2021 Volkswagen Atlas

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
April 8, 2021

Buying tip

The 2021 VW Atlas goes on sale in spring 2020.

features & specs

2.0T S FWD
20 city / 24 hwy
21 city / 24 hwy
20 city / 24 hwy

The 2021 VW Atlas is a competent family hauler that assimilates into the daily routine without fuss.

The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are three- and two-row mid-size crossovers, respectively, that use big space and value to appeal to wide American shoppers. 

They’re comfortable for up to eight (or five in the Cross Sport) passengers and offer a longer warranty than most competitors and a familiar VW subdued style. 

We give it a 5.8 out of 10 TCC Rating skewed toward the three-row Atlas. If rated separately, the Atlas Cross Sport would likely score the same—it looks better, but forgoes the third row. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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The 2021 Atlas is available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels with tech, premium, and R-Line appearance packages scattered throughout. The base Atlas S costs $32,565 for front-wheel drive and a turbo-4. The Atlas Cross Sport costs $1,000 less than similarly trimmed Atlas crossovers. All-wheel drive is available at every trim level for $1,900. A V-6 engine upgrade is available too, and it costs $1,400 more than comparably equipped turbo-4 versions. 

The Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport share many similarities, including the same style from the windows down. It’s plainer and straighter than many competitors, which is fine. Inside, that straightforward attitude doesn’t work as well—it can be kind of boring. 

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 235 horsepower or a 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6. Both engines drive an 8-speed automatic transmission and send power to the front or all four wheels. The engines behave similarly in most situations, but the V-6 is more popular and a better fit for the all-wheel-drive system and snow-state shoppers. 

The Atlas is gifted with a soft ride and quiet interior, which can seat up to eight. No Atlas is cramped, but the two-row Atlas Cross Sport is nearly palatial—rear seat riders get more than 40 inches of leg room, which is more than full-size SUVs and some luxury sedans. 

The cargo areas of both crossovers dare us for more pallets of flowers at the home improvement store. 

The 2021 Atlas earns top marks in crash tests, and it avoids crashes well, too, with standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and blind-spot monitors. Base Atlas S and Atlas Cross Sport S models make do with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, the rest of the lineup gets a better 8.0-inch touchscreen. 

VW covers the Atlas with a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper to bumper warranty that’s better than many competitors.


2021 Volkswagen Atlas


Revised this year, the 2021 Atlas looks better, but it’s still plain inside.

The two Atlas models (Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport) are siblings in almost every way this year. The three-row Atlas received a slight fluff and buff to its bumpers to bring it closer to the Atlas Cross Sport’s looks. The overall look is fine and a little tougher this time around, which we don’t mind. The interior is still pretty drab and only gets more interesting in some trims—although we’re still not sold. 

Starting from an average score of 5, we’ll ring the bell once on the interior and land at a 4 for style. 

The grille on the Atlas is more in line with the Cross Sport this year; the bumper dips lower and the chrome has a few more curves. Along the body sides, the Atlas looks mostly like the box it was shipped in; just a few creases in the doors and fenders keep it from looking slab-sided. Across the back, big raised lettering spans the tailgate that’s fairly clean and unadorned. 

Inside, the Atlas is straightforward and even less ambitious. The wide, horizontal dash doesn’t hide how massive the car is—in base trims it can be a very stark place to sit. 

In top trims of the Atlas Cross Sport, that interior gets flashes of color via leather upholstery, but it’s not premium-feeling. 

The Atlas Cross Sport is a dead-ringer for the Atlas from the windows down. The roofline and windows are new and look good. If rated separately, the Atlas Cross Sport may do better here. 

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas


No surprises here, the 2021 Atlas is quiet and comfortable—not necessarily quick.

Performance isn’t the first priority of the 2021 Atlas.

Its 3.6-liter V-6 or 2.0-liter turbo-4 adequately power the people-mover up to highway speeds, but other crossovers do speed or towing better. Our rating of 5 here reflects our feel for the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport; it’s just fine. 

The most popular powertrain for the Atlas will be a 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 276 hp and drives all-four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. (Front-wheel drive is standard on all Atlases, and all-wheel drive is $1,900 more and is common on most crossovers.)

The V-6 is smooth and capable, and when properly equipped, able to tow up to 5,000 pounds. 

The Atlas steers effortlessly but accurately, and its turning radius is smaller than outward appearances would suggest. Every crossover gets a four-wheel independent suspension that smothers bumps well, but the Atlas can lean into corners when driving quickly.

A base 2.0-liter turbo-4 is available and makes 235 hp. Like the V-6, it’s paired with an 8-speed automatic and front- or all-wheel drive. The turbo-4 acts almost identically to the V-6 but returns slightly better fuel economy. Only in the upper rev ranges does it buzz; hauling more than two tons of crossover can do that to anyone. 

We’d be fine living with the turbo-4 if all-wheel drive wasn’t a must-have, and if we lived in a relatively flat area. Compared to the turbo-4, the V-6 costs $1,400 more. 

The Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are powered by identical powertrains and drive similarly. 

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas

Comfort & Quality

The 2021 VW is more than up to the task of hauling families and gear.

The 2021 VW Atlas is two vehicles—a three-row Atlas and two-row Atlas Cross Sport. The Atlas is the family meat-and-potatoes crossover: three rows, lots of seats. The Atlas Cross Sport is a two-row crossover that’s related and just as big, but more comfortable for five. 

Mostly, both are very comfortable crossovers with plenty of space for adults and cargo. The Atlas is the better seller, so we rate it here. It gets a 9 out of 10 for comfort thanks to its spacious seats, cargo area, and people-hauling prowess. If rated separately, the Cross Sport would rate incrementally lower because it lacks a third row. 

By the numbers, the Atlas rides on a wheelbase that measures 117.3 inches and it measures 198.3 inches long—it’s as big as some older pickups, and could be too big for some older garages. (The Cross Sport is about five inches shorter.) That’s pretty big for a crossover, and the Atlas doesn’t do much to hide that. 

The first row is spacious and comfortable with seats that provide adequate bolstering in every trim level. Compared to others in its class, the seats aren’t pillow-soft, but they are all-day comfortable. 

The second row in the Atlas slides fore and aft to accommodate access to the third row, but the important metric for parents is that up to three child seats can stay in place in the second row, even with the seats pushed forward. 

In the Atlas, second-row riders get 37.6 inches of leg room. (Atlas Cross Sports offer more than 40.) The second row is comfortable and wide enough for three adults across, and the seats are reasonably comfortable. Captain’s chairs are available in the second row in the Atlas, and are just as comfortable.

The third row in the Atlas fits average-size adults, provided they’re limber enough to wiggle back there. Three children won’t have an issue fitting in the third row; three adults better all be friends. 

With the third row in place, the Atlas holds 20.6 cubic feet of cargo, which is enough for a grocery-store run or soccer practice goals and balls. 

With the third row folded that space expands to 55.5 cubic feet, which is an ambitious weekend at a home hardware store. The Atlas Cross Sport holds 40.3 cubic feet behind its second row, which is cavernous for a two-row crossover.

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas


The Atlas performs well in federal testing.

The IIHS and the NHTSA gave the 2021 Atlas top marks for safety and its standard automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors earn it another point to a 7 here.

Even though the IIHS rated it "Good" in all six crash tests, and the standard automatic emergency braking as "Superior", the headlights earned a "Marginal" rating to prevent it from earning a Top Safety Pick award.

Adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system are available, as is VW’s traffic-jam assistant, which can steer, brake, and accelerate the Atlas at speeds slower than 35 mph with limited driver interaction. It’s far from a hands-free system, but it is convenient in long traffic jams. Our experience with VW’s system largely follows the same system with the same name in Audi models: it’s relatively seamless and reliable, although it’s sometimes hard to tell when it’s on because only a small, green icon will illuminate in the dash. 

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas


The 2021 Atlas is still a relative value among crossovers.

VW hasn’t yet clued us into all the options and packages for the 2021 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport, but the basics will stay the same from last year. 

The 2021 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport will be available in S, SE, SEL trim with a handful of tech, premium, and R-Line packages adding various creature comforts and colorful accents scattered throughout. The base Atlas costs $32,565 in the base configuration and can reach up toward about $50,000 fully loaded. The Atlas Cross Sport is largely identical, except for a few small differences, and costs about $1,000 less than a comparably equipped Atlas.

It’s a 7 for features thanks to good equipment in every version including the base Atlas S and it gets another point for a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty that’s still generous among competitors. 

The base Atlas S gets a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment, active safety features (covered above), cloth upholstery, 18-inch wheels, and three rows of seats (two in the Atlas Cross Sport). 

The top SEL goes further with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, driver-assistance features, synthetic leather upholstery, 20-inch wheels, three-zone automatic climate control, premium audio, panoramic sunroof, available captain’s chairs, wireless smartphone charger, and remote start. R-Line versions add sporty interior and exterior touches. 

We’d opt for the Atlas SE with technology package that costs $41,215 with a V-6 and all-wheel drive with one caveat—the audio system doesn’t sound great to us. We’ll comfort our bodies instead with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, synthetic leather upholstery, three-zone climate control, 20-inch wheels, and five USB ports. 

The premium audio system designed by Fender (yeah, the guitar folks) is reserved for SEL trim levels, and while it sounds great, it also sounds like several thousand more dollars tacked on to the bottom line. 

VW infotainment

VW’s infotainment is one of the more straightforward systems available from an automaker, and its simplicity is refreshing. We recommend it for nearly every function except for navigation, which isn’t all that great. 

Every Atlas gets smartphone compatibility software including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that can sub in for navigation. Buy new cords though; every Atlas for 2021 is likely to be equipped with newer USB-C connectors for phones. 

An optional 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster is available on top trims and can be customized to display gauges, navigation maps, or other information. It’s mostly sharp and lag-free, although some menus and other icons can obscure information like the trip meter, and icons for some safety systems can be difficult to read.

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas

Fuel Economy

The big 2021 Atlas only returns mediocre fuel economy.

Among big crossovers with two and three rows, the 2021 VW Atlas is competitive. Among other crossovers that offer hybrid powertrains or fuel-saving tech, the Atlas falls down. 

The most popular Atlas has three rows, a V-6, and all-wheel drive. The EPA rates it 16 mpg city, 22 highway, 18 combined. That’s a 3 on our fuel-economy scale. 

Opting for front-wheel drive improves those figures slightly to 17/23/19 mpg. 

When equipped with a turbo-4, the Atlas rates 20/24/22 mpg with front-wheel drive or 18/23/20 mpg with all-wheel drive. 

Two-row Atlas Cross Sports rate identically to the Atlas. 

Among family-focused, all-wheel-drive competitors, the Atlas is competitive but not the head of the class. The Honda Pilot and Kia Telluride rate up to 23 mpg combined, and the hybrid-powered Ford Explorer rates up to 28 mpg combined. 

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MSRP based on 2.0T S FWD
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Expert Rating
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Styling 4
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 7
Features 7
Fuel Economy 3
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