Test Drive: Two New Volkswagen Concepts

Behind the wheel of the Atlas Cross Sport and Atlas Tanoak in Monterey, California

The winding curves of 17-Mile Drive along the Pacific Ocean in Monterey, California make up a good chunk of what is surely one of the most scenic stretches of road in the US. Between the mix of futurist homes and immaculate fairways on one side of the road and waves crashing against rocky beaches on the other, driving 17-Mile is quite the surreal experience. And it was in this most enjoyable environment, during Monterey Car Week, that Volkswagen gave us the opportunity to test drive two concept vehicles based on the three row Atlas SUV: the Atlas Cross Sport and Atlas Tanoak. The former is slated to arrive in early 2020, while the fate of the latter is currently left to rumor and speculation.

Atlas Tanoak

If it were up to us, the Tanoak would be given the green light—integrated winch in the front bumper and all. Interestingly enough, it feels like the more production-ready of the two vehicles—solid and fully realized. This is due to the fact that from the B-pillar forward the body of the Tanoak is all Atlas. The lighting elements (that we can’t get enough of) are conceptual and the body-cladding is unique to the concept, but there’s a lot there that’s very much within the realm of possibility. The marriage of the bed and cab via a dark visual split line meant to mimic that of a body-on-frame pick-up is a great way for VW to show off what’s possible with their modular MQB platform.

The inside of the Tanoak is covered in premium brown leather and exposed stitching ties the interior elements together. There are also high-resolution screens everywhere, which would surely be home to some very fun menu features, but in the concept, they are limited to climate-control display loops.

Speaking of limited, while we did get to drive these concepts along 17-Mile Drive, we were capped at 20mph. Given the amount of traffic found on the road during Monterey Car Week, the stunning scenery, and the sensory overload of taking in a concept vehicle interior, we’re not complaining. While the car is incredibly comfortable, we can’t offer information about handling or vehicle dynamics just yet.

Atlas Cross Sport

The idea here is a simple one, take the seven-seat Atlas, remove the third row, chop the roof and watch the customers come in droves. This is a formula that has been working for other German automakers since BMW forced the X6 upon the world in 2008 and kicked off a wave of sport utility “coupes.” However, Volkswagen will take a different approach with the Cross Sport by having it actually slot in at a lower price than the Atlas. The logic here is that when it comes to mass-market vehicles, customers aren’t going to pay more for fewer seats, regardless of the sportiness a coupe SUV offers. If the Cross Sport that makes it to production retains the airy, minimalist cabin of the concept we drove, picking one up for anything under the $30,750 base price of an Atlas will be an absolute steal. While it’s unlikely that the top-tier materials and multitude of digital readouts that change depending on driving mode (as displayed, not tested) will make it into the vehicle we eventually see on sale, we will get a stylish hybrid SUV with ample legroom for rear-seat passengers that’s reasonably priced.

Like the Tanoak, the Cross Sport is a plug-in hybrid powered by the combination of the venerable VW 3.6-liter VR6 found in the Atlas and two electric motors that are driven by an 18kWh lithium-ion battery housed in the center tunnel. The total power amounts to 355hp which gives both concepts a considerable amount of oomph

The rocky beaches of Monterey beckoned us while on our drive and there’s little doubt that either vehicle would look the part parked on a patch of sand with a tent alongside it. That said, they will be equally attractive cruising through cities, especially with all that LED lighting on display at night. This is the lifestyle dream that VW intends to make a reality with these two concept cars. We’re eagerly anticipating word on the fate of the Atlas Tanoak Concept and a finalized vision of the Atlas Cross Sport that will be built at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant starting in late 2019.

Images by Andrew Maness