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2018 Volkswagen Atlas: VW fills a void in its lineup with 7-passenger SUV

2018 Volkswagen Atlas (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Back in 2008, Volkswagen tried its hand at pushing out a minivan. And based on the brevity of its existence (5 years), you can guess how well that went.

But with the introduction of the 7-passenger Atlas SUV, VW finally fills a void in its lineup, delivering a full-size SUV with excellent seating capacity and solid driving dynamics.

Design

Unlike the short-lived Routan minivan, which was really just a re-badged Chrysler Town and Country, the Atlas has distinct and handsome Volkswagen design language.

I really like the strong horizontal lines and upright structure, and in many ways, it looks like an elongated version of the new Tiguan.

For anyone who has ever driven a Volkswagen, the interior is also familiar, with clean lines and well-placed buttons and dials.


From a petite person’s perspective, the one design miss is the driver’s seat. The seat bottom is too big, and the height adjustment doesn’t go far enough up. I had a terrible driving position and was barely able to see over the hood.

Ride & Handling

Having used the Atlas to take a road trip to Michigan, I spent a lot of time behind the wheel. So, I was pleased to see, driving position aside, the overall ride comfort is decent. It managed rough pavement very well, and I didn’t find that a lot of road noise entered the cabin.

Handling was on par with what you’d expect from an 7-passenger vehicle – a little bit heavy with wider turns. But the steering response invoked a little sport, which added a little fun to the actual drive time.

The test vehicle was equipped with the up-level 3.6-liter V-6 engine that delivers 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. And this performed fairly well for such a large vehicle.

Hard acceleration was a tad sluggish, but I wasn’t wary of merging with fast-paced traffic and did a nice job overall in passing maneuvers.

The base engine is a turbocharged 4-cylinder. The 2.0T delivers 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque – but only with using premium fuel. This engine is only available in the base trim.


Fuel economy

As a full-size SUV, the Atlas will not reap stellar fuel economy. EPA estimates that an all-wheel-drive vehicle mated to the V-6 engine will get 17 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. With a ton of highway miles under my belt, I averaged 21.8 mpg.

EPA estimates the 2.0T will get 22 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Tech & gadgets

The Atlas is a family vehicle, and a lot of the conveniences features reflect that. This vehicle comes standard with 17 cup holders, easy access to the third row and mid-row bench seats that can hold up to three car seats.

Available features include up to 4 USB ports, a kick-activated rear power liftgate, driver personalization, a Fender premium audio system, a 360-degree camera and a whole host of safety technology (see below).

The coolest tech feature available on the Atlas, though, is VW’s digital cockpit, which allows you to configure the behind-the-wheel gauges to suit your personal tastes.

My favorite setting puts a large navigation screen behind the wheel, with a small speedometer and tachometer at the right and left edges.


Trims

The Atlas has three different trims that can be optioned out in various combinations with 4Motion, Technology, R-Line and Premium packages.

S ($31,890): This base trim is the only version that offers the base 2.0T engine. Standard features include LED headlights, blind spot monitoring, front assist and VW Car-Net App-Connect. There is also a version of this vehicle available with the V-6 engine and 4Motion, VW’s all-wheel drive system. Those additions will ad $4,800 to the bottom line.

V6 SE ($36,490): This trim is only available with the V-6 engine. Features added at this trim include four USB ports, 3-zone climate control and an 8-inch touch-screen sound system. Second-row captains chairs become available at this trim. You can also add Technology, 4Motion and R-Line packages at this trim.

V6 SEL ($42,390): This trim is only available with the V-6 engine. Features added at this trim include a panoramic sunroof, navigation and park distance control. A couple 20-inch alloy wheel packages become available at this trim. You can also add 4Motion, R-Line and Premium packages at this trim.

The test vehicle was an SEL model with the up-level V-6 engine and VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. The only option it added was the slick-looking 20-inch black wheels package. The as-tested price was $44,860.


Safety

All Atlas SUVs come equipped with a safety cage with front and rear crumple zones, a rear-view camera system, blind-spot monitoring and an intelligent crash response system.

Available safety technology includes adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist, lane keep assist, a 360-degree backup camera, park steering assist, parking sensors, forward collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert. Many of these features become available with the Technology Package.

Both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration give the Atlas top marks in their respective crash tests. IIHS even awards the SUV its Top Safety Pick award.

Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.


New for 2018

The Atlas is all-new for the 2018 model year.

A few of my favorite things

Driving through the city in rush-hour traffic made me fully appreciate the adaptive cruise control. It would bring the vehicle to a complete stop, and with a quick tap of the gas pedal, it would resume moving.

What I can leave

This SUV is not made for a petite driver. From the high beltline to the oversized seat bottoms to the hard-to-maneuver second-row seats, this was not a comfortable vehicle for me to drive.

And I had nearly 500 miles behind the wheel to arrive at this decision.

Another downer: The vehicle comes standard with a single USB port, and only four are available. My USB rule for family vehicles is at least one port per seat. Thus, in my book, Atlas should have at least seven USB ports.


The bottom line

As a Volkswagen owner, I want to like the Atlas. It has a lot going for it from the 7-passenger seating to the solid ride and handling.

But as a petite driver, I have to say: This is not a vehicle I could own. There are so many other vehicles, such as the Mazda CX-9 or the Subaru Ascent, that are just as nice and give me a great driver’s position.

So, while I don’t want to poo-poo all the great things this SUV has going for it, I will say drivers on the shorter side of the spectrum should beware.

But if you’re of average size, need a three-row SUV and want sporty-ish ride and handling, you could do far worse than the Atlas.

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