2018 Volkswagen Atlas Review

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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz
September 26, 2017

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas does little wrong, but it's light on personality and a little low-rent inside—and it guzzles fuel. It's worth a look, but mostly rivals do more for less.

With its 2018 Atlas, Volkswagen finally has a mid-size three-row crossover, a family-friendly option that its dealers and buyers have long wanted. 

Available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels, the Atlas gets everything right on paper, but its execution leaves a little to be desired. In our testing, it's a 6.5 out of 10, which puts it a hair above average. (How we rate cars.) 

We've knocked it down for its lackluster fuel economy not offset by particularly impressive performance and for an interior that feels low-rent compared to virtually all rivals. On the flip side, it's exceptionally roomy and versatile inside, and its conservative looks should hold up well. 

Review continues below

Unlike VW's previous crossover efforts, the Tiguan and the Touareg, the new Atlas is a decidedly American-oriented model, so much so that it is built in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now, VW has been down this road before with its Passat, which was also designed for Americans and is built alongside the Atlas. While the Passat hasn't exactly been a hit, the Atlas shoots for the fast-growing crossover SUV segment instead of the slowing sedan market.

The Atlas is offered in five trim levels and with a choice of 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder or 3.6-liter V-6 engines mated to either front- or all-wheel drive, but only the V-6 can be ordered with winter weather-friendly AWD. At just shy of 200 inches from head to toe, it's on the large side compared to its rivals, which includes the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Nissan Pathfinder. 

The Atlas is likely to be the largest vehicle to ride on VW's new modular architecture, which underpins everything from the company's Golf hatchback line to the next-generation Tiguan. Confusingly, the next Tiguan also hits the market during calendar year 2017 and will also offer three rows of seats, although it will be a fair amount smaller than the Atlas.

Volkswagen Atlas styling and comfort

Stylistically, the Atlas shares more in common with the five-seat and more Euro-oriented (and pricier) Touareg, although its flared fenders and slightly more angular overall look have a lot in common with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Full LED headlights are standard on even the base model, but LED taillights are on the options list. 

Inside, the Atlas' dashboard could easily have been lifted from the Passat. VW's Car-Net infotainment system takes center stage on the dashboard and it's flanked by a pair of large air vents. The megabuck SEL Premium offers a full LCD instrument cluster, which displaces with conventional gauges in favor of a multi-configurable screen.

All three rows of the Atlas offer better-than-average interior room. The second row slides fore and aft as in most competitors, but the Atlas joins only the Pathfinder in allowing a child seat to remain in the second row when it is slid forward for access to the rearmost seats. And that third row is reasonably roomy, providing what may be the most capacious accommodations in its class.

The Atlas' second row is offered as either a three-seat bench or as a pair of captain's chairs (for $650 extra), meaning it can seat either seven or six passengers depending on configuration.

S models feature cloth seats and a 6.5-inch touchscreen, but they do have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SE shoots for mainstream and adds leatherette upholstery and an 8.0-inch upgraded infotainment system. The SEL tops the lineup with even more features like a moonroof and automatic emergency braking, although a loaded model approaches $50,000. Additionally, an R-Line styling package is available on SE and SEL models to give them a slightly sportier look (but the package doesn't actually improve performance aside from including its own 20-inch alloy wheels). 

Volkswagen Atlas performance and safety

What's under the hood isn't much of a surprise if you're familiar with the VW lineup. Base models utilize a familiar 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine rated here at 238 horsepower. It's the same powertrain we've seen in numerous other VW products, ranging from the Golf GTI all the way to the large Audi Q7 SUV (with which the Atlas shares very little).

That engine, however, is only mated to front-wheel drive, meaning it's not likely to be a big seller in the places where snowfall is a regular thing. That's an odd decision, if you ask us, as it significantly limits the Atlas' appeal—especially as all-wheel-drive market share continues to grow. 

Optional is a 280 hp 3.6-liter V-6, which comes standard with front-drive and offers all-wheel drive as an option. All engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic regardless of drive wheels. Fuel economy won't be a selling point; the V-6 all-wheel drive model is rated at 17 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined, while the front-wheel drive comes in at 18/25/20 mpg. The 4-cylinder hasn't been rated by the EPA. 

We've only driven the V-6; it's refined and muscular, although it doesn't match the thrust of the optional twin-turbo V-6 in Ford's Explorer Sport. The Atlas rides softly, even on its optional 20-inch alloy wheels, but it remains composed when pushed hard into corners. Ultimately, the Atlas drives well, among the best in its segment, deftly hiding its size and 4,500 pound girth. 

What's missing, and what should have set the Atlas apart from its rivals, is a turbodiesel option. After VW admitted to cheating in the EPA's emissions testing, the automaker pulled the plug on diesels here. While there's a remote chance of a compliant diesel showing up in the automaker's lineup in the future, we aren't holding our breath. 

Crash-test scores are good, but not great. Advanced safety features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning come on the SE with the Technology group and the SEL, but aren't optional on the SE. 

One standout safety feature is the company's post-collision braking tech, which automatically holds the brakes after a collision to prevent the Atlas from moving if it is hit by a second or even third vehicle. 

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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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MSRP based on 2.0T S FWD
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Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 7
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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