The Volkswagen Atlas, launched as a 2018 model, is a midsize three-row crossover SUV aimed at families and can carry up to seven occupants. Volkswagen has moved into another vehicle category with its new Atlas.
Nearly 200 inches in length, the Volkswagen Atlas is comparatively large for its class. Competitors include the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander. Built in Tennessee, alongside the Passat sedan, the Atlas focuses on the American market. (Volkswagen’s Tiguan and Touareg crossovers are more international in scope.)
We found the Volkswagen Atlas drives beautifully, among the best in its class, with smooth acceleration, stable braking that’s easy to modulate, solid stability at high speeds, comfortable ride, composed, responsive handling.
Three basic trim levels are offered for Atlas: S, SE, and SEL, along with several option packages.
Either a four-cylinder engine or a V6 may be installed. Base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, producing 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The optional 3.6-liter V6 generates 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet. Those figures fall a bit short of competitive models.
Both engines mate with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, but Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive is an option for V6 models. Four-cylinder versions, whose powertrain is used in other Volkswagen vehicles, are front-wheel drive only.
Because of Volkswagen’s scandalous admission to flagrantly modifying turbodiesel-engine software, in order to cheat on emissions testing, diesel power is not part of the Atlas picture.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested an Atlas as yet. Each Atlas includes six airbags and a rearview camera. A standard after-collision braking system applies and holds the brakes automatically, to prevent the vehicle from moving if it’s hit by another vehicle while stationary. All trim levels above base level feature an upgrade rearview camera, which incorporates dynamic guidelines to ease parking.
Additional safety technology is available for all but the base S model. For an additional $2,100, the SE edition may be equipped with a Technology Package that adds automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and an automatic-dimming mirror. Those safety features are standard with SEL trim.
The Stop/Start system, standard, can shut off the engine at traffic lights, to save a bit of fuel and reduce emissions.
Comparatively slim roof pillars help provide good visibility, whether over-the-shoulder or rearward. Headrests may be positioned low when not in use, so they don’t impede the view.
Atlas 2.0T S ($30,500), the base model, has the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. Cloth-upholstered seats, a rearview camera, 6.5-inch touchscreen, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are standard. So are six-speaker audio, LED headlights, and power windows/locks.
Atlas 3.6L V6 S ($31,900) substitutes the 3.6-liter V6 engine. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $925 destination charge.)
4Motion all-wheel drive ($1,800) is available for all V6 versions.
Atlas 2.0T SE ($33,590) adds leatherette upholstery, an 8.0-inch screen, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, and a power driver’s seat. Atlas 3.6L V6 SE ($34,900) contains the V6.
Atlas 3.6L V6 Launch Edition ($33,500) adds a panoramic moonroof, satellite radio, and footwell lighting.
Atlas 2.0T SE w/Technology Package ($35,690) includes automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and auto-dimming mirror. Atlas 3.6L V6 SE w/Technology ($37,090) substitutes V6 engine.
Atlas 2.0T SEL ($39,160) gets a panoramic moonroof, power tailgate, power passenger seat, driver’s seat memory, front/rear park-distance control, and automatic emergency braking. Atlas 3.6L V6 SEL ($40,890) substitutes V6 power.
Atlas 3.6L V6 SEL Premium ($48,490) has V6 and all-wheel drive, along with leather upholstery, navigation, power-folding mirrors, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, Fender audio, surround-view camera, and 20-inch wheels. A 12.3-inch screen replaces the regular instrument cluster.
Optional captain’s chairs can replace the three-seat rear bench in SE and SEL models.
Wide, flared fenders and modestly angular design elements might suggest the top Jeep SUV. With its overall conservative appearance, however, the Atlas is closer to Volkswagen’s two-row Touareg model, despite the latter’s more European look.
Some muscular details are evident, coupled with a wide stance, yet the Atlas tends to look a little smaller than its actual dimensions would imply. Every Atlas has full LED headlights flanking a wide grille, while LED taillights are optional.
Conservative design extends into the cabin, which combines clean lines with logical layout. The driver’s compartment might lack pizzazz, but everything is easy to use and intuitive. The cabin is impressively spacious and versatile, functional and easy to use.
Compared to nearly every rival, the Atlas cabin seems low-budget, however. Even the top model (SEL Premium) gets curious-looking simulated wood, while its leather upholstery looks more like vinyl. Some of the plastic trim looks mediocre. Volkswagen interior used to be among the best, but cost-cutting to make pricing more competitive is evident.
Standing out on the dashboard, Volkswagen’s Car-Net infotainment system works with an 8.0-inch screen. Unfortunately, its glass tends to highlight fingerprints. SEL Premium trim gets a full LCD instrument cluster, shunning conventional gauges.
All three seating rows promise stretch-out space. Large front seats give the driver and passenger good leg support, helped by an uncommonly long cushion.
Even the third row is relatively roomy. Capable of transporting average-size adults, that rearmost seat warrants best-in-class honors, though its cushion sits rather low.
The second-row bench slides fore/aft, to ease access to the rear compartment. Optional captain’s chairs can replace the three-place bench, reducing capacity from seven passengers to six.
Road noise is apparent, but cargo space excels.
On the road, an Atlas feels lighter than expected for a vehicle of its size and weight. Even with optional 20-inch tires mounted, occupants can anticipate a soft ride. Untroubled by undulating pavement, the fully independent suspension absorbs bumps capably and confidently.
Feeling like a smaller vehicle, the Atlas ranks among class leaders for roadgoing behavior. When pushed assertively into a curve or corner, this crossover remains composed and refined.
Though far from frugal by today’s fuel-efficiency standards, the smooth, near-silent V6 is both muscular and refined. With several passengers aboard a 4,500-pound vehicle, acceptable acceleration even with the V6 may require hearty stabs at the gas pedal.
Steering can be adjusted for a heavier feel, while the transmission may be altered to downshift quicker. Despite 8-inch ground clearance, the Atlas is not intended for more than the mildest off-road treks. Also, the tires don’t grip well in slippery mud on unpaved roads. With a factory towing package, an Atlas is rated to haul 5,000 pounds.
Fuel economy with V6 power ranks with the worst-in-class. The all-wheel-drive Atlas EPA-rated at 17/23 mpg City/Highway, or 19 mpg Combined. Front-drive raises that estimate to 18/25/20 mpg. Estimates are not yet available for the four-cylinder engine.
The Volkswagen Atlas drives very well and is long on utility. The interior appears low-budget, however. Though costly, Atlas excels in available technology. Best choice may be the Atlas SE with Technology Package, which includes several valuable safety features. Buyers also get an excellent warranty.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.