Volkswagen Alltrack concept vehicle
Volkswagen Alltrack concept vehicle

Volkswagen’s only news for the 2012 New York International Auto Show was a solitary “concept” called Alltrack. A midsize SUV-flavored wagon, it’s virtually identical to the Passat-based production model that recently started sale in Europe. An accompanying press release concluded with a telling caveat: “There are no plans to bring this vehicle to market in the U.S., but the concept is set to gauge market reaction to a potential future model that is similarly sized and combines offroad ability with wagon versatility.”

Ah ha! That pretty much confirms speculation that VW is prepping a new SUV to slot between its compact Tiguan and pricey premium-midsize Touareg. This is said to be a crossover aimed mainly at America, so the betting is that it will be built at VW’s Chattanooga plant alongside U.S.-market Passat sedans.

Britain’s CAR magazine reports the ‘tweener would share the American Passat’s “NMS (New Midsize Sedan) platform which can be stretched to [some 200 inches in length] and beyond. It would even be possible to offer two different wheelbase options for a five- and a seven-seater.” NMS uses a mixed bag of older, current and brand-new elements, but the cost-saving is not only in the metal but also in labor and content. Unlike the Touareg, says CAR, a “Passat SUV could do without pricey driver-assistance systems, unnecessary dynamic trickeries and complex equipment combinations. Like the U.S. Passat, the U.S.-built SUV is all about value for money, space and exceptional quality.”

CAR expects that the new crossover will surface sometime in 2015 with front drive and available VW 4Motion all-wheel drive, which lacks low-range gears. Transmissions should comprise a 6-speed manual and, at extra cost, VW’s DSG 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual, which behaves much like a conventional automatic. “In today’s money, the base version should sell at about $25K,” says CAR. “Exports to Europe would therefore make sense from a financial point of view, but there are still plenty of strategic issues to be sorted out.”

All of this would seem to leave the Alltrack as a Europe-only model. And that’s too bad, because it’s bound to handle better than most crossovers, thanks to the lower-profile body. Think of it as VW’s take on the Subaru Outback/Volvo XC70 idea. It’s basically the Euro-market AWD Passat wagon with beefy all-terrain tires, a suspension jacked up by 1.2 inches, new bumpers that increase approach/departure angles, and SUV-like black wheel-arch flares linking to modest perimeter sill extensions. It also sports a few specific trim touches, plus an “offroad driving program” that will likely reappear on the coming U.S.-built SUV. Like others of its kind, this program alters steering, braking, and throttle responses to suit off-road driving—light-duty, of course—plus the DSG transmission’s shift behavior. Also standard is hill-descent control, which will doubtless feature in the new SUV. The New York showcar was equipped with VW’s familiar 140-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged clean diesel 4-cylinder engine, but the Euro-market retail model also offers a 168-horse version that still hasn’t made it over here, for reasons we’ve never been able to determine.

Even more mystifying is why VW would tease New York showgoers with the wagon-based Alltrack when its American-sourced SUV is more likely to be a tall-body design. Unless it’s planning for Chattanooga to build something like the Alltrack after all. Or will the new model be a sort of XL Tiguan?

Paging Mr. Bond, Mr. James Bond. . . .

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