With the introduction of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas crossover, it’s clear VW completely embraces the fact that it has fashioned a big, soft, American SUV. If you buy an Atlas, you will, too. Where so many carmakers spend millions in R&D to make their large SUVs feel smaller and more manageable, VW sidestepped all that and built a vehicle unlike anything else in their lineup. As the brand’s first seven-seater, the Atlas shows a level of refinement and stability that other models have taken generations to develop. But there is no mistaking the fact that this is a different direction for VW.
For cushy comfort the VW Atlas is your ticket
On the road, the Atlas shines, though you come to that conclusion as the vehicle does — slowly. The 276-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 feels relaxed even under the hardest acceleration. In Northern New England, where the snow makes the roads smoother after filling in all the potholes, the big VW easily chews up the miles by soaking up all but the biggest bumps and frost heaves. With two kids in the back this couldn’t be better, even where the comfortable Honda Pilot fails to pull off the nap-sustaining outing that the Atlas delivers. This all adds up to a confidently cushy ride that bests even the top contenders in the segment, though the experience can feel disconnected and distant at times through all the figurative padding.
Interior space is efficiently designed
Inside, the story is much the same. VW has managed to make use of the vast interior space in a way that feels intentional and useful. With small children in tow, the benchmark for vehicles of this ilk is the capability to manage at least two car seats without pushing the front seats into the dash. Legroom stats for the Atlas are deceiving, since on paper the VW is behind the competition by at least an inch. This doesn’t translate to real-world applications, though, as large rear-facing car seats fit behind the driver’s seat without issue, even for six-foot tall person like myself.
Third-row seats have room to spare and are easy to enter thanks to the low step-in height. And our Atlas was missing optional side step-rails, which would make it even easier to buckle the kids into their seats. VW has made no secret of the fact that this SUV was made to ferry seven people around town, and they’ve made good on that promise in all three rows. Seating two five-year-old kids in the “way back” results in a feeling not unlike yelling from one room to another at home with the only difference being that everyone gets their own cupholder – or two. You’ll find 17 scattered throughout the interior.
Technology breaks no new ground
Technology in the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is a straightforward affair. A responsive eight-inch touchscreen is standard in all but SEL Premium trims, which adds VW’s Discover Media and Navigation features. This is a strange choice in a $40k+ vehicle, but the ability to bring-your-own media and maps with standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto will serve most people well. No rear-seat entertainment packages are available, other than optional tablet clips, but VW did stuff plenty of USB and power ports throughout the cabin to keep everyone’s devices charged for longer road trips.
VW’s audio configurations have traditionally performed well, even in base trim, and the eight-speaker setup in the SEL Atlas is no exception. The sound is bright and loud, though the size of the cabin does a good job of muddying up the lower frequencies of some music and voice tracks. A 480-watt Fender audio system is offered in the SEL Premium trim level, which should be sufficient to fill up the Grand Canyon-sized interior with quality tunes.
Nice but then there’s the price
Families will find the Atlas to be more than adequate in space and overall utility, but competition in this segment is fierce. With a base price of just over $30k, the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas can be relatively affordable, although the options that make the VW a worthy family-hauler drive that number well north of $45,000.
At this price point, buyers will find several great alternatives – many of which can be had completely loaded. This may make the Atlas a tough sell, particularly because VW has essentially built another big American SUV, albeit with a German badge. Much of what made Volkswagen attractive to buyers looking for a tighter, more exciting feeling SUV has been sacrificed in favor of more space. The Atlas couldn’t be more different than the soon-to-be-departed VW Touareg if it tried, which is good news for families but a gamble for VW.