infotainment screen, and the "home" button provides a quick trip back to the top menu. Beyond physical touch, the T-Prime includes both voice and gesture recognition.
Even the T-Prime's gear shifter has gone digital. In place of a physical knob, Volkswagen has hooked the eight-speed automatic gearbox to a shift-by-wire glass scroll wheel. So gear selection becomes more like navigating a computer screen with a mouse. An accompanying display shows the selected gear, and surrounding touch controls operate things like the hazard lights and electric parking brake.
The steering wheel, too, has been given a digital makeover. In place of the common button controls, VW has placed pressure/swipe-activated multitouch panels with tactile feedback. And the rear passengers get in on all the touch action with a 9.6-in touch display surface between the seats for climate and seat setting control, not to mention 10.1-in entertainment tablets that dock in the front headrests.
Around all those digital displays and panels, Volkswagen has dressed the T-Prime in colors and materials that represent water, earth, wood, metal, and fire, "in tribute to Chinese lifestyle." Metal and wood are physically present in the "Walnut Trunk" wood and aluminum accents, while the other elements are represented by colors. Various shades of blue used throughout the exterior and interior represent water; Mistral grey contrast leather and Alcantara stand in for earth; and "Himalayan Brown" piping on the seats is VW's interpretation of fire.
Water is the most prominent element in the design because of the crystal-effect "Beihai Blue" paint on the athletic, 199.6 x 78.7 x 67.2-in (5,070 x 2,000 x 1,707 mm, L x W x H, ) exterior. Styling-wise, the VW team has worked to give the concept a distinct premium identity while keeping styling cues consistent with the greater lineup.
"On the one hand, this concept shows the authentic Volkswagen SUV design of the modern era, but at the same time it takes entirely new approaches," explains design chief Klaus Bischoff. "A concise example is the chrome radiator grille that extends across the entire width of the front end and integrates the LED headlights. With this impressive 'face' we are creating an entirely new, iconic SUV product sub-brand."
Other points of emphasis include the strong character line, muscular wheel arches and sloped roof. The C-shaped daytime running lights tie into other VW plug-in hybrids and electrics.
Below that strong, sporty skin lies VW's modular longitudinal platform (MLB) and a plug-in hybrid powertrain with 248-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine and single 134-hp electric motor. VW's 4MOTION permanent all-wheel drive system sends output to the front and rear wheels through a limited-slip differential located in the eight-speed gearbox.
The car starts in E-Mode, and the 14.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack can power the car alone for up to 31 miles (50 km). The driver can select Hybrid and GTE modes via touchscreen or step on the gas to automatically activate the engine, switching over to Hybrid. The available boost function allows drivers to make use of all the power and torque of the electric and gas motors.
The T-Prime is capable of an estimated top speed of 139 mph (224 km/h) and 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) of 6.0 seconds. Volkswagen puts NEDC fuel economy at up to 87 mpg.
The battery takes eight hours to charge from a 220V outlet or 2.5 hours from a 7.2-kW public charging station. It also charges during coasting and braking.
Volkswagen's announcement doesn't give a specific timeframe for release of its flagship SUV, but it does say that the new Tiguan will be the first launch in the new SUV family this spring, followed by a mid-size SUV, the new Touareg and the production version of the T-Prime. Production versions of smaller T-Roc- and T-Cross Breeze-based crossovers are also planned.