2018 Volkswagen Atlas Video Review
2018 Volkswagen Atlas Video Review by Auto Critic Steve Hammes
Just as the SUV rebirth is hitting its stride, VW has brought 2 excellent examples to market – the not so compact all-new Tiguan and this; the most decidedly American vehicle they’ve ever made, the 3-row, 2018 Atlas.
After waiting what seemed like forever for VW to join the modern crossover SUV game, they’re coming out punching hard this year. As impressive as the Tiguan is, this Atlas is perhaps even more so, immediately ingratiating itself as one of the top 3-rows on the market. Ten inches longer than VW’s $50,000, geriatric Touareg, the Tennessee-built Atlas is exactly what VW needs at just the right moment. Pricing starts in the low 30s so families can get on board and once they do they’ll discover an SUV that has sizing and ergonomics down to a ‘t.’ It’s readily apparent that VW engineers fine-tuned the user experience with an easy step-in height – not too high or too low, vast spaciousness with perfect sizing throughout and easy access to all 3 rows and yes, even adults fit comfortably back here. Clean and functional is VWs M.O. when it comes to design and that’s certainly true in here, perhaps a little too unadorned. The Atlas you’re looking at here is the SE with Technology and 4MOTION – the mid-trim and 1 of 5 all-wheel drive V6 models available. It doesn’t include navigation, a power passenger’s seat or real leather but it does come standard with App-Connect smartphone integration, a solid sounding 8-speaker Fender Audio System, 3 zone auto climate control, remote start, and the full pantry of driver assistance technologies. MSRP of this Atlas with no options is $39,815. As a matter of fact, the only options available on this trim are 2nd row captain’s chairs and the racier R-Line Appearance Package. Mine has true seating for 7 with slide and recline 2nd row seats, an additional 2 USB ports, easy access 3rd row, and a very likeable infotainment system and driver information display. Family vehicles succeed when they make life easier and that’s exactly what this Atlas does. Looking for more? SEL and SEL Premium models add even more goodies that can bump the price to nearly $50,000.
From a drivability standpoint, the Atlas is a breath of fresh air. In a turbocharged world I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to get behind the wheel of a good ‘ol V6 and 8-speed automatic combo. It’s just so smooth. This is the Touareg’s 3.6-liter powertrain, made to run on regular unleaded with output of 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. A 2.0-liter turbo is offered on the base front-wheel drive Atlas but this V6 is a perfect fit. Utilizing an engine stop/start feature, gas mileage is rated at 19mpg in combined driving…that’s on the low side but VW rewards you with the most refined and appropriately powerful drive in the segment. And other than some wind noise coming off of the side view mirrors, it’s really quiet in here, too.
VW has hit the proverbial home run here. It’s incredibly spacious, smartly designed, and has the perfectly matched V6 powertrain. The ride quality is softer than in other VWs and I like that yet it still handles like a well-engineered German machine. It’s a delight to drive though I wish the steering wasn’t quite as relaxed. Now, about the styling…
Hmmm. I’m not sure if it’s the appliance white or what, but the Atlas kind of looks like the SUV VW should’ve made a decade ago. The LED headlights and halogen fogs are a no-no, too. Pretty or eye-catching it is not, but the Atlas makes such a favorable impression in every other way I’d be willing to overlook this shortcoming.
For jaunts that take you off the beaten path, the all-wheel drive system incorporates Active Control with 4 settings with helpful Offroad and Snow profiles in addition to Sport and Eco drive modes. Within each, the tuning parameters for the engine, gearbox, and steering are varied. Under low load conditions, the rear axle is decoupled to save gas. Hill decent control automatically activates on gradients of more than 10% so go ahead and use that 8” of ground clearance. When equipped with the factory-installed hitch, the Atlas can pull 5,000 pounds.
Once shoppers realize it exists, the Atlas will rejuvenate dealer showrooms like VW hasn’t seen in decades.