2018 Volkswagen Atlas Review

2018 Volkswagen Atlas - Take an Atlas along when sightseeing


 It's all-new for 2018 and designed for the American market, family and driver. 

Welcome Volkswagen Atlas, a mid-size crossover boasting three standard rows of seating and versatility to match. Americans enjoy a little girth with their vehicles, and Atlas delivers a roomy inside. Those desiring a third row capable of handling rather than manhandling adult-sized passengers take note.

It's also one of the biggest vehicles Europe's largest automaker now offers.  The 117.3-inch wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) measures in as the mid-size segment's largest, besting Ford's popular (and Chicago-built) Explorer by 4.5 inches. Atlas handles well with minimal body roll during spirited turns.

Count Atlas as the second vehicle assembled at Volkswagen's sole U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Opened in 2011, the German automaker's only tenant until late 2017 was the popular mid-sized Passat. Another tenant will soon muscle into Chattanooga featuring Atlas DNA.

This past March, VW announced an all-new five-passenger (two-row) Atlas Cross Sport crossover, will join the party, beginning in 2019.

As with the latest-generation Passat, Atlas utilizes Volkswagen's economics of scale MQB (Modularer Quer Baukasten) architecture introduced to the U.S. in 2014.  'Modular Transverse Matrix' represents the MQB translation from German.

During February's 2018 Chicago Auto Show, Hinrich Woebcken, CEO of Volkswagen's North American Region, shared with a sizeable lunch-time gathering, that Atlas was not the original designate VW tagged for this new crossover.  Volkswagen's U.S. dealer base, underwhelmed with the original working title, urged a new direction, and pitched the Atlas suggestion.

Two engines and two drivetrains await. A 2.0-liter inline turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 235 horsepower solely with a front-wheel drive format. For those seeking more punch, a 3.6-liter V-6 cranks out 276 horses and offers not only front-wheel drive, but VW's 4Motion permanent  (no driver input needed) all-wheel drive. This system defaults to front-wheel drive until slippage occurs, upon which power distributes to the wheels in need.

The 4Motion system also includes chrome, center dial near the eight-speed automatic transmission shifter for selecting one of four drive modes: normal, snow, off-road and custom off-road.  The car-like uni-body platform is best suited for on-road travel, but 4Motion assists nicely if snow descends.

Five trim levels include S, SE, SE with Technology, SEL and SEL Premium. All five trims offer both engines. The SEL Premium is strictly a V-6/all-wheel-drive combo.

Overall exterior styling touts 'family friendliness' opting out of hard-edged tangents.  Kids of a certain age may find their parents totally embarrassing, but not this new VW (hey, it's no minivan). Atlas borrows a VW front-end design shared by virtually all U.S. models; the lone exception being the iconic, grille-free Beetle coupe. 

Two vertical bars connect to bold, square-like headlight housing, which minimally touch side fenders; not dissimilar to the aforementioned Ford Explorer's front grille.  What's different is the iconic V over W logo sitting prominently front and center of Atlas. 

Large side windows with chrome framing provide drivers with decent sight lines thanks in part to a high seating position compliments of an eight-inch ground clearance. Inboard dual exhausts adorn the lower rear back. All trims sport full LED front lighting.

The hatchback, hinged at the top and opening upward, provides ginormous head clearance when venturing into the cargo region. The SEL, SE with technology package and SEL Premium models include a power-operating lift back.

Both engines utilize regular, 87-octane fuel to accommodate a large 18.6-gallon tank.  Fuel economy ranks average for this segment. Also standard in both trims: Start/Stop technology, a temporary engine shut down at prolonged stops to conserve fuel. This system may be deactivated and reactivated from a lower center dash button left of the red hazard-warning button and above a deep cubby area housing iPod and auxiliary connections.

A front-wheel drive, four-cylinder S trim starts at $30,750. Our tester, the well-equipped SEL Premium V-6 with all-wheel drive, stuffed with all the bells and whistles starts and ends at $48,490.  Add $925 for destination charge.

SEL Premium includes a long panoramic sunroof with a two-part glass opening and sunshade, a feature also available in SEL. Other SEL Premium standard upgrades include LED tail lights, large 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels with all-season tires, leather seating surfaces with heated outboard second-row seats, a power front-passenger seat and ambient interior lighting.

All trims include a segment-exclusive safety nuance championed by VW; automatic post-collision braking. This proactive system helps minimize cascading events after an initial impact.  Brakes get applied by sensors positioned inside air bags, helping to keep Atlas planted after an accident, preventing an unintended roll back into traffic. 

Three Smartphone brands (Apple CarPlay, Mirror Link and Android Auto) interplay with the flat, multi-function eight-inch touch screen accommodating pinch and swipe motions, handy when interacting with the in-dash navigation and part of VW's Car-Net.  Old-school dials interact with touch-screen functions allowing volume and station scrolling, simplifying a process that some rivals seemingly overcomplicate.

Seven-passenger seating with a three-seat second row comes standard. Second-row Captain's chairs are available in SE trims and above ($625 extra) creating a six-passenger arrangement. The third row's 50/50 split backrests manually fold forward creating a man cave like 55.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind row two.

If plans call for hauling one or two human(s) far back, the second-row's 60/40 split seats easily pave the way forward (or backwards in this case). A manual tilt-and-slide design brings the cushion/seat combo sliding forward with a 7.7-inch movement range.  The long wheelbase creates a decent-sized step-way into the back.  The standard 60/40 split second row also accommodates three child seats if the family tree bends in that direction.

Push-button electric start comes standard in upper trims, with the push-button found conveniently between front buckets and far from the sometimes problematic steering column.  A sizable, deep arm rest/storage bin with a rear-hinged top cover swallows items ranging from a large iPad to small purses.

The SEL Premium's pleasant dashboard includes faux wood above the large, driver's side single bin glove box and all four side doors. At night, thin pen-light illumination travels through the center dash and front doors separating a two-tone dash. 

The highly-animated, fully-digital, 12.3-inch dashboard display, standard solely in SEL Premium, includes a fully customable presentation and wealth of options controlled via steering wheel buttons.

Atlas includes VW's recently introduced six-year/72,000-mile "People First" warranty; a bumper-to-bumper, limited warranty covering the powertrain, transmission and mechanical parts which is fully transferable between owners.

Many other automakers offering extended warranties including South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia, feature non-transferable 10-year powertrain warranties, but benefiting only original owners.   Another peace-of-mind perk; a three-year/36,000-mile 24-hour roadside assistance program covering towing, jump starts and lock-out situations.

2018 VW Atlas 

Price as tested:  $49,415

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6

Horsepower:  276

Wheelbase:  117.3 inches

Overall length:  198.3 inches

Overall Height:  70.0 inches

Overall width: 78.3 inches

Curb weight:   2,959 pounds

Fuel economy:  17 mpg city, 23 highway

Powertrain warranty: Seven years/100,000-miles

Assembly:  Tennessee

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.