The Volkswagen Atlas is a new entry into the 3-row midsize crossover market. It effectively replaces the Touareg in the VW lineup and gives the German brand a meaningful and attractively priced entry into one of the hottest segments. Competitors include the Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
Atlas seats seven and comes with either a 235-horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine or 276-horsepower V6. Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The four-cylinder comes only with front-wheel drive, while the V6 is offered with front- or all-wheel drive. Towing capacity with the four-cylinder engine is 2000 pounds and the V6 can tow up to 5000 pounds when properly equipped.
Model offerings include S, SE, SE w/Tech and SEL. Prices start as low as $30,750 and climb to $39,410.
Since the four is only available with front drive, choosing an engine comes down to your drivetrain preference. With front-drive, the Atlas tips the scales at a svelte 4300 pounds, making the extra power from the V6 unnecessary. Opting for all-wheel drive brings a nearly 500-pound weight penalty and that means the V6's additional grunt makes sense. For most buyers, there's no reason to get the V6 with front-wheel drive.
Both engines provide class average, if somewhat uninspired, acceleration pushing Atlas from 0 to 60 MPH in about 8 seconds. The four-cylinder needs a deeper stab into the throttle in passing situations and can feel underpowered with a full load of passengers. In addition, the V6 seems to mate better with the 8-speed automatic transmission.
Atlas' all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for extreme off-road use. For most Chicago-area drivers, front-drive will be more than adequate, but those intended to head off road should certainly consider all-wheel drive. EPA estimates with the turbo four come in at an impressive 22 MPG city and 26 MPG highway. Those numbers are near the top of the class. Routine suburban commuting will likely yield about 24 MPG overall -- a touch higher if you throw in some highway driving and a touch lower if you spend all of your time in traffic.
Behind the wheel, the Atlas drives almost exactly as you might expect. The ride is firm, but still compliant enough to soften large impacts. There's almost no bounding or bouncing on badly broken pavement and no head toss that's common on larger SUVs. In the handling department, VW's Atlas defaults to benign limits that prove more than acceptable in daily driving. There is minimal body lean in quick maneuvers and the steering is sharp and nicely weighted. Brakes have good stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal. Interior noise levels are low, with no noticeable wind rush or road rumble. Overall, the Atlas proves docile in daily driving and quite acceptable when compared to others in the class.
As is the case with most VWs, the Atlas sports an interior dressed in mostly black with class-appropriate materials and a function-first design. Drivers face a conventional twin-dial setup with a central-mounted touch screen and handy dials for climate and audio control. The infotainment system features support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Most will find the control layout pleasing if not extremely functional.
Front buckets are firm and flat. Still, there's ample head and leg room and a fair amount of width. The second row is offered with either a split-folding three-place bench or twin bucket seats. The buckets are extremely comfortable, but the bench is flat. Head and leg room is also quite good. The third-row seat is best left to children or smaller adults -- as is the case with most in the class. Getting in and out of first and second rows is easy thanks to a low-step-in height and tall and wide-opening doors. Maneuvering into the third row is a bit tricky as the second-row seats don't tip and slide as easily as those offered in some competitors.
Cargo space with the third-row seats in place is a modest 2o cubic feet. However, folding both the second- and third-row seats yields a whopping 97 cubic feet of space. The hatch opening is large and there's a bit of space under the floor. Interior storage is modest for a modern crossover with just a few open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line -- Ho hum, another large crossover might be your first impression. Yet, the Atlas is designed to appeal to a very wide audience. It's roomy, pleasant to drive, offers all of the latest tech and safety features and is priced affordably. Faults are few and that's key. Replacing the pricey Touareg, VW had to get Atlas right. As a large crossover Atlas checks all of the boxes and instantly becomes a viable player in this hotly contested market segment.