VW T-Prime Concept GTE SUV shows off the future of controls

As expected, Volkswagen did unveil a new concept vehicle that would serve as its blueprint for its future full-sized SUVs. But to bill it simply as the future 2017 Touareg would be a huge disservice. True, it will probably underpin future SUV models, perhaps excluding the new Tiguan already coming this Spring. But more than that, it hosts a cornucopia of interface technologies, mostly revolving around touch, voice, and even gestures, that could very well foreshadow where the future of car controls is most likely headed.

The T-Prime Concept GTE sports a plug-in hybrid drive. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine has an output of the 248 hp and a torque of 273 lb-ft. In GTE mode, it zooms from 0 to 60 in 6.0 seconds with a top speed of 139 mph. The 14.1 kWh electric engine, on the other hand, delivers 134 hp and a max torque of 258 lb-ft. Alone it can carry the SUV up to 31 miles in metro areas. Together, the two deliver 375 hp and a fuel efficiency of 29 mpg.

Externally, the concept GTE is immediately striking. Volkswagen boasts of how it has mixed up a few elements to differentiate the T-Prime concept and its future descendants from the growing SUV population. For example, the chrome radiator grille extends through the whole width of the of the front fascia, incorporating the LED headlights into its wide embrace. In profile, the T-Prime exhibits what Volkswagen describes as opposing window and character lines. While the window line starts from the hood and ends in the side window of the D-pillar, the character line starts from the rear lights and sweeps to the front wings, slicing through the rear wheel arches. The yin yang effect serves to lower the visual center of gravity and give the SUV a more athletic overtone.

The real breath-taking features, however, will be found inside. Or rather what you won't find inside. Aside from the steering wheel and pedals, there are virtually no other conventional physical controls inside the T-Prime concept GTE. Everything is controlled either through touch interfaces, voice control, or gestures. Even the gearbox has a new "by-wire" control. Volkswagen boasts of its new "Curved Interaction Area", which is basically the 12-inch Active Info instrumentation display visually merged with the 15-inch head unit. Two 10.1-inch tablets also snap onto the back of the front seats, providing rear seat passengers with much needed distractions. But in between those two rear seats is another 9.6-inch touch display, integrated in the continuous center console surface. This lets rear passengers control climate control without bothering the driver.

Quite peculiar is the "by-wire" system of the gearbox, necessitated by the absence of conventional physical controls. In its stead, a glass scroll wheel with a chrome surround is located on the center console that lets the driver adjust gears. Curiously, above the real roller is a virtual wheel that turns accordingly as the driver makes the adjustment.

Given how SUVs are now seen as the next growth area of the automotive industry, Volkswagen is filling up its portfolio with models that hit all the price ranges, with the new Tiguan smack in the middle. Below this mark will be the a new member of the Golf class inspired by the T-Roc concept as well as a new Polo class SUV based on the T-Cross Breeze. Above the Tiguan will come a new mid-size SUV for the US and China, a new Tourage, and an SUV that will more closely take after the style of this hi-tech T-Prime Concept GTE.