New Volkswagen subcompact crossover: 2021 Apollo on launchpad

By Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview staff

Expect the 2021 Volkswagen Apollo to be based on a subcompact crossover VW sells in China as the Tharu

What is the 2021 Volkswagen “Apollo”?

A new entry-level crossover slotting below Volkswagen’s compact Tiguan in size and price. It would give the German automaker its first competition for the Subaru Crosstrek, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and other subcompact crossovers. 

Despite no official announcement as of Oct. 2019, industry sources are convinced this little five-seater is coming to the U.S. It’s confirmed for overseas markets and would fill a hole in VW’s North American lineup. It’ll look very much like a scaled-down Tiguan, but what it will be called is open to speculation. For South America and Mexico, it’s badged the Tarek; for China, the Tharu.

For the U.S., our guess is the Apollo. Volkswagen holds a trademark on the name. And Apollo would follow a precedent established when VW’s U.S. dealers lobbied successfully to have the company’s midsize crossover christened the Atlas rather than another T-name less palatable to American ears (see Tiguan and Touareg). Indeed, the Atlas, which is built in Chattanooga, Tenn., is called the Teramont in export markets.

Whatever the new subcompact crossover is called, expect a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). It’ll be built on a downsized version of the MQB architecture that underpins a host of other Volkswagens, including the Golf, Jetta, Tiguan, even the Atlas. Production for North American will take place in Puebla, Mexico.

Should I wait for the 2021 Volkswagen Apollo or buy another 2020 subcompact crossover?

VW holds a trademark on the “Apollo” name. Chances are it’ll apply it to the Americanized version of the Tharu

Volkswagen fans will naturally want to wait. So will folks keen on the brand’s reputation for fun-to-drive vehicles and efficient packaging. And with discontinuation of the Golf SportWagen, which was available with AWD, and its higher-riding cousin, the AWD Golf Alltrack, Apollo will be the only choice in a VW utility this size.     

Still, it may be difficult to be patient. A wealth of attractive vehicles already populates a segment about to get more crowded with new entries such as the Hyundai Venue, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, Toyota FT-4X, and the redesigned 2021 Trax. By our count, the VW will be among no fewer than 19 subcompact crossovers available in U.S. showrooms for model-year 2021.

Expect its lineup to follow VW convention with S, SE, SEL, and SEL Premium grades. A sport-themed R-Line edition, which might slot between the SEL and Premium, may arrive several months after the first wave of Apollos settles in showrooms. The S model might come only with front-wheel drive, but the others should offer a choice of front-drive or VW’s 4Motion AWD system.

What will the styling be like?

Expect youth-oriented styling touches for the Apollo, as seen on this overseas example

Judging from the Tarek and Tharu, picture a three-fifths scale Tiguan, but perhaps with a few design flourishes to capture the attention of young urbanites. It should count as another modern VW design: clean, handsome, upscale.

Size-wise, it’ll be a clear class smaller than the Tiguan, likely measuring some 10 inches shorter overall and with a roofline 2 inches lower, although it’ll be nearly as wide. It should share the overseas models’ 105.5-inch wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles), which is down 4.4 inches from that of the Tiguan but still would be among the longest in America’s compact-crossover class. Those dimensions should place it among the segment leaders for passenger and cargo room.

The Apollo’s cabin design will mirror that of the Tarek, seen here

Anticipate an interior with established VW themes. Most trim levels would have a conventional instrument cluster but the company’s cool Digital Cockpit could be offered, perhaps as standard on the SEL Premium. Digital Cockpit replaces analog gauges with a 12.3-inch LCD screen that can be configured to display a variety of info, including customized gauges and navigation mapping.

Expect the central dashboard to feature 7- or 8-inch-touchscreen infotainment systems with standard support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Upper-trim models will probably offer imbedded GPS navigation.

What will be under the hood?

Even as VW moves rapidly into pure-electric vehicles, the 2021 Apollo will stick with two conventional gasoline engines drawn from the company’s MQB powertrain stable.

It’s a good bet S, SE, and SEL models will use a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 148 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Look for the SEL Premium to employ a 2.0-liter turbo four with 187 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Output of the 1.5-liter would be on par with that of most entry-level engines in this class. The 1.8-liter would be among the segment leaders in horsepower and especially in torque, which is the prime ingredient in acceleration.  

Just one transmission will be offered, though only VW knows whether it’ll be a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic or a conventional eight-speed automatic.

While it will reap the benefits of the sophisticated MQB platform, the Apollo’s road manners aren’t apt to match those of the lighter Golf. It should be nimbler than the larger, heavier Tiguan, though, and a fine foil for anything in its competitive set.

The Apollo won’t be intended for serious off-roading but will ride a suspension raised enough to emphasize its crossover credentials – and to furnish the elevated seating position that goes with the species.

What will fuel economy be like?

The 2021 Apollo’s EPA ratings should be in line with those of its subcompact-crossover cohort, and superior to those of the Tiguan.

Assuming the aforementioned turbo four-cylinder engines, we project ratings with the 1.5-liter of around 26/34/30 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 24/32/28 mpg with AWD. For the 2.0-liter, figure around 24/31/26 and 23/29/25 mpg, respectively. All models would use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

What features will it have?

S and SE models will cover the basics expected in the class, but the SEL and especially the SEL Premium may well be surprisingly well-equipped for the competitive set. We’ll base our projections on what the Tiguan offers.

Starting with the 2021 Apollo S grade, expect touchscreen infotainment with CarPlay and Android Auto, LED daytime running lights, and cloth seating surfaces. This entry-level trim should come standard with safety features like forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. The S model probably would account for less than 10 percent of sales.

The majority of shoppers will gravitate to the SE and SEL. The SE would build on the S with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton ignition, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, and extra USB charging points.

SEL grades would likely include all that, plus adaptive cruise control, an imbedded navigation system, a panoramic sunroof, larger wheels and tires, remote engine start, and USB ports for rear-seat occupants.

Expect the range-topping ’21 Apollo SEL Premium to come with rear-obstacle detection, rear automatic braking, full LED exterior lighting, Digital Cockpit, leather upholstery, a hands-free power rear liftgate, a heated steering wheel, and a 360-degree camera.

How much will it cost?

With the Tiguan starting around $26,000 (including the manufacturer’s destination fee), there’s plenty of room for a VW crossover aimed at more budget-minded buyers.

Our 2021 Apollo base-price estimates include a projected $1,000 destination fee and a front-wheel-drive configuration; AWD should add another $1,500 or so.

Figure a base price of around roughly $22,000 for the ’21 Apollo S and around $23,500 for the SE. Look for the SEL to start around $25,000 and the SEL Premium around $27,500.

The lone factory option will likely be the SEL Premium’s full range of driver aids. It will be part of a Driver Assistance Package and cost around $500 and be available on the rest of the Apollo lineup.

Apollo’s value equation must recognize VW’s efforts to improve reliability, and the outlook is promising. The brand has climbed above the industry average for dependability in J.D. Power surveys of owners of three-year-old vehicles. Better yet for Apollo intenders, J.D. Power rated the Tiguan the most dependable “small SUV” for 2019. That’s good news, given the anticipated component commonality and that the Tiguan is built in the same VW plant that’s expected to turn out Apollos for the U.S.

On a side note, VW no longer lays claim to industry-leading warranty coverage. Starting with model-year 2020 vehicles, the automaker cut its bumper-to-bumper coverage to 4 years/50,000 miles, from 6 years/72,000 miles. It did, however, institute two years of no-cost scheduled maintenance.

What’s the release date for the 2021 VW Apollo?

VW could show a close-to-production concept of the Apollo at a major North American auto show in calendar 2020. Likely candidates would be Chicago (February) or New York (April). Production could start in the late summer, with the first models reaching dealers in fall 2020.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]