Volkswagen has been building vehicles in the US since the 1970s, but never anything quite as big as the new 2018 Atlas SUV/crossover. Responding to customer demands in the booming SUV segment, VW has added the vehicle to please buyers who want three rows of seats and full 7-passenger capability in their rig.
Built in the company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory, the Atlas is already proving quite a hit with family buyers, especially those with kids who can no longer squeeze into the confines of a compact crossover. For some years, VW has been marketing its Touareg large SUV, but this will be dropped, replaced by the Atlas.
The Atlas is categorized as a “large crossover” and it’s certainly got lots of interior space. Bigger than the earlier Touareg, the Atlas is likely the biggest Volkswagen product most Canadians have ever seen. That’s not to say that it’s a bulky vehicle and the restrained styling, a change from what some rivals are offering right now, is trim and tasteful.
Buyers can choose from two engines, an entry-level 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder with 235-horsepower or a 3.6-litre V-6 with 276-horsepower. The latter power unit would be the one to choose if there’s towing to be taken care of or particularly burdensome driving conditions. For buyers not concerned about towing capabilities, the 2.0-litre is a peppy, responsive, engine that will keep most drivers happy, especially those alarmed at the price of fuel right now. Both engines use a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission. VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system keeps all the grip where it’s needed and there are no additional shifters or controls to deal with. A drive mode selector takes care of different road conditions and although this isn’t claimed to be a full-house off-roader, it is capable enough on the backroads as long as they’re reasonably well graded.
Big the Atlas may be, but it feels lighter and nimbler than it looks when behind the wheel and it’s also quite easy to park. The cabin is finished to VW’s high standards and the fit and finish is especially well done. It’s not an over-fancy “bells and whistles” type of vehicle, but every imaginable safety and convenience item is either standard or available. Like most rivals, there are lots of options, but the basic Atlas is a very desirable crossover. The rear seats will take two adults happily (many three-row crossovers will not) and it’s easy to climb into the back row with a one-button process to move the middle seat out of the way.
The controls in the cockpit are tackled in a straightforward, no-nonsense way and there’s no effort to make them look “cool.” I’ve always believed that VW owners prefer it this way. The dash is dominated by an easy-to-read 12.3-inch infotainment screen, which takes care of most functions including, of course, an available navigation system. Electronic aids to safe driving include a backup camera, blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, pedestrian detection and other worthwhile add-ons. For entertainment, you can also order a Fender 13-speaker sound system.
The new Atlas is almost certain to become one of the more popular choices in its class and there are lots of competitors. At the entry level, it’s reasonably priced but naturally the sticker price rises a fair bit if the options list is exploited to the full. At the topmost level, the Atlas certainly competes with large crossovers carrying very prestigious nameplates.
SPECS AT A GLANCE…
BODY STYLE: Full-size 7-passenger SUV
ENGINE: 2.4-litre 4-cylinder or 3.6-litre V-6
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
TOWING CAPACITY: 5,000-lbs
FUEL ECONOMY: 12.1-litres/100 km combined (V-6 variant)
PRICE: From $35,690