The Atlas is a new model for VW for 2018 and is already proving to be popular for the German automaker. It becomes the largest vehicle made by VW and the only one to have three rows of seating. It also becomes an excellent option in the ultra-competitive midsize SUV segment.
Volkswagen is known for making fun, zippy and fairly small vehicles. The Atlas is definitely big with a boxy design, more along the lines of a Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9 or Nissan Pathfinder. It’s aimed at the American buyer, built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and designed for families who want a practical vehicle with a functional and roomy interior, all with a bit of VW flair.
The seven-passenger Atlas is available in five trims: S, SE, SE with Technology, SEL and SEL Premium. Starting prices range from $30,500 to $48,490.
Two engines are available: a four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-liter that makes 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, or a 3.6-liter six-cylinder that makes 276 hp and 266 pound-feet. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; the V6 offers VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system that has four different driving modes: Dry, Rainy, Snowy and Rough.
The V6 Atlas doesn’t have the typical zippy VW handling but delivers pretty smooth power in a variety of driving situations. There will be time when you wish for more power to move this 4,502-pound beast, for example when the Atlas is loaded with passengers and gear and you’re trying to quickly accelerate to freeway speeds or pass going uphill. The eight-speed shifts quickly and smoothly. There’s surprisingly little body lean when cornering. All in all, the Atlas handles like a smaller vehicle.
The ride is fairly firm but not jarring. It’s smooth when cruising on the freeway but you will notice some bumps when traveling over rough roads. The cabin is quiet with engine and road noise barely noticeable.
Fuel efficiency is about average for the class. EPA estimates for my tester are 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway with a combined rating of 19. I got 18 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving.
When properly equipped, the V6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The interior is pleasant but doesn’t have the opulent vibe of some competitors. Materials have a nice look and feel; there are some hard plastics but many are soft-touch. The huge sunroof makes for an airy feel. The first and second rows feel cavernous with plenty of leg- and headroom. While most third rows are only comfortable for small kids, even a couple of adults will be comfortable in the Atlas, especially on short trips. The middle row slides and flips forward, providing fairly easy access to the third row.
The cabin is very functional. Many USB ports are available for passengers in the first and second rows. Numerous cup and bottle holders are available in all three rows. The infotainment system is user-friendly. The touchscreen responds quickly and you can also use gestures such as swiping and pinching, as you’d use on your tablet or smart phone. Knobs and buttons can also be used for many functions such as volume and climate.
All Atlas models come standard with rearview camera, Bluetooth, six-speaker audio system, satellite radio, USB port, 6.5-inch touch screen, Volkswagen’s Car-Net App-Connect with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink, and automatic post-collision braking system.
Options include keyless entry, push-button start, remote start, panoramic sunroof, tri-zone climate control, eight-inch touch screen, four USB ports, eight-speaker audio system or Fender Premium audio system with 12 speakers, remote power liftgate, automatic high beams, park assist, front and rear park assist, 360-degree camera, and navigation.
My tester has Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit, a 12.3-inch display that lets you customize your display so the information you want is right in front of you, and you can make adjustments via the steering wheel-mounted controls. VW says there are more than 100 settings that can be customized for as many as four drivers, including things like climate control settings, radio station presets, preferred drive mode and navigation view.
Several driver assistance technologies are available including blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, forward collision monitoring with automatic braking, and lane departure warning.
The Atlas has more storage space than most competitors. There are 20.6 cubic feet of space with all three rows in place, 55.5 cubes with the second row folded and 96.8 with both rows folded down. The third row folds 50/50 and the second row 60/40 which provides lots of flexibility in hauling passengers and gear. My tester has the optional power liftgate. Numerous bins and cubbies throughout the cabin can hold smaller items.
Available in six trims so there’s an Atlas for many kinds of buyers
Roomy interior, even in the third row
Lots of room for cargo
Drives like a smaller vehicle
User-friendly infotainment system
Available with all-wheel-drive
Lots of standard features and options
V6 engine can feel under-powered
Price is above average for the class
My tester starts at $48,490. Destination charge is $925 bringing the grand total to $49,415.
The VW Atlas may be a new model, but it’s already one of the top contenders in the midsize crossover segment. If you’re looking for three rows of seating, a functional interior, lots of room for kids, pets and cargo, available all-wheel-drive, a long list of standard features and a pleasant daily driver, it’s tough to beat the VW Atlas.