2020 Volkswagen Atlas

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
July 21, 2020

Buying tip

Spending more doesn’t necessarily buy a high-zoot 2020 VW Atlas. Stick with the base S and mid-level SE trim levels.

features & specs

2.0T S FWD
2.0T SE w/Technology FWD
20 city / 24 hwy
20 city / 24 hwy
20 city / 24 hwy

Space comes before pace with the roomy 2020 Volkswagen Atlas.

The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas is a three-row crossover SUV with a spacious interior and seating for adults in all three rows. It’s not flashy, luxurious, or especially powerful, but it bests most competitors for outright interior space.

Overall, we rate the 2020 VW Atlas at 5.8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.

The 2020 Atlas can accommodate adults in every outboard seat as well as provide adult-sized access through big door openings and an easy-to-slide second row that’s easy for kids to use, too. Cargo space is near the top among competitors, as it should be for a long and large vehicle that will fill most suburban garages. 

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Once aboard, passengers will have to ante up the trim levels for more technological convenience and creature comforts. The conservative design may appeal to some shoppers. This year, VW upgraded the crossover’s infotainment software, and it still comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Also standard is a good range of collision-avoidance safety tech that earned good marks in federal and independent safety testing. However, subpar headlights prevented it from earning a coveted Top Safety Pick award bestowed by the IIHS. 

Available in S, SE, and SEL, the Atlas SUV can be had with turbo-4 or V-6 engine. Most buyers opt for the 276-horsepower V-6 because VW requires 6-cylinder power for all-wheel drive. The base 235-hp turbo-4 comes only with front-wheel drive. 

The Atlas’ best driving asset is its composed ride, which soaks up bumps better than most competitors even with the 21-inch alloy wheels available on the range-topping SEL Premium trim. 

First launched for model year 2018, the Atlas lags the competitors in fuel economy. The V-6 versions are rated at just 19 mpg combined, which is 3 mpg shy of AWD competitors such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. A hybrid option would be nice, but it would elevate an already hefty price tag for most Atlas configurations. The best value with all these confusing trim levels is the Atlas SE V-6 with all-wheel drive at around $38,000, which offers plenty of space per dollar. 


2020 Volkswagen Atlas


The all-business 2020 VW Atlas looks as big as it is.

With its 2020 Atlas, Volkswagen employs no tricks to make its big three-row crossover look delicate, dainty, or demure. 

We dock it a point for chunky looks that don’t impress, which brings the 2020 VW Atlas to a 4 out of 10 on our scale. That’s a point lower than last year because the competition has improved while the Atlas has stayed the same.

The wide grille, rectangular headlights, and massive fender flares give the Atlas a plus-size model look that has lost its appeal in the face of more stylish rivals from Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet. This year, 20-inch wheels are standard kit on more versions of the Atlas, while the range-topping SEL Premium swaps in 21-inch rolling stock that gives it a more athletic look. 

Inside, the Atlas is car-like with a low dash and tall and wide front glass for good visibility. The plastic controls are centered around either a 6.5- or 8.0-inch touchscreen. It’s not playful or fun in the least in its design, but the interior gets the job done with few frills. The cloth seats on base Atlas S and synthetic leather seating on mid-level Atlas SE trims hit the mark. VW doesn’t do anything to dress it up for the Atlas SEL other than to swap synthetic leather for the real stuff, as it should for $50,000 with every option box ticked. 

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2020 Volkswagen Atlas


The 2020 VW Atlas smothers bumps well but could use more power.

The 2020 VW Atlas has a more athletic feel than its big dimensions would suggest, though more power would be welcome. We rate it at 5 out of 10, giving it a point for its comfortable, composed ride but removing a point for its limited power. 

Most 2020 Atlas SUVs use a 3.6-liter V-6 rated at 276 horsepower, though a 235-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 is standard with front-wheel drive. While a turbo-4 cylinder engine is offered on many three-row SUVs, from the Subaru Ascent and Mazda CX-9 to the Ford Explorer, it is not the popular pick in the Atlas due in part to its limited appeal in wintry climates and for towing. 

The V-6 is quiet and works well with the standard 8-speed automatic transmission, but it doesn’t easily overcome its 4,500-pound curb weight with all-wheel drive. With a full load of passengers aboard, the 2020 Atlas struggles up hills and its gas gauge moves faster than its speedometer. 

The long 117.3-inch wheelbase helps the Atlas shrug off small bumps and stay composed at highway speeds. The steering stays arrow-straight even in heavy crosswinds and is more nimble on winding roads than we’ve come to expect from most big crossover SUVs. 

Though all-wheel drive is optional, the 2020 Atlas is better suited to dirt roads and winter’s worst than it is to mud plugging. A handful of drive modes let drivers dial in traction control settings for snow and muck at the twist of a knob. 

With the right options, the Atlas can lug 5,000 pounds worth of trailer, though it won’t win any drag races.

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2020 Volkswagen Atlas

Comfort & Quality

Great space in all three rows means the 2020 VW Atlas is a good choice for families with growing children.

The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas can accommodate average-size adults in all three rows, something few of its competitors can say. 

We rate it at 9 out of 10, awarding it points above average for the way it handles passengers in all three rows and for its mega cargo-hauling ability. It’s not luxurious, but the 2020 VW Atlas has room for everything and everyone. 

The front seats are firm and offer a decent range of adjustment. Big rear door openings reveal a spacious bench or optional individual captain’s chairs that slide forward easily for excellent access to the third row. The third row seats two. Big windows, 38.3 inches of head room, integrated cupholders, and toe room under the second row makes the third row entirely habitable for adults. We can’t say that about many rivals. The top latch on the second seat lets kids move the seat forward from the third or second row, and it tilts so you don’t have to remove booster seats. Your back will appreciate the Atlas. 

Cargo space is predictably impressive as well. With rows two and three folded, the Atlas can lug nearly 97 cubic feet of luggage. With row two upright, that drops to a still-reasonable 55.5 cubes. Behind the third row, the Atlas still has almost 21 cubic feet of cargo space, with much of that below the window line.

It may be spacious, but the 2020 Atlas isn’t especially plush. Interior materials don’t impress, though we like the easy-clean nature of the synthetic leather upholstery fitted to most trims. Base Atlas S crossovers are upholstered in tough-feeling cloth that’s worth a look for drivers without pets or spill-prone kids, while the leather in the Atlas SEL Premium feels like it’s trying to imitate the fake stuff. 

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2020 Volkswagen Atlas


The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas is a safe choice among crossover SUVs.

Only subpar headlights hold the VW Atlas back from earning more points on our scale. The big crossover SUV earned five stars from the NHTSA, top marks in crash tests from the IIHS, and comes standard with collision-avoidance tech we consider essential on a family vehicle. It's a 7 on our safety scale.

Every Atlas includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts. Active lane control and adaptive cruise control are available, though some rivals make those advanced driver assistance systems standard. 

The Atlas ranked “Good” in every crash test performed by the IIHS, but “Moderate” or “Poor” headlight ratings on all trim levels prevented it from earning a Top Safety Pick award. 

The NHTSA rated the Atlas at five stars overall, with four stars in the calculated rollover test. Given their higher centers of gravity, very few crossover SUVs earn five stars in the rollover test.


2020 Volkswagen Atlas


The well-equipped 2020 VW Atlas can get expensive with options.

The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas is offered in S, SE, and SEL trim, each with a few variants. A lightly optioned Atlas is a good value. High-end models are costly and don’t provide the special feel we expect at upward of $45,000.

We rate the Atlas at 7 out of 10, giving it points for its good base specification and for a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty that includes two years of free maintenance.

The base Atlas S costs about $32,000, though adding the V-6 and all-wheel drive hikes that to more than $35,000. Standard fare includes cloth upholstery, a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, active safety features, and 18-inch alloy wheels. 

Family buyers may want to step up to the Atlas SE for about $1,500 more that adds automatic climate control, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen, three more USB ports (for a total of four), and easy-clean synthetic upholstery. If we were Atlas shopping, that’s where we’d start and stop.

For those who must have it all, the Atlas SEL with the optional Premium package runs about $50,000 and includes a digital instrument cluster, leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, Fender-branded speakers, and a panoramic sunroof. At that price, some luxury Sirens such as the Volvo XC90 beckon. 

VW once offered a 6-year, 72,000-mile warranty on the Atlas, but that’s been dropped to a still-decent 4-year, 50,000-mile coverage. VW includes maintenance for the first two years, including oil changes. 

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2020 Volkswagen Atlas

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy isn’t the 2020 VW Atlas’ forte.

The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas is a big crossover SUV with a thirst to match. We rate it at just 3 out of 10 points. 

The optional V-6 is the most popular choice underhood, and with all-wheel drive it’s rated at just 16 mpg city, 22 highway, 19 combined. Some truck-based SUVs such as the Chevrolet Tahoe are rated about the same and boast higher towing and hauling capabilities.

Front-wheel-drive Atlas crossovers with the V-6 are better at 17/23/19 mpg.

The turbo-4 is paired with front wheel-drive only, and at 20/24/22 mpg it’s the most miserly choice.

Most competitors now hover in the 21 to 23 mpg combined range with all-wheel drive. At least the Atlas is designed to run on less-costly regular unleaded fuel.

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