Looks like: A big, butch, mid-size pickup
Defining characteristics: Chunky wheels and fenders, all-digital interior, fancy lighting, unique bedrail system
Ridiculous features: The light show when you start it up
Chance of being mass-produced: We'd be surprised if it isn't
Volkswagen's MQB platform forms the basis of a dozen cars around the world — it's an amazingly flexible chassis that underpins everything from the tiny Polo subcompact to the great big seven-seat Atlas SUV. Well, VW is keen to show just how flexible this architecture is, and has done so by pulling the wraps off a stunning surprise concept vehicle at the 2018 New York International Auto Show. This is the Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak concept, a large, five-passenger mid-size pickup truck based on the Atlas, and while VW says that it's not necessarily intended for production, the company will carefully gauge public reaction to the concept to see whether it might be a good idea.
The Atlas Tanoak shares some structure and front styling with the Atlas SUV, but the Tanoak features a different look to the front end, with a taller grille, round LED running lights, LED headlights and an integrated winch in the bumper. Everything aft of the front doors is new: The rear doors feature handles that are integrated into the C-pillars to disguise them, while beefier fenders are fitted over the rear wheels, culminating in a tailgate with a stamped Atlas logo.
The Tanoak is bigger than the Atlas, too. This is the biggest vehicle yet built on the MQB platform, as it's been stretched even longer than the Atlas SUV. The overall length is 15.8 inches longer than the Atlas, for a total of 214.1 inches, while its wheelbase also has been extended by 11 inches to 128.3 inches. It sits higher too, thanks to a 2-inch lift, giving it 9.8 inches of ground clearance. VW calls it a "dual-cab seater-seater" setup, but four full-size doors would technically classify it as a crew cab in pickup parlance.
The bed is 64.1 inches long and 57.1 inches wide, with 50.4 inches between the wheel wells. VW says that it can easily transport things like bikes or surfboards; with the tailgate lowered, it can haul all-terrain vehicles and small motorcycles. It features a unique bedrail system that VW says improves flexibility for the cargo area.
The Atlas Tanoak's interior is significantly redesigned from the Atlas SUV, but features a lot of concept-style electronica that is unlikely to make it to production. Using touchscreens for most major functions like climate control looks good on a concept car, but isn't likely to be used if VW makes the Tanoak. Neither is the nifty interior ambient mood lighting that shifts from yellow to blue light at night, depending on whether the vehicle's mode selector is in Off-Road or City mode. The reconfigurable Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrument display for the gauge cluster is a much better bet to make production, however.
Under the Hood
Powering this beast is VW's excellent 3.6-liter V-6 engine that can be found in both the Atlas SUV and Passat sedan. It makes 276 horsepower and puts the power down through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, using full-time 4Motion all-wheel drive. The Tanoak AWD features something called Active Control, which VW says allows the driver to switch between various on- and off-road modes depending on the terrain and environment. The transmission also features a low-range gear reduction for off-road crawling over more serious terrain. While that may suggest more serious off-road capability, the 20-inch wheels suggest otherwise.
While VW is mum on whether it will build the Atlas Tanoak, it wouldn't be hard to envision the automaker doing so. It has a big platform that could easily go up against a Honda Ridgeline, a plant in Tennessee where the Atlas SUV is built that has plenty of capacity to fill, a market in the U.S. clamoring for more pickups and a mandate from the VW corporate office in Germany to give its various global regions more autonomy to make product decisions. And while VW already makes a perfectly good mid-size pickup globally with the Amarok, that truck isn't coming here and can't be imported due to the tariff situation. Given all these conditions, the Tanoak seems like a much more likely idea.