The Car Connection Volkswagen Atlas Overview
The Volkswagen Atlas is the German automaker's long-awaited three-row crossover SUV and is related to the Atlas Cross Sport, which is a two-row crossover.
The Atlas went on sale in spring 2017 and was VW's second model designed for and built in the United States. It's a much-needed model for VW's showrooms, which, with the exception of the short-lived and ill-conceived Routan (which was merely a Dodge Grand Caravan with different badges) have not had a three-row vehicle since the classic EuroVan. The Atlas Cross Sport arrived in 2020.
With the Atlas, Volkswagen has a long-awaited offering to compete against the likes of the Dodge Durango, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer and others. It's without its original ace in the hole: it's clear that the SUV was developed with a diesel powertrain in mind.
Volkswagen made automatic emergency braking standard on all Atlas crossovers for the 2019 model year. Few changes were made for 2020, but VW did cut the Atlas' standard warranty to 4 years or 50,000 miles–still above average. VW gave the Atlas a mild update for 2021.
MORE: Read our 2021 Volkswagen Atlas review
The Atlas is assembled in Chattanooga, Tennessee, alongside the company's Passat four-door sedan lineup. Like the Passat, the U.S. is its main market; the Atlas is not expected to be sold in VW's home market of Europe, although a slightly revised version called the Teramont will be built in China for that market.
VW isn't shy about the fact that the American Atlas was intended to be offered with a turbodiesel engine. However, the company's diesel emissions scandal killed that powertrain, leaving a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 3.6-liter V-6, both of which run on gasoline—not diesel. The V-6 and turbo-4 are available with either front- or all-wheel drive.
However, VW appears to have gotten the rest of the recipe just right. The Atlas is among the larger vehicles in its class, which means it's sized about like the Ford Explorer and is a little bigger than the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. At just shy of 200 inches from head to toe, it comes in less than 6 inches shorter than a Chevrolet Tahoe. However, the Atlas' unibody construction reaps numerous benefits in terms of interior space compared to the Tahoe and its truck-based ilk.
The Atlas comes standard with three rows of seats and room for eight passengers. Crucially, its second row can slide forward for access to the third row with a child seat in place—something only a few rivals can say.
Despite its butch looks, which have more than a little in common with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Atlas isn't really designed for off-road use. It's the largest vehicle on VW's new modular architecture, which underpins much of its lineup from the compact Golf hatchback all the way up to the company's second-generation Tiguan.
It's the Tiguan that will vie for showroom traffic with the Atlas. While the first Tiguan was a five-seater with dimensions closer to the Honda CR-V, its follow-up will be sold here with an available third row of seats. It'll definitely be smaller than the Atlas, and VW hopes that two-prong three-row approach will help make up for the fact that it has largely been closed for business to families who want more than five seatbelts.