2018 Volkswagen Atlas Review


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2018 Volkswagen Atlas Overview

Volkswagen's new midsize Atlas crossover SUV certainly lives up to its name—an allusion to the mythological Greek god who carried the world on his shoulders. The new Atlas might not be able to carry the entire world on its sturdy roof rack, but it certainly stakes its claim as the largest VW ever sold in America. Developed primarily for the U.S. market and built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rather than in a German factory, the Atlas can seat up to 7 passengers across 3 rows. It takes its rightful place at the top of the automaker's hierarchy of SUVs, which also includes the compact Tiguan and the pricey, niche-oriented Touareg.

Everything about the Atlas is big by VW standards. It rides on a stretched version of the automaker's modular MQB platform, which it shares with the Audi A3 and TT, the Tiguan, the Touareg, the Golf, and the Passat sedan, which is built in the same Chattanooga factory as the Atlas. However, the Atlas exceeds them all in length, measuring 198.3 inches from stem to stern, compared to the Touareg’s 188.8 inches. At 77.9 inches wide, it similarly outclasses the Touareg, which checks in at 76.4 inches, and it stands 69.9 inches high to the Touareg's 68.2 inches. The king of Volkswagen's SUV class also bests its siblings when it comes to interior room, offering 96.8 cubic feet of cargo space with both the second and third rows folded. That's not quite airplane-hangar capacity (though it resembles one when viewed from the rear with the tailgate up), but the Atlas can certainly hold plenty of gear to accompany its passengers.

Despite its size, the Atlas displays a clean, well-proportioned exterior design that doesn’t feel weighty or massive, although it does bear some resemblance to the Land Rover Range Rover—or more accurately, the Jeep Grand Cherokee—due to its flat-topped wheel wells and uncluttered front end. The Atlas attempts to distinguish itself from the competition with a bold and original exterior, with details like a tapering roofline and a unique sideline that bubbles up over each wheel well. Above the protruding front bumper, a narrow, simple grille features 2 horizontal slats framed by standard LED headlights and LED daytime running lights. Subtle fog lights, lower black cladding along the sides, narrow taillights, and geometric dual exhausts are among the other exterior features. Overall, it has a sleeker look than either the Range Rover or the Grand Cherokee, though it’s not quite as snazzy as the Mazda CX-9. Buyers can choose from a wide range of exterior colors, including vibrant paints like Kurkuma Yellow Metallic and Fortana Red Metallic, that are guaranteed to make this big SUV stand out in a crowd.

Volkswagen plans to offer the Atlas in five trims, with varying degrees of luxury and performance. Buyers can add an R-Line appearance package to the SE and SEL trims, which dresses up the Atlas with unique front and rear bumpers, side skirts, a rear diffuser, 20-inch wheels, and special R-Line badging. On the interior, the R-Line package brings a few minor updates like stainless-steel pedals and unique steering-wheel badging.

Power for the Atlas comes from a choice of two engines. Base trims will get a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powerplant that generates 235 hp, while the upper-end trims receive a 3.6-liter V6 good for 276 hp. VW pairs both engines with an 8-speed automatic transmission that channels torque to the front wheels in the SUV's standard configuration. With V6 models, owners can add the automaker's 4Motion all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, which includes a drive-mode selection feature with On-Road, Off-Road, Snow, and Sport settings.

When designing the Atlas, Volkswagen paid particular attention to the comfort and flexibility of its seating arrangements. The middle row can accommodate 3 passengers, while the third row seats 2 comfortably. VW made it as easy as possible for passengers to get into and out of the third row, thanks to longer rear doors and a 35/65 split-folding second row that can be operated even with a child seat installed. Early reports suggest that the automaker plans to offer optional second-row captain's chairs, which would reduce seating capacity to 6.

Critics have noted that the Atlas’s cabin is quite sedan-like, which is not totally surprising since the Atlas borrows much of its interior inspiration from the Passat. The layout of the dash and controls is clean and driver-centric but somewhat uninspiring, although the knobs and buttons are easy to access and manage. The lower-end trims will no doubt come equipped with a decent range of standard features, but buyers will have to look to the higher trims and options list to find the really good stuff—like an 8-inch touchscreen, a 480-watt 12-speaker Fender audio system, or VW’s Car-Net suite of connected services and apps like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. Other add-on options include a head-up display and the Active Information Display digital cockpit, which replaces the analog gauges with a 12.3-inch driver-configurable screen that shows such information as navigation maps, driver-assistance settings, speed, and fuel consumption.

Busy owners with big families will appreciate all the latest driver-assistance technology available on the 2018 Atlas. It offers a total of 9 optional features designed to aid drivers, including adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot monitoring system with rear traffic alert, pedestrian monitoring, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and a parking steering assistant. VW also notes that the Atlas will be the only vehicle in its class to offer an automatic post-collision braking system, which will apply the brakes after a collision to help reduce the chance of additional damage. Expect all the regular safety features, including a wide range of airbags.

Due in part to its long time in development and a few unrelated marketing headaches at VW, the Atlas arrives a little late-to-the-game to an increasingly large and competitive field. It goes up against class stalwarts like the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and GMC Arcadia, as well as the Mazda CX-9. It's longer than all those vehicles except the CX-9, but it still doesn't match behemoths like the Chevy Suburban or Cadillac Escalade in size.

Volkswagen has high hopes that the debuting Atlas will help boost North American sales, but the new SUV has a tough road ahead as it seeks to establish itself. Still, it benefits from the fact that it's simply a good-looking vehicle that will certainly grab the attention of loyal VW buyers right out of the gate. It also has its German pedigree to rely on, which is generally a good thing, especially when it comes to build quality and interior comfort. Of note, VW plans to price the Atlas above the Tiguan but under the Touareg, in the general neighborhood of $35,000, to make it competitive in its class. Only time will tell how big of a splash it makes with American buyers.


Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.

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