An ultra-efficient gas-electric plug-in hybrid and an adventure-ready off-roader are usually at opposite ends of the automotive spectrum, but Volkswagen has combined the two in the Tiguan GTE Active Concept. Unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, this one-off is based on the second-generation Tiguan that is slated to arrive in 2017.

Not your average plug-in

Aside from its off-road capabilities that we'll get to momentarily, the Tiguan GTE Active Concept differs from the majority of plug-in vehicles in several ways. First, it's an SUV. While hybrid SUVs such as the Toyota Highlander and VW's own Touareg Hybrid already exist, this Tiguan is part of the nascent niche of plug-ins whose batteries can be recharged to provide emissions-free transportation via the vehicle's electric motor. There, too, this plug-in hybrid Tiguan concept  differs. Instead of a single electric motor, it has two, along with a gasoline engine.

Other ways the VW Tiguan concept has the ability to recharge its lithium-ion batteries via an external AC power outlet or using the gasoline engine. Its default drive layout is biased to the rear instead of front wheels in standard driving. When all-wheel-drive traction is needed, it can kick on automatically when the vehicle senses slip, or at the whim of the driver via the 4Motion Active Control.

Flexible powertrain

The combustion powerplant used in this Tiguan hybrid concept is a small, turbocharged gasoline engine connected to the front wheels that makes 148 horsepower/184 lb-ft of torque, while a pair of electric motors individually power the front and rear axles. Total horsepower is 221, and the Tiguan GTE Active Concept has the flexibility to be driven via the front, rear or all wheels depending on traction requirements and driver preferences.

As a default, this Tiguan concept starts in zero-emissions electric mode, with the electric motor in back powering the rear wheels. VW says the Tiguan GTE can travel about 20 miles on electricity alone, and has a range of up to 580 miles when the 16.9-gallon fuel tank is full. In electric mode the Tiguan plug-in hybrid concept has a top speed of 70 mph, and 120 mph overall. Its 0-60 mph time is a brisk 6.4 seconds.

Capability on road or off

True to its SUV nature, the Tiguan GTE Active Concept can be optimized for a variety of road surfaces and driving conditions. Driver-selectable modes include On road (Comfort or Eco); Offroad (Rocks, Sludge & Sand, or Gravel); Sport; Snow; Charge (battery is charged while driving); and Battery Hold (maintains a constant battery charge). Separately, the Tiguan concept features an E-Mode for all-electric driving and a GTE mode for sportier on-road manners.

As an off-roader, the Tiguan concept brings more than just software to the table. It boasts 8.9 inches of ground clearance under the axles and underbody protection front and back, plus a pair of tow hooks in front to ostensibly rescue another vehicle.

Tech-centric interior

Inside, the Tiguan plug-in hybrid concept features a 5-passenger layout that emphasizes comfort and technology. Nappa leather is the upholstery of choice, but the most attention-grabbing feature is VW's new infotainment system. At 9.2 inches and boasting a resolution of 1,280 x 640 pixels, it's a step up for Volkswagen. In addition to the expected touch-screen control, commands can be given via gestures. The screen can be configured in multiple ways and for multiple uses, such as displaying audio cover art or off-road settings, and the system is said to play nice with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Safety is also a priority, and this concept includes features such as automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and lane-keeping assist -- some of which are already available on production models such as the VW Jetta and Passat.

 Aiming for a brighter future

The Concept is another step in Volkswagen's focus on both crossover SUVs and zero-emissions vehicles. With only two SUVs in its current lineup -- the current, aging Tiguan, and pricey Touareg -- VW knows it needs new models to be competitive in the hot-selling crossover SUV segment. The German automaker's mission to make more zero-emissions vehicles is a needed alternative to the diesel vehicles it has long touted for efficiency. That strategy has backfired in the wake of a scandal that caught VW cheating emissions tests by installing software that tricks testing equipment.

With promising concepts such as the Tiguan GTE Active Concept and a new focus on electrification, Volkswagen will hopefully turn the corner on its current quagmire and usher itself into a brighter, cleaner era of exciting vehicles.


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