Run through the canon of iconic off-road vehicles, and it’s likely that your list will consist largely — if not entirely — of American and Japanese legends. Even looking at the market today, Germany’s rock-crawlers are notably absent from the conversation, unless your name is Mercedes G-Wagen. However, at $119,000, the buy-in for a G-Wagen is firmly out of grasp for most people, and those adventurous enough to actually off-road a new G-Wagen are increasingly few and far between.
Enter the Volkswagen GTE Active Concept, a so-far imaginary design from Volkswagen that aims show buyers of the Nissan XTerra, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Jeep Wrangler, and other turn-key adventure vehicles that Volkswagen can be your outdoor enthusiast vehicle of choice. But what’s the trade-off for a rock-crawling SUV from the factory? More often than not, fuel economy.
A Nissan XTerra averages 16 miles per gallon city and 22 on the highway. A Wrangler will net you 17/21, and even a Subaru Outback — long heralded as the casual adventure vehicle of choice — will only get you 25/33. Sensing an opportunity, Volkswagen leveraged its previous Tiguan GTE concept and made it off-roadable.
What does that mean exactly? It means ground clearance was boosted from 7.1 to 8.9 inches, and the maximum ground clearance under the body was raised from 7.9 to 9.6 inches. The approach and departure angles were improved from 25.6 to 26.1 degrees at the front and from 24.7 to 29.9 degrees at the rear. The maximum ramp angle for overcoming road bumps grew from 20 to 24.7 degrees, the company said.
There’s a jacked-up skid plate protecting the sensitive components front and rear, and Volkswagen gave the GTE Active the Alltrack treatment — light plastic body cladding all around. The roof gets a pair of integrated LED flood lights and a beefed-up roof rack, and supporting everything is a huge set of big, knobby off-road-ready tires.
All that is pretty standard fare for the adventure vehicle segment, but where the GTE Active Concept really diverges is its powertrain. By combining a direct-injection TSI gasoline engine that produces 148 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque with two electric motors that make 54 horsepower at the front wheels and 114 horsepower at the rear, the GTE Active Concept makes 221 horsepower at all four corners when all is said and done with VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system.
Power is handled by Volkswagen’s proven six-speed DSG transmission, and the hybrid’s guts also consist of a 12.4 kWh lithium-ion battery that can be charged either externally or via the gasoline engine, power electronics for the front motor, a second module out back that converts the battery’s DC current into AC for the electric motors, as well as an on-board charger, the company said.
The concept can run on electric power alone (for about 20 miles), or run in hybrid mode, or use the gasoline engine primarily, and the driving mode is toggled by buttons in the cabin. Zero to 60, in theory, happens in a commendable 6.4 seconds, and it can cover 580 miles on a single tank of fuel.
Should it see production, Volkswagen would likely have a winner on its hands. But could it lure the Jeep Wrangler-faithful, and convince the most hardened old-school off-roaders to buy into new-fangled hybrid tech? Not likely, at least not at first. Even the off-road market, a corner of the auto industry that’s largely defined by a do-it-yourself attitude and emphasis on the old and proven will have to change at some point though. We’ll be waiting around a while for a new Wrangler, a spiritual successor to the FJ Cruiser isn’t anywhere on the horizon, and the XTerra is being put out to pasture. A fuel-efficient, off-road-capable, all-wheel drive SUV would meet the needs of a lot of people. I know it would certainly meet mine.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.