The Volkswagen Atlas is part of the plan to address the company’s shortcomings in North America. Volkswagen, marketed as a premium brand, has struggled to keep up the relentless onslaught of Asian products with their industry-leading quality and reliability. Just when it was making inroads, VW was saddled by the “dieselgate” fiasco.
In the meantime, North Americans have been flocking to SUVs and abandoning cars. Volkswagen dealers have been crying out for SUVs. They want large ones to not only attract new customers, but to keep current ones from going elsewhere.
Here it is – the three-row Volkswagen Atlas.
The 2018 Atlas, the largest Volkswagen yet, was designed, developed, and is built in the U.S. exclusively for the North American market. It is based on a stretched version of the corporate MQB platform used for the five-passenger Touareg. The Atlas is 24.1 cm longer, 3.8 cm wider, and equipped with three rows of seats. That gives it seven-passenger capacity, and more than 2,000 kilos of ground-hugging weight.
The Atlas is available in three trim levels with front or all-wheel-drive. There are four or six-cylinder engines. Prices spanning the $35,500 – $53,500 range. The base Trendline has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic and front-wheel-drive. Next up is the Comfortline, which can be had with the same driveline or a V6 and 4Motion all-wheel-drive. The Highline and Execline models have the six and 4Motion.
I spent a week with the Comfortline in six-cylinder and AWD configuration. The first impression is of size. This is a large vehicle, larger than anything you’d normally associate with the VW brand. There is nothing particularly handsome about the vehicle, but the conservative style will probably be attractive to family-oriented consumers.
Like the exterior, the inside is devoid of flash.
Function takes precedence over fashion inside as well. The layout leads to instant familiarity. Both major and minor controls are where you intuitively look or reach for them. The Atlas makes good use of available space. There is plenty of room for six-plus-footers in the front, and second rows. Two mid-size or smaller folks will fit in the third row. The second row tilt, and slide feature, makes it possible to access the third row without having to remove child seats.
There is a generous 20.6 cubic feet of space behind the third row, growing to 55.5 when it is folded out of the way. Drop the second row seats and you have a cavernous 96.8 cubic feet.
The tester was powered by VW’s narrow angle VR6 engine. Smooth, and silent, it provides adequate power without resorting to excessive or unpleasant sounds under wide-open throttle. A few extra ponies in the coral would be appreciated, so I suspect the four-cylinder base engine might not be that popular.
The eight-speed automatic shifts invisibly.
The 4Motion system sends power to the front wheels until slippage is detected. At this point it can send up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels. The sophisticated system is controlled through what VW calls the Drive Mode selector. The console-mounted dial has an outer ring with dry (everyday), snow, off-road and custom off-road positions. In dry mode, you can use a central button to select Eco, Normal, Sport and Custom settings.
This is a tall and heavy vehicle, but the suspension team did a great job of disguising those factors. Thrown into an off ramp or hustled down a back road with verve, the Atlas remained poised and relatively flat. That agility has been paired with a silent and supple ride on the highway where it will spend the majority of its time
Volkswagen’s first foray into the three-row crossover segment is a well thought-out and executed effort. It should prove popular with customers and dealers alike because of its size and pricing.
Model: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas Comfortline
Engine: 3.6-litre V6, 276 horsepower, 266 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
Transmission: eight speed automatic, full-time all wheel drive
NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 13.7 / 10.1
Length: 5,036 mm
Width: 1,978 mm
Wheelbase: 2,979 mm
Weight: 2,042 kg
Price: $44,290 base, $46,235 as tested, including freight
Competition: Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota Highlander
Options on test vehicle: none
Standard equipment (Comfortline): 18-in alloy wheels, LED headlights, power heated mirrors, rear view camera, heated washer nozzles, 10-way power drivers’ seat, cargo cover and storage net, three-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, second row sunshades, eight-speaker audio system with 20-cm touchscreen, satellite radio and CD player, four USB jacks, adaptive cruise control, alarm system, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, remote start, keyless entry and push button start, smartphone integration (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), cruise control, electronic parking brake, hill hold and hill descent control.