The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is a new three-row crossover SUV built in America – Chattanooga, Tennessee -- the biggest and boldest VW ever built in the U.S., with the passenger space American buyers look for in a family-hauling vehicle.
Atlas is positioned between the compact Tiguan and high-end Touareg, priced to draw attention to the family SUV.
It has flexible seating for up to seven adults, everyday usability and utility, hallmark Volkswagen driving dynamics, and attention to detail, offered in five distinct trim levels – S, SE, SE w/technology, SEL, and SEL Premium.
Four trims are available with either a base 235-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Both engines feature start/stop technology, with remote start standard on SE w/Technology trims and above.
The SEL Premium has a standard V-6. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available for V-6 models (standard on the SEL Premium), making a total of 13 configurations offered. All trims have an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Prices include $30,750 for a very basic S with the 2.0-liter engine; $39,410 for an SEL with a 2.0; $32,150 for a base S with a V-6 engine; and $48,740 for the top-end SEL Premium with a V-6 and 4Motion with Active Control.
The 4Motion system activates before wheel spin occurs to eliminate traction loss. Under low loads or when coasting, the front wheels are engaged and rear wheels are decoupled in an effort to save fuel. The rear wheels will engage in fractions of a second when needed, shifting up to a maximum of 50 percent power to the rear.
Electronic Stability Control briefly brakes a wheel that is slipping. Active Control offers four settings – Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad – allowing the driver to select a profile based on driving conditions.
The default setting, Onroad offers Normal, Sport, Comfort/Eco and Individual modes, altering driving parameters for engine, transmission, steering and Adaptive Cruise Control, along with Hill Descent Assist and Hill Start Assist. Turning a knob engages various modes, while pushing a button triggers a pop-up menu for fine-tuning the Onroad mode.
Snow mode helps negate unintentional, excessive wheel spin, and upshifts earlier to maximize traction. ACC is switched to the more defensive Comfort/Eco profile while in Snow mode. Offroad mode is similar to Snow mode, adding manual shifting via Tiptronic and turning off the Start/Stop system.
Hill Descent Control is activated on grades of more than 10 percent, and functions at speeds between 1.2 and 19 mph, adjustable via brakes or throttle.
A unique Offroad antilock braking system locks the wheels briefly before reducing brake pressure, allowing a small wedge of material (gravel or sand) to build up in front of the wheel, increasing the braking effect and reducing stopping distance while the vehicle remains steerable.
All models beyond the base build on the previous one, adding features or options. SEL models add a panoramic sunroof with power sunshade, power-adjustable front passenger seats and park distance control. There are two available options: black 20-inch wheels and the R-Line appearance package.
Top-of-the-line SEL Premium, the model I drove, adds several exclusive features: LED taillights, full leather seating, upgraded touch-screen display with navigation, parking assist system, and, last but not least, a Volkswagen Digital Cockpit. The VDC video screen can be configured to provide information beyond fuel, speed and temperature.
My Atlas SEL Premium was Deep Black Pearl with 20-inch silver-painted wheels in a unique three-part, five spoke design – a wide blade flanked by two thinner blades. The result was a very striking flower-like look. Sharp creases accented the wheel wells and the beltline. The grille featured a cog design, which extended to the headlight housing.
The interior was Titan Black leather with Birch Brown matte wood-look trim on the dash and doors, and well-placed chrome accents.
Seven exterior colors include mystic Tourmaline Blue Metallic, juicy Fortana Red Metallic, and spicy Kurkuma Yellow Metallic. Interiors come in Black, Shetland (very light gray), and Golden Oak, depending on the exterior color and model.
Exterior features included stainless steel window trim, silver roof rails; privacy glass with heat-reduction glazing for front side and windshield; power/folding/heated side mirrors with puddle lighting, memory, passenger side reverse tilt, and integrated turn signals; front door puddle lights; rain-sensing wipers with heated washer nozzles; Hands-free Easy Open liftgate (just a kick under the rear bumper, with the fob in range); automatic LED headlights with signature LED Daytime Running Lights and Coming/Leaving Home feature, and High Beam Control (Light Assist); full LED front lighting; halogen reflector lens fog lights with low-speed corner-illumination; and LED taillights.
The interior was clean and functional with a premium feel – classic Volkswagen – with easy-to-read driver-centric gauges and displays, intuitive controls positioned for optimal ergonomics and usability, quality materials, and plenty of technology.
My SEL Premium had the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit; an all-new Fender Premium Audio System with 12 speakers strategically placed throughout the cabin, and 480-watt, 12-channel amplifier; Bluetooth audio streaming, two front USB data ports and two rear USB charging ports; Discover Media touch-screen navigation system (one-shot voice entry) with eight-inch color glass display with proximity sensor (brighter, better color reproduction and response time, improved viewing angle), MP3/WMA-compatible CD player, AM/FM radio, SiriusXM, JPEG viewer, Free Lossless Audio Codec, and voice control, text messaging (two phones simultaneously). Media Control allows media playback on mobile devices through the infotainment system even from the rear seat.
MIB II Infotainment, standard for all Atlas models, is the foundation for Volkswagen’s Car-Net connected services. Features are divided into “App-Connect” (runs select apps on the display through Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink), “Security & Service” (Automatic Crash Notification, Manual Emergency Call, Roadside Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance, Family Guardian, and more), and “Guide & Inform” (enhanced navigation and infotainment).
Atlas has three rows of seating, with a 60/40 bench in the second row with a 14-degree backrest recline function and 7.7-inch separate sliding range, and a 50/50 split two-passenger bench in the rear. An innovative folding mechanism for the second row allows improved entry and exit on both sides with the bench tilting and sliding forward, even with a child seat in place.
My front seats were heated and ventilated, with three-profile driver’s seat memory functions (seat, assistance system preferences, temperature, Digital Cockpit arrangement, and navigation view).
The second-row outboard seats were heated. Three-zone automatic climate control had air vents for all rows. Second-row passengers had retractable sunshades, each row had two reading lights, and all rows had an ample supply of inputs/outlets, cup/bottle holders, and assorted cubbies. Ambient lighting highlighted the upscale interior.
Cargo volume was 96.8 cubic feet with all seats folded flat, 55.5 cubic feet with the third seat down, and 20.6 cubic feet with all seats upright. The cargo area had four tie downs, grocery bag hooks, and under-floor storage with felt lining (reduces noise from objects moving around).
Safety features were abundant, including the only Automatic Post-Collision Braking System in the class, which applies the brakes following a primary collision to help reduce the chances of a secondary collision and additional damage/injury.
Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, front and rear Park Distance Control with Maneuver braking, Parking Steering Assistant, and Overhead View Camera provided the driver with multiple layers of assistance and safety with visual and auditory warnings and, in some cases, braking and steering to avoid collisions.
The included VW Intelligent Crash Response System unlocks the doors, turns on the interior lights, disengages high-voltage electronics, disables the fuel pump, and turns on the hazard lights in the event of a collision.
A crash-optimized front end and pedal controls, and reinforced safety cage construction, along with side-curtain head air bags (all rows) provide a cushion of protection for occupants.
Park Assist could automatically steer the car into a selected parallel or perpendicular (forward or in reverse) parking space, with just acceleration and braking from the driver.
My tester had a factory installed trailer hitch and was rated for towing 5,000 pounds.
The V-6 models with 4Motion are EPA rated for 17 mpg city/23 highway/19 combined. I drove about 50/50 highway and neighborhood, and achieved 21.6 mpg average.
Volkswagen Atlas is a comfortable, roomy ride with a mostly quiet cabin, although the big side mirrors generate moderate wind noise.
Visibility out the front is slightly restricted by the high dash. Steering feel is precise and maneuvering is easy for its size. Acceleration, unfortunately, is sluggish both out of the gate and at speed.
With $925 in destination charges, the total delivered price of my Atlas SEL Premium was $49,665.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at email@example.com.