Atlas gives VW sales a big boost after enjoying its best month yet in July

By Paul Borden

(August 17, 2018) Volkswagen executives were expecting (hoping for?) much success when the Atlas was launched as a replacement for the Touareg in the midsize SUV segment in the U.S., and the latest sales reports seem to confirm their expectations (hopes?).

The Atlas enjoyed its best sales month yet this past July and was one of three vehicles from the German automaker’s stable that helped spur overall sales growth of nearly 13 percent for the company over the same month for the previous year.

In fact, without the Atlas those numbers would have been down for the month as the company’s top seller, the Jetta, actually showed a sales decline of 37.2 percent for the month and 40 percent for the year-to-date just past the midpoint of 2018.

VW reported total sales of 6,938 for the Jetta for July and 39,961 for the first seven months of the year while the redesigned Tiguan small SUV and the all-new Atlas showed July sales of 6,636 and 6,499, respectively.

Those numbers represents huge percentage  jumps of 1,019.1 and 397.6 percent, respectively, for the two SUVs.

For the year, VW reports that 52,738 Tiguans and 34,657 Atlases have been sold so far in 2018 compared to 593 and 5,329, respectively, at this point in 2017.  Percentage-wise, that represents jumps of 8,7934 and 550.3 percent, respectively.

With a new 5-passenger Atlas in the works for 2019 to join the current 7-passenger version, that momentum is likely to continue into the future.

VW says the Atlas was designed with American audiences in mind, which means lots of interior room overall and legroom for third-row passengers. It is put together at the company’s assembly plant in Chattanooga with 46 percent of the parts coming from the U.S. and Canada and only 27 percent from Germany.

The understated interior features a nice clean design with the emphasis on functionality, not gee-whiz gizmos and techno features. Seating capacity is seven with those in the second and third rows getting 37.6 and 33.7 inches of legroom, respectively, and a generous 41.5 up front. The 60/40 split second row has a sliding row of up to 7.7 inches, and Captain’s Chairs also are offered on higher end trims for six-passenger capacity.

Cargo volume behind the third row is 20.6 cubic feet, and with the third row folded it’s a generous 55.5.

The Atlas is offered in five flavors (S, SE, SE w/technology, SEL, SEL Premium) with either a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder or an available 3.6-liter V6 under the hood. V6s also are offered with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive.

The 4-banger is rated at 235 horsepower at 4500 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque starting at 1600 rpm when using premium fuel, but it also runs on regular unleaded.

The V6 boosts those numbers to 276 hp at 6200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. of torque at 2750 rpm. That power gets to either the front or all wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy with the turbo-4 is 22 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway and 24 combined. Numbers for the V6 are 18/25/30 with FWD and 17/23/19 with AWD.

AWD models feature four settings — Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad — with Onroad as the default setting. Onroad can be further set to Normal, Sport, Eco, or Individual modes depending on your preferences and conditions.

My test vehicle was the AWD SEL and was a joy to drive.

Equipment like the V6 engine and Triptronic transmission, 18-inch wheels, power sunroof, 60/40 split second-row seating, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, 8-way adjustable front passenger seat, adaptable cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, Park Pilot system, blind-spot monitor and rear traffic alert, 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment features, and push-button start was included in the MSRP of $43,615, including the $925 destination and delivery charge.

The base S model starts at just under $34,000 while the SEL Premium nudges the $49,000 mark.

What I liked about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Though it seats seven passengers, the Atlas has the feel of a much smaller vehicle when it comes to handling and drive-ability. It looks good as well, and the inside is very roomy. Access to the third row is accomplished easily by sliding second-row seats forward, and you can move the second row forward a bit to give third-row riders more legroom.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Response to voice commands was a bit irregular, and voice command protocol required the frequency first be selected and then the station number to change radio stations. I also never did get my cell phone connected via Bluetooth.

Would I buy the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas? Yes. It is one of the few three-row SUVs that I would consider. But if you simply don’t want that third row, a five-passenger Atlas is in the works for 2019.