By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is arriving un-fashionably late for the three-row Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) party, but it’s making a big slash as it dives into the pool.
Much of the reason for the big splash comes from its jumbo size, which at 198.3-inches long, 78.3-inches wide and 70-inches high, making the Atlas the largest Volkswagen sold in the U.S. As a comparison, that’s just a smidgen smaller than the Honda Odyssey minivan.
This is a different kind of vehicle for Volkswagen, and appears to have zeroed-in on its target market, which is families wanting lots of interior space and the rugged SUV styling. For Atlas, that means three rows of seating, which will hold seven adults. Plus, it also has lots of space for cargo when needed – from 20.6 cubic feet with the three rows in place to 96.8 cubic feet when rows two and three are folded.
The rugged SUV styling has a trim muscular look highlighted by flared fenders, full LED front lighting, a large (4.46 feet by 2.85 feet) panoramic sunroof, large wheels and tires. The resulting design still boasts a low 0.34 coefficient of drag.
The Atlas was engineered using the VW Group’s MQB platform. Volkswagen spent roughly $60 billion developing this modular construction system to underpin a wide variety of vehicles from little city cars up to full-size SUVs. The platform can be used for front-engine vehicles with front- or all-wheel drive.
The interior is like all Volkswagen models, simple and functional. Early versions were equipped with a second-row bench seat for a 2-3-2 seating configuration, but captain’s seats are an available option on upper-level models arriving later in the model year. The top level SEL Premium has an advanced Volkswagen Digital Cockpit system with a fully-digital instrument cluster. The 12.3-inch TFT (liquid crystal) display allows the panel to be customize.
The American-made SUV, which comes in five district trim levels, gets its power from the latest version of VW’s versatile 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder direct-injection engine. Top models use the venerable 276-hp 3.6-liter, narrow angle VR6 engine. Both gasoline engines are attached to VW’s excellent eight-speed automatic transmission driving the front-wheels. The VR6 is available with 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
The four-cylinder model, which weighs 4,222-pounds, gets an EPA fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. The 4,502-pound AWD V6 version we drove is rated at 17/23/19 mpg. We averaged 18.9 mpg during a week of local driving. The engines are less powerful than those of most competitors. The VR6 takes 7.9 seconds to make a 0 to 60 mph acceleration run, while most competitors are at least a half second faster. The towing capacity ranges from 2,000- to 5,000-pounds based on the engine.
The Atlas drives like a Volkswagen, and that’s a good thing for us because traditionally Volkswagens have been some of the better driving cars. That’s also especially impressive considering the larger size. The ride is very comfortable, but the handling resembles a luxury sedan with some body roll when pushed through the corners.
The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is available in five trim levels —S, SE, SE w/ Technology, SEL and SEL Premium. Prices cover a broad range from $31,425, including the destination charge, for the front-wheel drive, four-cylinder S up to $49,415 for the SEL Premium with V6 engine and AWD. The two available SEL options (second row Captain’s Chairs and 20-inch black wheels can add $860.) The wide pricing makes the Atlas affordable for buyers on a budget and those that want “the works”.
Even in the base trim, the Atlas offers an impressive equipment level including LED headlights, roof rails, cruise control, touch screen audio, Bluetooth, Car-Net connectivity and rearview camera.
The SEL trim adds most of the features we like to see on upper-level cars. It includes features like a panoramic sunroof, remote start, rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, power Easy Open liftgate, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, front driver and lane assist along with Park Distance Control, navigation (V6 models), Automatic Post-Collision Braking System and many other handy features.
In keeping with the connectivity ‘needs’ of many shoppers, VW offers a smartwatch (supported by Apple Watch and Android Wear operating systems) that allows the owner to control a host of Security & Service features and functions available through the iPhone app and Customer Web Portal, directly from their wrist. The watch can check fuel levels, unlock doors and even find the vehicle in a parking lot.
The Volkswagen Atlas is backed by a six-year/72,000-mile New Vehicle Warranty which includes the engine, transmission and 4Motion®.
The Atlas is certainly an interesting addition to the market, and deserves a “must drive” ranking for anyone shopping for a mid-size SUV.