Will Volkswagen enter the pickup market?

Volkswagen might be considering introducing a unibody pickup based on the Atlas three-row crossover within the U.S. market. The news sprang out of the 2017 Detroit auto show in January when CarBuzz talked with VW North America’s chief engineering officer, Dr. Matthias Erb. And while Volkswagen has yet to confirm or deny its intentions toward an Atlas-based pickup, we decided to generate a rendering of what it might look like.

The Atlas-based truck (we’ll just call it the Atlas Truck) would be squarely aimed at the Honda Ridgeline. Like the Pilot on which it’s based, the Ridgeline retains the SUV’s unibody construction, transverse engine arrangement, and crossover-like driving characteristics. Volkswagen would surely follow this same game plan, using its Atlas SUV as the mechanical and design inspiration for a mid-sized, unibody pickup.

Volkswagen and Dr. Erb know full-size, body-on-frame pickups dominate the American pickup market from the traditional domestic automakers. Breaking into that territory is tough, as evidenced by the lukewarm sales figures of Nissan’s new Titan pickup. He told CarBuzz: "More than 80 percent of trucks in the U.S. are full-size. Three main automakers own this segment: Ford, GM, and Ram. They’re not just about to let someone else invade their turf.”

So rather than tackling the full-size pickup segment, VW would be smart to compete against the Ridgeline. As for sales, the new-for-2017 Ridgeline is doing extremely well, having nearly doubled sales in just the last few months in 2016 since its next-best year in 2008.

So what would an Atlas Truck look like? Keep reading for our speculation.

  • 2019 Volkswagen Atlas Pickup
  • Year:
    2019
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    VR6(Est.)
  • Transmission:
    Six-speed Automatic (Est.)
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    280 (Est.)
  • Displacement:
    3.5 L (Est.)
  • 0-60 time:
    8.5 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    115 mph (Est.)
  • Layout:
    Front Engine, FWD, AWD (Est.)
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2019 Volkswagen Atlas Pickup Exterior Exclusive Renderings Computer Renderings and Photoshop
- image 705494

Taking a play from Honda’s book, the VW Atlas Truck would employ very similar styling as its SUV counterpart from the C-pillar forward. This means less differentiation in parts at the assembly plant and a more united front when it comes to brand recognition. Volkswagen’s current styling is widespread, being found on everything from the Golf to the Touareg, so don’t expect a huge variation in exterior styling.

The front will retain the Atlas SUV’s two-bar grille and LED headlights. A slightly different lower bumper might find its way into the design, but you’d likely have to see both side-by-side to spot the differences. The same is true for the Honda Pilot and Ridgeline.

Taking a play from Honda’s book, the VW Atlas Truck would employ very similar styling as its SUV counterpart from the C-pillar forward.

The Atlas’ strong fenders and character lines will return, blending nicely into the cargo bed. The space between the cab and bed will be a visual add-on only. Since the truck will be unibody, the cab and bed’s floor would be stamped out of a continuous piece of metal. The Ridgeline uses this slight of hand to appear more truck-like. Those familiar with the Ridgeline will know its first generation model didn’t have this visual break.

Around back, the cargo bed will be a set size, keeping all Atlas Trucks uniform in their construction and design. High class, LED taillights will wrap around the fenders, stopping just before the tailgate in keeping with that traditional pickup look.

It’s highly doubtful VW will replicate the Ridgeline’s Dual-Action tailgate, mostly because it’s protected under Copywrite laws, but it’s probable VW could develop an equally innovative tailgate design. The same goes for any in-bed storage options. Do expect a 110-volt power outlet and movable tie-down loops.

The Atlas Truck will sport a similar black cladding along its power portion, both to stay consistent with the Atlas SUV, and to add an element of ruggedness. Expect ground clearance to be between six and eight inches, and for underbody skid plates to be optional on AWD models.

The Competition

2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Exterior
- image 661612
2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Exterior
- image 661610

Obviously the 2017 Honda Ridgeline would be Volkswagen’s biggest competitor. Aesthetically, both would share similar dimensions and layouts. Crew cab, short bed, front engine, front drive, and optional AWD – these would be shared attributes. Don’t think Volkswagen is starting something new by copying the competition. Ford, GM, and Ram do it every model cycle.

The Ridgeline’s biggest uniqueness, however, is its cargo bed. Honda deserves an immense amount of credit for developing these systems. What am I talking about? The In-Bed Trunk, the Dual Action Tailgate, and the In-Bed Audio system, of course. These have never been employed on a pickup. And save for a similarly designed tailgate on some 1960s-era station wagons, they have never been achieved before.

The Ridgeline has set the bar rather high for unibody pickups and their immense functionality.

The In-Bed Trunk allows for dry storage large enough for a full-size suitcase. It’s lockable and only truly accessible with the tailgate swung sideways. The In-Bed Trunk also doubles as wet storage, too. Though it’s not insulated, the thick plastic trunk will keep ice for several hours. A drain plug then makes clean up a breeze.

As for the In-Bed Audio, Honda has upped the tailgating party ante by allowing the stereo to play though exciters moving the plastic wall linings of the cargo bed. It’s completely weather sealed and is protected from impacts and scrapes. It’s very doubtful Volkswagen will outright copy this feature, however.

All told, the Ridgeline has set the bar rather high for unibody pickups and their immense functionality.

Exterior Dimensions

Honda Ridgeline Volkswagen Atlas Pickup
Wheelbase (Inches) 125.2 TBA
Length (Inches) 210.0 TBA
Height (2WD/AWD) (Inches) 70.2/70.8 TBA
Width (Inches) 78.6 TBA
Track (2WD, front/rear) (Inches) 66.3/66.3 TBA
Track (AWD, front/rear) (Inches) 66.1/ 66.0 TBA
Ground Clearance (2WD/AWD; unladen) (Inches) 7.28/7.87 TBA
Approach/Breakover/Departure Angles (2WD) 19.2°/18.5°/21.4° TBA
Approach/Breakover/Departure Angles (AWD) 20.1°/19.6°/22.1° TBA

Interior

The Atlas Truck will carry a similar, if not the same, interior as the Atlas SUV. We’ve seen this done countless times throughout the automotive landscape, not to mention between the Honda Pilot and Ridgeline. The Atlas Truck, in that case, will come with a rather swanky cabin that features a clean, modern, if not minimalistic design. Volkswagen’s digital gauge cluster will make the jump, as will its Car-Net infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Dual zone climate controls will be present, as will the three-spoke steering wheel and console-mounted gear shifter.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas High Resolution Interior
- image 693401

Note: Atlas SUV interior pictured here.

The Atlas Truck will carry a similar, if not the same, interior as the Atlas SUV.

The second-row seats will see some changes. It will be interesting to see what Volkswagen could come up with, but hopefully, it will be as innovative as Honda’s solution for the Ridgeline. Interior volume and configurability should be top priorities for Volkswagen, making the Atlas Truck a rather user- and family-friendly.

To be different, perhaps VW could introduce a mid-gate system that opens the cargo area into the cabin. Picture something like the Chevrolet Avalanche, but with less tacky plastics. Only time will tell what Volkswagen has up its sleeve. And keep in mind, this is pure speculation.

The Competition

2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Interior
- image 661636
2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Interior
- image 661637

The 2017 Ridgeline’s interior is nearly a carbon copy of the Honda Pilot’s The only difference is the shifter. The pilot uses Honda’s push-button system, while the Ridgeline gets a more traditional shift lever. Otherwise, the same luxuries and convenience items are common to both. This includes all the intuitively placed cubbyholes and storage compartments, the deep center console, and the abundance of cup holders.

The Ridgeline also uses Honda’s familiar infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The lack of volume and tuning knobs are its main detractors. Dual zone climate controls with independent of rear controls from up front, and two-level heated front seats make the interior a comfortable place to ride. The gauge cluster uses a combination of analog and digital gauges to convey vehicle information. The digital speedometer is particularly appreciated.

2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Interior
- image 661638
2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Interior
- image 661639
The 2017 Ridgeline’s interior is nearly a carbon copy of the Honda Pilot’s The only difference is the shifter.

In back, the Ridgeline’s seats are mounted to the rear bulkhead and have a surprising amount of space under the bottom cushion. Not only does this make the seating position comfortable, but it also provides a huge amount of storage space. Honda claims it’s large enough for a full-size golf bag – all without losing any seating space.

Overall, the Ridgeline is packed full on typical Honda goodness in regards to its user-friendly atmosphere and intuitive controls.

Interior Dimensions

Honda Ridgeline Volkswagen Atlas Pickup
Headroom front/rear (Inches) 40.1/38.8 TBA
Legroom front/rear (Inches) 40.9/36.7 TBA
Shoulder Room front/rear (Inches) 62.0/61.5 TBA
Hiproom front/rear (Inches) 59.1/56.6 TBA
Passenger Volume (cu ft) 109.7 TBA

Drivetrain

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV is available with one of two engines. The standard mill is a 238-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, while an optional 3.6-liter VR6 offers more grunt, with 280 horsepower. Both engines mate to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.

The standard mill is a 238-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, while an optional 3.6-liter VR6 offers more grunt, with 280 horsepower.

The four-cylinder is paired only with FWD, meaning it’s the one best selected when fuel efficiency ranks high on the priority list. The VR6, on the other hand, is available with VW’s 4Motion AWD. The 4Motion system is equipped with a driver-selectable drive modes for various terrain conditions. Operated by a knob on the center console, the system will allow the driver to select what terrain he’s currently traversing, giving the Atlas’ computers a chance to adjust driving characteristics like throttle response, ABS and traction control systems, and power distribution between the front and rear axles. The modes include Snow, Sport, On-Road, and Off-Road.

Volkswagen would be smart to transfer these same powertrain options to the Atlas Truck. That would give customers the ability to purchase something more tailored to their needs. It would also give Volkswagen a leg-up on the Ridgeline, which is only available with one engine. The Ridgeline is available with either FWD or AWD, however.

Engine 2.0-liter turbocharged 3.6-liter VR6
Horsepower 238 HP 280 HP
Transmission eight-speed automatic eight-speed automatic
Drivetrain FWD FWD or 4Motion all-wheel-drive
Towing TBA TBA

The Competition

2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Interior
- image 661623

And speaking of the Honda Ridgeline, the truck comes powered with Honda’s familiar 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6. The engine produces a stout 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. While that’s technically below par in the mid-size segment, the Ridgeline is still capable of towing 5,000 pounds when equipped with AWD.

The engine balances power and efficiency with Honda’s i-VTEC system, which adjusts valve timing, lift, and duration. This allows the engine to run more efficient at lower rpm while offering more power at higher speeds.

The truck comes powered with Honda’s familiar 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6. The engine produces a stout 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.

Mated to the transversely mounted, all-aluminum V-6 is a six-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, Honda doesn’t allow the driver to manual shift gears, nor a is “Tow/Haul” mode available.

Nevertheless, the 3.5-liter and six-speed automatic with AWD provides plenty of power, control, and grip. I can say this having driven several 2017 Ridgelines through off-road courses, on-road driving loops, and over 1,500 miles of interstate.

Engine 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6
Horsepower 280 HP @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 262 LB-FT @ 4,700 RPM
Transmission 6-Speed Automatic
Curb Weight (2WD/AWD) 4,242/4,431 Lbs
Total Payload Capacity (2WD/AWD) 1,465/1,584 Lbs
Towing Capacity (2WD/AWD) 3,500/5,000 Lbs

Pricing

Volkswagen has not released pricing for the 2018 Atlas, so it’s hard to speculate on pricing for the Atlas Truck. However, speculate we will. In our review of the 2018 Atlas, our Robert Moore figures the Atlas will likely start around $33,000 and reach a range-topping price around $45,000.

Volkswagen will likely match the Honda Ridgeline’s initial price, which starts at $29,475 for the 2017 model. In this case, expect the Atlas Truck to start right around $30,000.

The Competition

As stated above the 2017 Honda Ridgeline carries a starting price of $29,475. That gets you the 3.5-liter V-6 with FWD in the RT trim line. AWD is a $1,900 option. Seven trim lines are available, including the murdered-out Black Edition. The Black Edition is also the Ridgeline’s top trim level, and comes included with nearly every feature and option as standard. It starts at $42,970.

The Traditional Pickups

Toyota Tacoma

2016 Toyota Tacoma High Resolution Exterior
- image 610490
2016 Toyota Tacoma High Resolution Exterior
- image 609468

The Honda Ridgeline isn’t the only contender Volkswagen needs to worry about. Toyota’s Tacoma has long been the sales leader in the mid-size segment, offering reliability, longevity, off-road capability, and functionality wrapped in an attractive package. The Tacoma’s most recent change came for the 2016 model year. The new truck features updated styling, a more modern interior, and a new 3.5-liter V-6.

The 3.5-liter provides 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque routed through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. 4WD is optional, as are a couple off-road trim packages that make the Tacoma a worthy truck in the dirt. For those wanting a basic truck, Toyota also offers a four-cylinder.

The Tacoma is available in Access Cab and Double Cab, creating more variety to choose from. Prices start at $26,405 for the work-grade SR5 and range up to $42,960 for the Tacoma TRD Pro with the automatic transmission.

Read more about the Toyota Tacoma here.

Chevrolet Colorado

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 628024
2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 628028

The Colorado is quickly gaining market share with its revival for the 2015 model year after several years on hiatus. The Colorado is offered in both Extended and Crew Cab forms, with both long and short bed options. Its interior is a bit less swanky than the Tacoma, mostly thanks to low-grade plastics and an uninspired gauge cluster. its optional MyLink infotainment system is superior to Toyota Entune system, however.

The Colorado can be had with one of three engines. The base is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that should be reserved for fleet use. The volume engine is the ubiquitous 3.6-lite V-6. It offers 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. Those wanting more toque will love the optional 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder turbodiesel. It makes 181 horsepower and an impressive 369 pound-feet of torque.

The Colorado competes with the Tacoma TRD Pro with its new-for-2018 Colorado ZR2 trim – a hard-core off-roader with a heavily upgraded suspension and unique bodywork. Pricing for the Colorado starts at $20,055, but quickly rises into the lower $40,000 range. Check every option box, and the price can creep toward the $45,000 mark rather quickly.

Find out more about the Chevrolet Colorado here.

Conclusion

2019 Volkswagen Atlas Pickup Exterior Exclusive Renderings Computer Renderings and Photoshop
- image 705495

While we have no official word from Volkswagen or any other inside sources, the chances of the German automaker moving forward with a pickup inside the U.S. are legitimately reasonable. After all, Volkswagen is looking to appeal to U.S. consumers and move its earnings into the black after the whole Dieselgate scandal. A hot-selling SUV is obviously on the way. A hot-selling pickup truck would be the next logical step. Honda is hardly a traditional truck maker, but has done rather well with the Ridgeline, so it’s safe to say VW is hoping to copy Honda’s play. At least that’s what we’re speculating.

Volkswagen is looking to appeal to U.S. consumers and move its earnings into the black after the whole Dieselgate scandal. A hot-selling SUV is obviously on the way.

So what do you think? Should Volkswagen build a pickup version of its Atlas SUV? Would it sell well against the Ridgeline and the growing list of “traditional” mid-size pickups? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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