For the past few years Volkswagen has tried to design its models more specifically for what it feels like buyers in the United States want. We don’t get the fun cars, like the VW Scirocco or even the tiny Polo. Instead Volkswagen’s U.S. division feels that buyers here want bigger models, like the US-spec VW Passat, the larger new Tiguan and its biggest model yet, the three-row Atlas SUV. One look at the top sellers list in the United States, easily supports this idea.
Does big matter? Well Volkswagen’s sales were up nine percent this year through the end of September, so maybe the brand is on to something, but could VW have also lost some of its personality in the process? I think so. Either way here’s what you need to know about the 2018 VW Atlas. After spending a week with a 2018 Atlas SEL Premium with 4Motion, there were definitely some highs and lows about the Atlas.
The Atlas is Big!
When Volkswagen decided that it wanted to introduce a larger three-row crossover, it didn’t kid around and simply squeeze a third row in the back of the Tiguan. Everything about the Atlas is big, from it’s imposing grille, to its overall length that barely fits in a standard parking spot. What’s the benefit? Space! That large footprint gives you so much space. I was able to fit six other friends easily in the Atlas and no one complained about sitting in the third row – something that is actually rare.
Plus even with all three rows filled, there’s still lots of cargo room for all your stuff. If you fold the second and third rows you’ll have 98.3 cubic feet of space, which is more passenger volume than the Jetta has if that gives you an idea of how much space there is.
Kinda boring on the outside
Styling is obviously subjective, but of the six friends that jumped in the Atlas one sunny Saturday afternoon, none of them liked the way the Atlas looked. “The outside is so boring,” exclaimed one friend. I sadly couldn’t agree more. The Atlas already looks old from some angles and that big “imposing” grille looks too busy.
Where’s the Personality?
Apparently VW thinks that US buyers just want big cars with zero personality. That might have been the case a few years ago, but even the formally boring Toyota Camry is trying to be more exciting now. The Atlas doesn’t like to be driven hard and when the road turns twisty, the Atlas lets you know that it’s suspension is not designed for fun.
The steering is too light, the 3.6L V6 feels under powered and the suspension just floats along the road. I actually dreaded hitting a speed bump or a dip in the road because of how the Atlas’s suspension just bounces around. Think back to how those large American sedans from the 1970s handled – “It’s a boat.”
My tester featured the more powerful 3.6L V6 that generates 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft. If you prefer a something a bit more fuel efficient, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder is available with 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. The four-cylinder is rated at 22/26 mpg, while the V6 gets 18/25 mpg wth front-wheel drive or 17/23 with all-wheel drive. An eight-speed automatic is standard and 4Motion all-wheel drive is only optional with the V6.
Comfortable, spacious and luxurious interior
While my friends may have not had too many positive things to say about the Atlas’s exterior, once inside there were only positive things to say about the Atlas. As I already mentioned, the interior is huge plus the large panoramic roof makes for an airy experience. Volkswagen’s interior design is always on point as well. Conservative, yet luxurious with high quality materials. The Atlas’s interior could easily masquerade as an Audi.
The front seats are large and comfortable, plus the heated and cooling functionality is great. The second row has lots of legroom and the 60/40 split bench easily folds forward for easy access to the third row. You can also fold the second row forward with a car seat still in the seat. The third row also managed to fit two guys that are both over six feet tall.
Since nearly every new vehicle today is packed with tech features, the Atlas doesn’t disappoint. The large touchscreen infotainment system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus the screen also lets you control the climate control and even the three different driving modes. In front of the driver there’s a configurable 12.3-inch digital cockpit There’s also an overhead view camera that makes parking a breeze and if you’d rather the Atlas park for you, it can.
Big, Boring and Basic
At the end of my week with the VW Atlas, the Atlas proved that it’s up to the task as a three row crossover. It’s spacious, competent and easy to drive. But it also has a lack of personality that the older VW models had. It’s styling is so run of the mill, that it’s easily lost in a mall parking lot and it’s driving experience is boring. Yes it’s quiet and the V6 is powerful enough to get you moving down the road, but so is pretty much every other SUV in this class. Where does the Atlas stand out, compared to the Explorer, Pilot or Traverse? I’m not sure.
As a kid VW was always the quirky, attainable German brand. With fun cars like the GTI, the outlandish New Beetle and even the old Jetta and Passat models, there was always something that stood out in the VW showroom. Today I can’t really say the same thing. VW has lost some of its personality in an effort to get more market share in the U.S. But as other automakers have realized lately, you need to add some personality in the mix to get noticed.
For now I’ll just have to hope that the revived Microbus will be as exciting as the latest concept.
Pricing for the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas starts at $31,325 for the base Atlas S with the 2.0L four-cylinder and tops out at $49,415 for the V6 powered Atlas SEL Premium with 4Motion.