What Did We Buy?
While consumers buy SUVs as fast as manufacturers can make them, some models are more desirable than others. The Touareg and the Tiguan — Volkswagen's most recent attempts at making SUVs for Americans — did not catch on like the German automaker's more charismatic Jetta and Golf compacts. But Volkswagen's third attempt, the full-size 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, may have all the pieces to change that.
Sized like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, the Atlas features a roomy three-row interior and fuel-efficient engine options that make it ideal for American buyers. Our initial impressions suggest that the Atlas isn't as charismatic as the more rough-and-tumble Touareg, but it's roomier inside, it has better infotainment technology, and its large third row makes it appeal to a broader spectrum of SUV buyers.
What Options Does It Have?
VW's highly tiered trim structure means that additional features and option packages are just part of the trim level, so we ordered a well-equipped 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SE 4Motion with Technology package. In the tiered spectrum, only the SEL offers more content.
The 3.6-liter V6 engine produces 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque using regular gasoline and mates to a traditional eight-speed transmission. For drivers who frequently operate the Atlas at or near its maximum payload capacity of 1,213 pounds, the standard inline four-cylinder (235 hp, 258 lb-ft) will prove too sluggish to accelerate that kind of mass. As it is, the V6 is only average at accelerating the Atlas' heft (ranging from 4,222 to 4,502 pounds) up to highway speed.
In standard configuration, the Atlas is front-wheel-drive, but our long-termer benefits from Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. This clutch-based system engages the rear wheels as needed, such as on light-duty off-road trails or when slippery road conditions require more traction. An adjustable drive mode dial also allows drivers to select specific profiles that optimize transmission shifting and stability control settings for snow, off-road or highway driving.
Standard features for the SE trim include keyless entry, push-button start, an infotainment system with an 8-inch display, additional USB ports, heated front seats, rear sunshades, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a rearview camera.
VW's Car-Net is also standard and allows owners to find their car, set speed, set geofencing and curfew boundaries for younger drivers, and check vehicle health and door lock status from a computer or smartphone app.
The Technology package adds three-zone climate control, a power liftgate, adaptive cruise control, front park assist, lane keeping assist, and remote start to the SE trim.
Finally, we could have opted for second-row captain's chairs, making our Atlas a six-seater, but our test model features a traditional 60/40-split folding bench seat. With seven seats, this was the practical choice for our staff and our families and friends.
Why We Got It
Is the third time the charm? That's what we aim to find out with VW's new Atlas. While its size, tech and capability seem just right for American buyers, will they avert their gazes away from the Explorer, the Highlander and the Pilot for a new vehicle without a track record?
Over the next year of driving, we hope to exercise all of the Atlas' attributes by subjecting it to stop-and-go traffic, highway cruising, cargo hauling, and even some light off-roading. Then we'll see if the new SUV's suspension, all-wheel-drive system, efficiency, and overall comfort meet or beat the standards set by the rest of the full-size SUV class.
Follow our progress during our long-term road test for our latest thoughts on this 2018 Volkswagen Atlas.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
Calvin Kim, road test engineer @ 941 miles