Pros: Roomy. Supple ride. Fairly fast. Composed handling. All-wheel drive. Safety features.
Cons: High step up. Tight third row. Rather bland interior. So-so fuel economy.
Bottom Line: Good scores in most areas
Once mainly famous for its fashionable frugality, Volkswagen worked its way though the decades to arrive at cars such as the 2021 Atlas VE SE 4Motion.
This four-door $40,195 mid-size all-wheel-drive (4Motion) Pilot hatchback sedan fits near the top of VW's Atlas lineup, which begins with the front-drive four-cylinder $31,545 model that gets available all-wheel drive for the first time for 2021.
New for all Atlas models is a 3-bar grille and sculpted bumpers, which add 3 inches to its 204-inch length. There's also better connectivity and driver-assistance features.
Occupants need to step up to enter,but then sit high for good visibility. Driver visibility is especially good, thanks to such items as large heated, foldable, power side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
The roomy Pilot seats 7 occupants, or 6 with second-row captain's chairs. The power, heated front driver's seat is supportive, and the front manual passenger's seat also gets heat. The firm third-row seat is easy to reach but is just for children or shorter pre-teens. The split-folding 60/40 sliding and reclining second row seat area is roomy, but that seat's center area is stiff.
The 50/50 split third-row seat backs fold forward and sit flat to enlarge the cargo area from a moderately roomy 20.6 cubic feet to a spacious 96.8 cubic feet. That's SUV territory.
The wide power hatch, which has a convenient inside release, swings open quickly for fast cargo loading.
Power comes from VW's sophisticated narrow-angle a 3.6-liter V6. It provides 276 horsepower that translates to strong performance off the line and during 65-75 m.p.h. passing maneuvers common on Chicago expressways. Power shoots through an 8-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capability.
The Atlas feels like a relaxed German autobahn cruiser. However, estimated fuel economy for this rather heavy car is only 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on highways.
The electro-mechanical power steering has variable assistance, the ride is supple and handling is good-thanks to such features as the 4Motion all-wheel drive, all-independent suspension, electronic stability control and 20-inch alloy wheels. The brake pedal has a linear feel and causes the anti-lock brakes (with electronic brake pressure distribution and hydraulic brake assist) to bite early.
The interior looks rather bland despite strategic stitching, a thick, leather-wrapped tilt/telescopic wheel, leatherette seating surfaces, bright red gauge needles, unusual digital clock with a red sweep hand, intuitive touch screen and a rather tacked-on-looking dashboard wood section. There's lots of hard plastic, although it doesn't look cheap.
This is generally a typical Germanic no-nonsense interior with easily used manual dashboard controls. There's a 6-speaker sound system, three-zone automatic climate control with second-row rear zone controls, and a center console with dual USS data and charging ports, cupholders, armrest and covered storage bin.
Numerous safety features include front/rear park distance control, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert and rear view camera system. There also are hill-hold and hill-descent controls and an advanced air bag protection system with 6 air bags.
Options for my test Atlas V6 SE AWD included a $1,200 panoramic sunroof with power tilting and sliding front section and fixed rear sections and a $550 towing package (5,000 pound towing capacity).
Those who want fabled German engineering might want to give the Pilot a good look.