Volkswagen has added a much-needed SUV, the Atlas, to its American lineup. It has three rows for passengers, and is competitively priced. Following a pattern it established with the current Passat sedan, Volkswagen designed the new Atlas SUV specifically for the American market, and manufactures the Atlas here in the U.S., in its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant.
The Atlas is a midsize SUV about as large as the Ford Explorer. The exterior looks boxy, but in a tasteful way, and sports stylized wheel arches that give it a distinct look. Inside, the cabin is straightforward and uncluttered. The gauges are easy to read, and the controls for audio, air conditioning and phone are a snap to operate. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models. If you order the top-of-the-line version, a slick digital screen replaces the instrument cluster.
The Atlas seats seven comfortably, six, if you choose captain’s chairs for the second row. There is ample head-and legroom for all passengers, even in the third row. Getting to the wayback is not a problem either. The second-row seat tilts, and then slides forward. All of the seats provide good support, but I was put off by the shiny leatherette finish on the ones in my test car. They looked low-budget. However, I had no complaints about the cargo space. There’s a whopping 55.5 cubic feet available behind the second row.
Volkswagen offers the Atlas in five levels of trim, S, SE, SE with Technology, SEL and SEL Premium. The SE with Technology, like my test car, will likely be the most popular. It comes with convenience features, like a power driver’s seat and push-button entry/start, as well as the latest safety devices, such as blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning/braking and lane departure monitoring. Of course, if you seek more luxury, the SEL and SEL Premium add goodies, like premium audio, navigation and leather seats.
Under the hood, Volkswagen gives buyers a choice of two engines, a 2.0-liter, turbo, 4-cylinder with 235 horsepower and a 3.6-liter, 276 hp., V-6. Both are teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard on all models, except the SEL Premium, which has all-wheel drive. AWD. is optional on the rest of the lineup. My test car had the V-6 engine and FWD. It accelerated quickly from stop signs, but didn’t have as much juice climbing a hill with a heavy load. The gas mileage rating for the Atlas is about average for its class at 20 mpg.
Behind the wheel, the Atlas is at its best when out on the freeway. The cabin is remarkably quiet. The view of the road is excellent, and the ride is smooth. On secondary roads, it’s a different story. Those who expect the Atlas to feel like traditional VWs are going to be disappointed. The steering is very light and vague. The suspension does not feel buttoned down like a typical European SUV. The Atlas conveys a constant beat of bounding and rocking on back roads, which can be tiring over long distances. If you are considering an Atlas, be sure to test it on roads you use a lot.
Atlas pricing starts at $31,675 for the S model, and ranges up to $49,665 for the SEL Premium. My SE with Technology and front-wheel drive had a suggested retail price of $38,015.
Available Safety Technology
Mediocre Drive Quality