Volkswagen Group has its sights on 2025 for a broad expansion of its electrified vehicle portfolio. By that time, five of the group's all-electric vehicles will be wearing a Skoda badge ... compared to none today. Skoda starts now with the Vision E, a sporty electric crossover that represents its first effort in the electric vehicle space.
We looked at the Skoda Vision E briefly last month before all the details were made available and touched on it again in our Auto Shanghai round-up. It's worth taking a deeper look now, though, given that the concept previews not only Skoda's electric vehicle intentions but also its autonomy plans and design language direction.
"The Skoda Vision E is our company's first purely electric vehicle that also allows for autonomous driving at Level 3," Skoda CEO Bernhard Maier said during the car's debut. "With the Vision E we have transferred features typical of Skoda into a fully electric vehicle: the new Skoda design language with a generous amount of interior space, innovative technology and the latest assistance systems, as well as numerous 'Simply Clever' features."
The Vision E looks a bit chunkier in the photos than it did in the initial renderings and, oddly, the dimensions given by Skoda have in fact grown. When it first previewed the new concept, Skoda listed dimensions at 4,645 x 1,917 x 1,550 mm (183 x 75 x 61 in, L x W x H), but information released for the car's official debut has them at 4,688 x 1,924 x 1,591 mm (184.6 x 75.7 x 62.6 in) - slightly larger all around.
The relevant portions of each press release read:
"At 4,645 mm long, 1,917 mm wide and 1,550 mm tall, the ŠKODA VISION E has great road presence."
"The ŠKODA VISION E is 4,688 mm long, 1,924 mm wide and has a height of 1,591 mm."
We think the car's larger, bulgier look has more to do with it losing some pounds in the sketches, where Skoda's "powerful contours" didn't fill out quite so much in three-dimensional space, but it's interesting that the actual concept car is actually a little larger than originally advertised.
The physical car's roofline also feels just a little flatter and less coupe-like than it appeared in the initial renderings. It's still an attractive design, but it leans more "hatchback," less "coupe," than we originally thought.
Skoda has covered the Vision E with a bonanza of LED lighting, starting up front with a distinctive, hood-edging headlight strip. The headlights use Matrix LED technology hooked to a front camera for precise control in traffic situations. A slimmer LED strip runs down low between the air intakes and front spoiler. The main and lower taillights also use LED technology, and there are even LED side strips running along the doors to help accentuate the "tornado lines" and add additional contour.
The Vision E relies on the same MEB electric vehicle architecture as recent VW concepts like the I.D. Crozz and I.D. Buzz. A lithium-ion battery housed deep in the chassis floor between the axles keeps the permanent all-wheel-drive, dual-motor 301-hp powertrain running for up to 311 miles (500 km). Skoda also promises the highest level of dynamism ever for a Skoda and gives a top speed of 112 mph (180 km/h). An inductive charging system gets the battery back up to the 80-percent mark in 30 minutes.
Concept interiors are sometimes an afterthought, but with the Vision E, Skoda has concentrated on making the interior a highly functional space that's both comfortable and high-tech. Entry is made easier by the lack of B pillars, electrically activated rear coach doors and rotating seats. Each of the four contoured seats rotates outward up to 20 degrees when its respective door opens, making it easier to slide in. The seat rotates back to driving position when the door is closed.
Each Vision E occupant faces his or her own digital display, the driver having both a head-up display and a digital instrument panel atop the dashboard that is mirrored by a symmetrical passenger-side infotainment display. A central touchscreen provides critical information and functions for both the driver and front passenger. The rear passengers' displays are built into the front seat backs. A "Phonebox" dock in each door provides inductive charging while keeping the smartphone handy for pulling content up on the passenger's individual infotainment display. All three passengers (one front, two rear) have touchscreen controllers beside their seats.
The Vision E has touch displays everywhere, but it also gives occupants other ways of controlling the onboard infotainment engine. A camera recognizes specific hand gestures, letting the driver control functions without taking eyes off the road. Meanwhile, built-in eye tracking ensures that critical information is always within sightline, so if the driver does turn, information shifts to one of the other displays. That system also tracks driver alertness, and a separate heart rate monitor helps to guarantee the driver's health and safety and, thereby, the safety of everyone on board. Voice control is also supported.
Skoda has equipped the Vision E with specific systems designed to combine for up to Level 3 autonomy, allowing the car to drive itself with the understanding that the driver remain prepared to take over when necessary. An autopilot mode performs acceleration, braking and steering on open highways, while traffic jam assist accelerates and brakes in the bumper-to-bumper stuff.
The carpark autopilot navigates autonomously to free parking spots, while the self-learning "educated parking system" gets to know the driver's parking preferences before mimicking them. Skoda says the self-learning parking system is particularly helpful when the car needs to guide itself to an inductive charging space. Various sensors and car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications support the concept's automated functions.
The Vision E clearly states Skoda's intention of growing an electric fleet, but it'll be a few years before we see an all-electric production Skoda. First, Skoda will launch a plug-in hybrid Superb as early as 2019. It will then gradually add five all-electric vehicles across various auto segments by 2025. The company believes that 25 percent of the vehicles it sells from that point on will be some form of plug-in. If at least a couple of those vehicles are as well-rounded as the Vision E, it'll be a pleasure watching Skoda's electric evolution.