VW’s Atlas, with its proverbially broad shoulders, was a pleasant surprise.
Review by Tom Sedens. Unfortunately I had some technology issues which compromised my pictures. I was about to use stock photos, which I hate doing, but thankfully another local auto journalist and a fine gentleman at that, Wade Ozeroff, had pictures of the very vehicle I had reviewed. And he was willing to let me use them. Thanks for saving the day, Wade! By the way, check out Wade’s work and wisdom at wozeroff.com
Pricing: 2018 VW Atlas
Base price (Execline trim): $52,540
Options: $625 Captain’s Package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,060
Big and bold, VW’s new Atlas sits atop their product line. Aptly named, much of VW’s fortune (particularly in North America) might rest on the Atlas’ shoulders as they move past Dieselgate and on to bigger, better things.
Following VW’s current practice of keeping things simple, the Atlas has substantial and uncomplicated styling that promises power without getting aggressive. Much like the new Tiguan, it blends in but does it in style. Both vehicles get that same sharp crease that travels along the side of the vehicle to really define the wheel wells. The look should age gracefully. My review vehicle’s Platinum Grey Metallic continues that trend – it’s not going to turn anyone’s head but it looks good. With that said, our friends picked up their new Atlas the week before I reviewed this one and they got it in black – and boy does it look good!
The grille is flanked by very bright LED headlights with lovely signature daytime running lights, and there are LED tail lights and nice integrated exhaust finishers out back. A nice touch is the chrome strip with the “A T L A S” name embossed into it. It looks strong and suits the vehicle. The handsome 20-inch wheels are shod with huge 255/50-sized tires.
I was surprised at how much attention the Atlas got. A lot of people came over to ask what it was – and virtually nobody had heard of the model before.
It’s not just big on the outside. The interior of the Atlas feels very big. But not cavernous. You immediately notice that the passenger is further away than you might be used to, and everything is stretched out. VW’s material choices are mostly good. There’s a lot of soft plastic, although not everything throughout the vehicle feels premium. I was not a fan of the strange Makotisch trim on the dash and doors. It’s like a digital wood. But the two-tone interior is exceptionally handsome and nicely designed.
The seats, upholstered in a gorgeous Golden Oak Vienna perforated leather, are power-adjustable, heated and ventilated. We found them reasonably comfortable, but our family and other passengers noted this – the seat cushion seemed inordinately long and actually bumped up behind our knees.
Behind the heated steering wheel sits the awesome and highly configurable Digital Cockpit instrument cluster. The middle of the dash is home to an 8-inch touchscreen. It has a few hard buttons and a bunch of virtual buttons that pop up when your hand gets close to the screen, thanks to a proximity sensor – this works very well, and the contextually appropriate buttons based on what’s happening on the screen are well thought out. The system manages your navigation, phone and the excellent 12-speaker Fender sound system. There’s a 3-zone automatic climate control system, with one zone for the rear passengers.
The ambient lighting and humongous panoramic sunroof (with a powered sunshade) are nice touches, and the universal garage door opener is useful.
Plenty of driver assistance technology to be found here – blind spot monitoring, emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert, 360-degree camera with parking sensors, automatic high beam control, lane departure assist, park assist and a remote starter.
Second and Third Row Seats
My review vehicle’s optional (and hilariously-named) Captain’s Package deletes the second row bench and replaces it with two excellent heated bucket seats – for a total of 6 seats. These buckets slide fore and aft, and recline – and even have armrests that swivel up and out of the way. We all loved these seats. They’re comfortable and very spacious, with plenty of head and leg room.
Second row seats get side sunshades and a separate climate control system, as well as a 115V and two USB charging plugs. These seats sit on tracks and as with any system like this, these are traps for sand and grit in the winter, and food, etc. if you’re transporting kids back there. Just something to keep an eye on and hit with the vacuum occasionally. I speak from experience here.
Getting into the third row is easy peasy either way you choose to go. Tilt and slide the second row seats forward with one quick motion and you’re in, or you can head back through the aisle between the second row seats.
The immensity of the Atlas becomes apparent here – the two third row seats are easily big enough to accommodate adults in terms of head and leg and foot room, even when sitting behind adults in the second row. Each side gets an open bin and a cupholder.
There is a large angled bin at the front of the console, which I really liked. You’ll find 12V, USB and auxiliary plugs there as well. A large bin (and another USB plug) is situated under the armrest lid. And there’s also a large bin that swings out of the underside of the dash to the left of the steering wheel.
Pop open the power tailgate with the kick-your-foot-under-the-bumper Easy Open technology (which literally only worked for us once out of the about 5 times we tried it)
The size of the Atlas really shines here too. Even with the third row in use, the 583L trunk space is significant and highly usable. I love the storage slot for the retractable, removable tonneau cover and there are additional bins on the sides. The third row folds down (in a 50/50 split) leaving you with 1572L of cargo space.
Under the Hood
The Atlas can be had with a 235 HP 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder, which seems like it would be working very hard. Thankfully mine came with the 3.6L V6 which churns out 276 HP and 266 lb.ft of torque. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive, the Atlas in this configuration is rated at 13.7 L/100 km highway and 10.1 L/100 km city. We averaged 12.6 L/100 km during a week that included a bit more freeway travel than usual, and packed in a lot of urban commuting.
I enjoyed the high driving position around town and on the open road. The V6 provides plenty of brawn and although it feels like it runs out of breath as you churn through the gears, it feels more than quick enough off the line and in most situations. The driving profile selector allows you to choose between several driving modes – Normal, Sport, Eco, Custom and terrain modes like Snow and Off-Road.
The transmission, which can be put into its own Sport mode, is quite good. It’s usually smooth and for the most part, we found it to be in the right gear. The engine’s start-stop technology is relatively smooth and rarely became intrusive. If it does bother you, you can turn it off.
The Atlas’ ride is very comfortable, although I think the super low-profile tires hurt it a bit in terms of some road imperfections making it through to the cabin. What really surprised me was how surprisingly nimble this land barge could be. Not so much when you throw it into quick city corners but more the longer, sweeping curves at higher speeds. I was able to take tight cloverleaf exits onto the freeway at almost shocking speeds and the vehicle remained completely predictable and felt more athletic the faster it was driven. The Atlas would unquestionably make an outstanding road tripper.
Sound levels are incredibly quiet – road, engine and wind noise are all negligible, even at highway speeds. Visibility out of the Atlas is excellent unless your third row headrests are up (which is required if you’re using those seats) – they really impede rear vision.
Pulling stuff? An Atlas with these specs has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.
Not much to complain about here, but I did find a quality issue. The plastic trim on the rear wheel well was coming apart from the metal bodywork – not only that, but you could see the glue that was holding the two parts together. Not a good sign on a nearly new vehicle, although it is certain this would be fixed under warranty.
This isn’t unique to the Atlas and would apply to most vehicles of this size but we noticed it was highly susceptible to cross-winds at highway speeds.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was very high. Although she was a bit put off by the overall size, she thought it was relatively easy to drive and she liked the way the interior was designed and how spacious every seating position felt.
The Atlas is an interesting addition to the marketplace. It’s a big SUV, and could be considered a value proposition. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a comparably equipped and sized SUV for this price. I’m hoping a couple of those quality issues are early production niggles that VW has ironed out. I liked most things about the Atlas, and it would be an easy vehicle to live with. If you need three rows, and you want a modern, spacious vehicle with all the bells and whistles, the Atlas should be on your shopping list.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by VW Canada.
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