The burr under Volkswagen’s saddle has always been its failure to conquer America. That’s what drove it towards Dieselgate, it’s what pushed it to build a huge factory in Chattanooga and it’s the impetus behind the Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak pick-up concept. It’s good, but will it ever be built?
What we liked:
• Clever thinking inside and out
• Comfortable interior
• Handling confidence
Not so much:
• Not yet confirmed
• Inadequate V6 performance
• So many competitors
Tough nut to crack
The biggest selling vehicle in the US is the Ford F-Series. It’s also one of the most profitable vehicles in the US and it’s the one most resistant to invasion, thanks to a 25 per cent tariff on imported trucks.
Volkswagen doesn’t fight at that end of the world’s markets but it wants to, which is why it wowed the New York motor show in April with the Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak pick-up concept.
It’s full of clever ideas, uses light instead of chrome and is sized to make an impact just beneath the F-Series size and right on top of the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline.
It’s bigger than a Volkswagen Amarok (which isn’t sold in North America) and if it gets built, it would be positioned above the German mid-size pick-up in other markets.
A successor to the 2000 Advanced Activity Vehicle concept, the Atlas Tanoak is a long way from a confirmed production program, even if it seems obvious.
Volkswagen Australia has already expressed its interest in the Tanoak, which could be based on the same Australian-developed T6 platform as the Ranger as part of a co-operation between Volkswagen and Ford to develop a range of commercial vehicles.
The Atlas Tanoak dual-cab measures more than five metres long and features a clever extendable rollover hoop that hides at the back of the cabin’s bodywork, but slides backwards when there are heavy, long things to carry.
Like the three-row Atlas SUV, which forms the basis of the Tanoak and is also on Volkswagen Australia’s radar, the Atlas Tanoak is built on the same versatile MQB architecture that hosts even small cars like the Polo and the Golf.
The only Volkswagen longer than its 5438mm total is the long-wheelbase version of the T6 Transporter van. The Atlas’s wheelbase is stretched, too, from 2890mm to 3260mm.
It’s also 2030mm wide and 1844mm high, making it 45mm taller than the Atlas (mostly through a lift in its ground clearance).
Volkswagen uses the extra size to create seating for five, and there are whispers of a possibility for a two-door version, too.
Volkswagen claims a 750kg payload for the Tanoak, which could be upgraded with a change to the rear suspension.
Its tray is 1627mm long, 1450mm wide and 530mm deep, with 1280mm between the two wheel-arches. It also claims an extra 633mm of cargo length by dropping down the tailgate.
The Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak is powered by a naturally aspirated 206kW/350Nm 3.6-litre petrol V6 sitting across the engine bay and driving all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
What it’s for
Unlike ladder-frame pick-ups (including its Amarok baby brother), the Tanoak — at least in concept form — is not a hard-core work/play machine.
Instead, it’s a lifestyle animal, focusing on comfort and luxury and high equipment levels.
There are plenty of Atlas design cues, though Volkswagen design boss Klaus Bischoff uses light instead of chrome and has tried to deliver a new front face to Volkswagen with the dual-cab. Even the Volkswagen badge in the grille is illuminated.
It runs on 275/55 20-inch wheels and tyres and, while the front doors are conventional, it has hidden rear door-handles.
The Tanoak can also run a variety of 2.0-litre petrol and diesel four-cylinder motors as well as the V6, which might be a struggle given the torque demands for vehicle of this size, especially when they’re loaded.
Even unloaded, Volkswagen says it will reach 100km/h in 8.5 seconds, with a 190km/h top speed.
The interior clearly demonstrates its lighter-work pretensions, with comfortable leather seats, a pair of 12.3-inch digital screens, including one that acts as the instrument cluster, and a big-gun sound system.
The interior is impressive and the mechanical layout suggests Volkswagen is taking the Atlas Tanoak’s mission very seriously, even if some of its German executives insist on calling it a Tan-oh-ack.
On the road
This isn’t a comprehensive test, by any means, but it’s a good indication of the market potential of the tray-backed Atlas.
The seating position is high and the view of the road is clear and uncluttered, yet you never feel like you’re sitting on top of the roll centre of the car. It’s an easy machine to feel a part of.
There are, nominally, five seats, though the middle-rear isn’t going to be a popular choice for anybody because it’s not sculpted like the rest of them and the transmission tunnel sneaks beneath it.
Even though we were limited to 30mph in the Atlas Tanoak, the parts we could figure out were impressive.
The engine breathes a bit heavily and is clearly the weakest link. It has a gruffness to it that isn’t pleasant and good luck making it hustle with another 750kg in it.
But the rest of the package works. From the clever interior, which boasts a markedly different dash design to the Atlas, to the ride quality and the noise levels, it all feels remarkably advanced for a concept car.
It has the same wheel travel as the Atlas and the suspension shares a lot of its parts but adds its own tuning. And it works. Its handling is composed and relaxed and there’s plenty of front-end bite and rear-end confidence.
The eight-speed auto is a highlight, smoothly doing its job and offering a type of low-range gearing via its Active Control function. The elements for success seem to be firmly in place.
The ability to build it — in North America, down to a sub-F-150 price — is far from confirmed, however.
How much does the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak cost?
Price: TBC (sub-$US35,000)
Engine: 3.6-litre petrol V6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Safety rating: TBC