Volkswagen Atlas is perfect for the chores of life

By Russ Heaps

(September 24, 2018) There is nothing terribly glamorous about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas. It exhibits the two-box design typical of crossovers and SUVs. The emphasis being on “box.” But, don't let the uninspired styling lull you into thinking it's a boring vehicle to drive. That's simply not the case. Its driving dynamics are engaging and, although it's a crossover, “Utility” is its middle name.

In spite of not being invited to the media launch for the Atlas, where historically journalists clock between 100 and 150 miles on the subject vehicle, I've managed to put more than 1,500 mi on assorted V6 versions this year. A V6 SE w/Technology provided my transport on a working vacation trip in Arizona. A V6 SEL Premium w/4Motion (AWD) was my vehicle for 10 days of laying about in the Florida Keys. And finally, I drove an Atlas V6 SEL from Greenville, South Carolina to Louisville, Kentucky and back on a working vacation.

Although with all three of these Atlas versions being V6s, you might jump to the conclusion that's the only engine. Not so. In addition to the available 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, Volkswagen provides a 235-hp 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder as standard propulsion. An 8-speed automatic transmission hustles engine output to either the front or all the wheels for V6 models armed with 4Motion.

Government-estimated fuel economy is 22 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined for the turbo I4. Going for the extra gusto of the V6 lowers those numbers to 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 mpg combined for the FWD V6. Adding the additional capability of AWD lowers those numbers further to 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.

Whether slogging over the Great Smoky Mountains between Asheville, N.C., and Knoxville, Tenn., screaming through the desert between Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., or enjoying the sights creeping along the Oversees Highway from Key Largo to Islamorada, Fla., the Atlas V6 proved itself ideally suited to the task. No speed freak, Atlas doesn't exhibit scalded-cat acceleration when launching from a standstill. Nor does it provide a huge pop of power when attempting to merge onto an expressway or pass on a two-lane road, but the V6 has sufficient grunt to do what it needs to do when it needs to do it.

If towing is a concern, Atlas positions well among competitors, offering 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. This is about equal to the Chevrolet Traverse and outshines the GMC Acadia V6 and Mazda CX-9.

A three-row crossover, Atlas also performs well against its peer group for cargo capacity. In addition to providing all manner of cubbies for storage of smaller items, it excels in swallowing larger items, as well. In my case it was three big cases of video gear. And, after all, isn't that what you want out of a crossover? It betters every other member of its class, save the Chevrolet Traverse in cargo room, no matter how it's calculated: behind the third row, behind the second row and behind the front seats. For most of its competitive set, the differences are substantial. For example, with the second- and third-row seats folded, Atlas boasts 97 cu. ft. of cargo space compared to the Mazda CX-9 at 71 cu. ft.

Totaling 17, cupholders are stashed everywhere inside the passenger-friendly Atlas. With the standard second-row bench seat (captains chairs optional), Atlas holds seven. There is plenty of legroom in all three rows capable of seating average-height adults. Well assembled, the cabin oozes quality. There is a little more plastic than expected, but otherwise, it's an upscale interior. Intuitive controls and a simple-to-navigate touchscreen for infotainment propel Atlas to the top tier of user-friendly vehicles within its competitive set.

Volkswagen divides Atlas into four grades: S, SE, SE w/Tech and SEL. Including factory delivery fee, the base pricing begins at $31,745 for the S and tops out at $40,405 for the SEL. Sandwiched in between are the SE at $34,835 and the SE w/Tech at $36,935. Opting for the V6 tacks $1,400 to the bottom line.

Every Atlas comes with LED headlights and daytime running lights, full power accessories, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, six airbags, rearview camera, infotainment interface with at least a 6.5-in touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, VW Car-Net App-Connect, USB port, and an audio system with at least six speakers. Moving up through the trim levels adds heated windshield washer nozzles, heated outboard mirrors, additional USB ports, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic sunroof, three-zone automatic climate control, power adjustable front seats, heated front seats power liftgate, eight speakers, an 8-in touchscreen, and more.

SE grade and above come standard with blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert. SE w/technology and SEL come standard with adaptive cruise control, front assist braking and lane keep assist. The SEL adds Park Distance Control to its standard gear.

Driving the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is an exercise in comfort and quiet. It is a joy to drive regardless of the terrain and traffic. Simply put, it does and hauls everything you need for three-row crossover to do and haul.