The Atlas is a brand-new Volkswagen introduced to midsize crossover society at the 2018 debutante ball. It arrived quite late for the dance, years after competitors like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander started waltzing.
It turns out to be a solid crossover SUV, but with little to individuate it. And that might be a problem in a populous segment awash in entrenched dancers. It’s also true that with a starting price of $30,750, this three-row crossover is cheaper than many of its competitors and its predecessor, the Touareg.
For VW, the Atlas is a big guy. It is nearly 10 inches longer than the Touareg. That translates into lots of room in this seven-seater for people and their stuff — and an adult-friendly third row of seats. Indeed, that third row is easy to get into, thanks to sliding, folding middle row seats. It actually affords adequate leg and head room for most adults. (At 6-feet-2, I had to spread my knees a bit to fit, and my head grazed the head liner.)
Visibility is good in the Atlas, the seats comfortable and sufficiently supportive, the instruments and controls readily accessible. The chief nit to be picked with its clean, Bauhaus interior is the amount of hard plastic surfaces. The rear door panels of the tester, a top-of-the-line SEL Premium, were hard plastic except for the armrests and their immediate surroundings. There shouldn’t be this much hard surface on a $48,490 vehicle.
The Atlas’ body styling is a mixed bag for me. I like the hood sculpting, the character line that mimics the wheel openings, and the blacked-out wheel openings, rocker panels and lower fascias. But overall, I find the design less than stirring. There’s no signature element here, nothing to tie it to other VWs.
Unlike the base Atlas, which is a front-driver motivated by a 2-liter, 235-horsepower turbo, the tester was fitted with all-wheel-drive and a 3.6-liter, normally aspirated six that developed 276 horses. That kind of oomph is quite useful in a vehicle that weighs in at a beefy 4,500 pounds. While that engine gets the hefty Atlas from a standing start to 60 in about eight seconds, vehicle weight doesn’t permit fuel economy as respectable. The EPA estimates mileage at 17 city and 23 highway for the six-cylinder, AWD tester.
The narrow angle, direct-injected V-6 is an exceptionally quiet and smooth companion with a nice engine note. That smoothness is abetted by the velvety shifts accomplished by the eight-speed automatic furnished by Aisin, the Japanese transmission builder. Similarly, the civility of the engine complements the cabin’s quietude.
Ride quality is another plus. The comfort is engendered by a long, 117-inch wheelbase, as well as the suspension design.
The Atlas also affords competent cornering, suitably precise steering, and ample braking.
The un-optioned SEL Premium I drove turned out to be equipped to the third power. There was a ton of electronic safety gear, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitor, and lane departure warning.
Driving aids included an overhead view camera, parking assist, and remote engine start. And, of course, all the usual — and not so usual — hedonistic suspects, including premium sound; power lift gate; sunroof; heated steering wheel; power, heated, and ventilated front seats; power, folding and heated side mirrors with position memories and puddle lights; leather seating trim; 20-inch alloy wheels, and a trailer hitch with 5,000-pound towing capacity.
Atlas buyers also benefit from Volkswagen’s generous new bumper-to-bumper warranty: six years/72,000 miles.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL AWD
Base price: $48,490
As tested: $49,415 (including shipping)
Standard equipment: 3.6-liter V-6, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive, and a plethora of safety electronics and hedonism
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city and 23 highway (regular gas)
Engine performance: Adequate
Styling: Not stirring
Ride comfort: Fine
Warranty: Six years/72,000 miles bumper to bumper
Three Bens: Good