As we hammered out plans for my buddy Doug’s bachelor party––cigars, trap shooting, the usual Minnesota stuff––my main contribution became clear: to procure a massive vehicle to haul a crew of full-grown men who would absolutely act like teenagers.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity to sample the 2018 Ford Expedition, but the scheduled test car ended up with a cracked windshield. Enter the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, which became the weekend’s unexpected hero.
I had my doubts about the Atlas, but imagine my surprise the first time the guys fought over who got to sit in the massive VW’s third-row seat. I realized there wouldn’t be any issue with the Atlas.
By three-row crossover standards, the Atlas is an Airbus A380, its huge 153.7 cubic-feet of interior volume is one thing, but it’s the way it handles passengers that makes the Atlas stand out. Its front seats are supportive, firm, and good enough, while the second row slides fore, and aft and reclines for flexible packaging of humans.
It wasn’t long into the weekend when the guys first argued over who got to sit in the third row. At first I thought nothing of it, assuming nobody wanted to be back there, and that I was hearing them wrong.
Then I realized it: these full-grown adults were indeed arguing over who got to sit in the third row. I’d never before witnessed anyone (especially adults) argue over getting to sit in the third row.
At first glance, the third row looks conventional enough: it folds flat for cargo hauling duties, but when up, it’s one of the more comfortable in its class with plenty of leg, knee, foot, and headroom for adults.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Atlas is down one seat compared to the competition from Honda and Toyota. The Altas is rated to seat 7 people (6 if you opt for second row captains chairs), which means there are only two seat belts in the third row. The Pilot and Highlander fit a trio of belts back there.
When posed with the obvious question of why these clowns I call friends wanted to be in the third row so bad the answers were instantaneous ranging from, “it’s spacious and comfortable” and “it’s way more comfortable than squeezing three across in the second row” to my personal favorite, “it’s like a man cave back there.”
This of course all makes sense given the second row, which seats three across, has 60.8 inches of shoulder room while the third row, which only seats two across, has nearly the same at 54.9 inches.
It wasn’t just the third row that won the guys over either. For the most part everyone agreed the exterior, while blocky and squared off, is attractive and clean. Inside it’s a similar story, and the loaded SEL Premium trim level’s tech, including its fully digital 12.3-inch gauge cluster and active lane control which steered the Atlas back into its own lane if I drifted, really blew the group’s minds.
The three biggest disappointments were the power—or lack of it with only 276 horsepower lugging around about 7,000 pounds worth of vehicle, passengers, and gear—the mediocre 20.2 mpg fuel economy average indicated by trip computer, and the $49,415 price as-tested.
Would an Expedition have been better for the bachelor weekend? It probably would have returned about the same fuel economy, had more power, and boasted a few more inches of leg room on paper.
But the Volkswagen Atlas was a more than adequate understudy. It did everything asked of it, and perhaps most importantly impressed a large group of adults who, despite their childish bachelor party behavior, are in the Atlas’ target demographic
Any vehicle that makes adults argue over who gets the “way back” has a badge of honor that few other vehicles can claim.