SUV/TRUCK REVIEWS

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2018 Volkswagen Atlas is a strong first entry into 3-row SUV battle Featured

Jan 29, 2018 Hit: 215 Written by 
The inside of the VW Atlas is spacious, and even the back row is capable of housing adults.
The inside of the VW Atlas is spacious, and even the back row is capable of housing adults. Photo by Matt Myftiu/AutoTechReviews.com

You know the demand for SUVs is exploding when basically every brand is trying to expand their lineup of large family vehicles as quickly as possible.

VW is no exception to this rule, having finally come around to launching a three-row SUV, dubbed the Volkswagen Atlas. Watching everyone else in the industry cash in on these larger SUVs wasn’t something they wanted to continue doing (it took roughly five years for the Atlas to come into existence, as it started from a concept vehicle in 2013).

This behemoth will never be confused with a Beetle (A Beetle could almost fit inside it, actually), but it’s the latest and best attempt yet by Volkswagen to figure out how to break more forcefully into the SUV sales charts in the U.S.

Additional Info

  • Vehicle:: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
  • Price as tested:: Starting price is $30,750, run up to $50K with options
  • Best feature:: Spacious, comfortable seating for 7; storage capacity
  • Rating:: 4 out of five stars
  • Who will want this vehicle?:: SUV buyers seeking an impressive new alternative to carry their brood around town

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

It may sound petty, but Volkswagen was wise to choose a name for their three-row SUV that people can actually say. Personally, I’m very fond of foreign languages and love trying to pronounce things, but Touareg and TIguan don’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Atlas is a bold name, it’s to the point, and something you can easily remember, and carries an image of strength (vs. Touareg, which carries an image of, well, nothing).


LOOKS

From the outside the Atlas looks very big, as 3-row SUVs tend to look. The exterior design is more of a muscular take (a la the Ford Explorer), as opposed to more curvy options like the Mazda CX-9. This is the biggest VW model in the U.S. (at 198.3 inches long, 78.3 inches wide and 70 inches high). A panoramic sunroof is offered; and 18 or 20 inch wheels are available.


The overall indoor aesthetic of the vehicle is one that’s classy, but not overly upscale. It fits with VW’s general Euro-centric approach of simplicity inside the vehicle and a focus on performance.

While the interior doesn't feel luxurious and has its share of hard plastic, it does compare well in the class, as this isn’t intended to compete with luxury SUVs that cost much more. Base model features a quilt-like cloth, and leatherette seating surfaces are offered in higher trim levels.

You do get plenty of storage options up front, including a deep center console plus lots of room for cups and and more in the rear two rows, along with USB plug-in options in the back.


The biggest problem with a three-row SUV is usually that the third row is unusable for anyone other than small kids. Thankfully, VW worked out a solution here that works well. In the 7-seat setup (2 up front, 3 in middle, 2 in back), even the two in back can feel comfy as long as the driver isn’t too tall.

Accessibility is key in an SUV like this, and what’s great here is the second-row bench can tilt or slide forward, even with car seats attached. This is good for loading/unloading people with minimal headache. Captain’s chairs are available in second row if you’re OK with seating for only six people.

ENGINE, HORSEPOWER

The power plant options in the Atlas are as follows:

-- A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine (235 hp, 258 lb.-ft. of torque)

-- A 3.6-liter V6 (276 hp, 266 lb.-ft. of torque)
An 8-speed automatic transmission is paired with both, and start-stop technology is also featured as a fuel-saving device.

You can definitely feel the power of the V6 once you’re moving. But the Atlas’ weak point is getting up to speed, which is a bit of a lumbering process. It’s also not the best when things get a bit twisty, as you’re moving a lot of vehicle through those curves.

Both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are offered, and the maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

A knob allows you to control the drive mode, with options being Onroad (Normal, Sport and Comfort are options within that mode), Snow, Offroad or Custom Offroad.


TECHNOLOGY, SAFETY

The Atlas has an infotainment systems that looks dated compared to its competition, but still works very well. It offers good tips on Voice commands on the screen so it's easy to learn what to say.

LED front lighting comes standard for all models, along with six airbags and stability control system. LED tail lights are offered on some trim levels.

A Fender Premium Audio System is offered (featuring a 480-watt; 12-channel amp that will fill the entire vehicle with big sound). The Atlas is also the only vehicle in its class that offers Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, a feature that avoids creating more accidents after the first one.

Among the other features offered on the Atlas are: Forward collision warning, and auto emergency braking; Adaptive Cruise Control; Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert; Lane Departure Warning and ParkPilot.


MPG
The official fuel mileage numbers for the AWD version are 17 city/23 highway/19 combined (with an 18.6 gallon tank).The FWD version is listed at 22/26/24. This is a weak point for Atlas, as the numbers are low for the category, and I experienced even less than the listed mileage in my test vehicle (under 15 mpg).


PRICE

The Atlas starts at $30,500 and tops out about $50K. That’s not cheap, but it’s in line with the segment, perhaps even a bit less. One other point that may help sell some Atlas vehicles is that it’s made in the U.S.A., at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant where VW also builds the Passat. And there is a generous 6-year, 72,000 mile warranty, that is transferable between owners.


BOTTOM LINE
Volkswagen has a strong entry with the Atlas, its biggest offering yet in the U.S. And while it will require the strength of Atlas to make a serious dent in sales of the Explorer, Traverse, etc., VW has put their best efforts into doing so and has come up with a fine vehicle option for families who need space and functionality in their three-row SUV.


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AutoTechReviews.com can be found on Twitter @AutoTechReview, or stay updated at the AutoTechReviews Facebook page.

Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

Last modified on Monday, 29 January 2018 06:34
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Matt Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

Website: www.autotechreviews.com

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