Engine: 3.6-liter, 24-valve DOHC V6 with FSI direct fuel injection
Power: 276 horsepower; 266 lb. ft. of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Tiptronic
EPA Ratings: 17/city, 23/highway, 19/combined
Base Price: $42,690
As Tested: $45,235
Overview: The Volkswagen Atlas is a brand new, midsize, three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV. Built in Tennessee, it’s aimed at families. It debuted as a 2018 model, and we attended its Hollywood-style premiere on the Santa Monica Pier. Volkswagen officials made it clear the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer were directly in its crosshairs as VW moved into this market segment. Three trim levels are offered — S, SE and SEL, with several option packages. There are two engine choices — a turbocharged 2-liter four-banger producing 235 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque, and an optional 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 276 horses and 266 pound-feet. Our test vehicle was a V6-powered SEL.
Walkaround: Despite its conservative appearance, the muscular flared fenders and angular design suggest something besides VW. Coupled with a wide stance, the aggressive-looking Atlas features a full-width grille flanked by LED headlights. LED taillights are optional.
Interior: The Atlas’ austerely designed but impressively roomy cabin features clean lines with logical, full LED instrumentation. VW’s Car-Net infotainment system features an 8-inch screen. Typical for VW, everything is easy to use, intuitive, versatile and functional. However, the austerity appears somewhat overdone due to odd-looking simulated wood, leather upholstery appearing vinyl-like and too much hard plastic. Large front seats offer excellent legroom. The roomy second-row bench slides for easy access to the third row. Optional captain’s chairs can replace the three-place bench. The third row is surprisingly large, capable of seating average-size adults, and earns best-in-class honors. Lots of cargo room as well.
Behind the Wheel: We found the Volkswagen Atlas to drive among the best in this class. It feels solid and stable — even at high speeds — delivering smooth acceleration, responsive handling, confident cornering, stable braking and a comfortable and composed ride. The Atlas feels lighter than expected while the fully independent suspension capably handles bumps and difficult pavement. Steering can be tweaked for a heavier feel, while the transmission can be adjusted to downshift quicker. The factory towing package is rated to pull 5,000 pounds.
Bottom Line: The Volkswagen Atlas drives exceptionally well, excels in available technology, has an excellent warranty, and is long on utility. The interior trim could be upgraded, but overall, this is a great vehicle.