- What’s Best: Eminently practical use of interior space.
- What’s Worst: This V6 engine is relatively thirsty – bad news with gas prices trending upward.
- What’s Interesting: VW’s post-collision braking is an underrated safety feature.
Volkswagen, translated from German, means “the people’s car” – and there’s a slight irony in applying that label to the brand’s first-ever three-row SUV.
That’s because the Atlas was never, from the outset, intended for the German people, nor for much of the rest of the world.
This behemoth was designed in North America to North American tastes and is built and sold only in North America – with the Atlas name on it, at least. (Those who appreciate technicalities will note that the Volkswagen Teramont is the same car and is built in China for Asian and Middle Eastern markets.)
Anyway, for a first kick at the can in this body style, the Volkswagen Atlas marks an impressive debut.
It’s not perfect, of course – no car ever is – but it hits, with precision, a lot of the marks that people shopping in this segment are looking for.
A Naturally Aspirated V6 for Casual Driving
Our tester is an Execline, the top-of-the-line model that comes with the beefier 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine as standard. Lower trims start with a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged mill installed that only drives the front two wheels. The V6 is available across the board and brings Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive into the mix, so most Canadians will want to plan to make the $4,100 upgrade if opting for the Trendline or Comfortline trims.
Technically, the V6 is actually a VR6, a configuration that positions the cylinders in a more upright V pattern to make the engine smaller and more affordable to build. This one produces 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, and despite it being naturally aspirated, peak torque is available at a very approachable 2,750 rpm. With the eight-speed automatic transmission keeping the revs in that general area much of the time, the Atlas comes across as just the right amount of grunty in most driving situations.
Unfortunately, the trait this engine doesn’t escape is higher than average fuel economy. I finished my week with the Atlas at an average of 13.0 L/100 km, which with the amount of city versus highway driving I did fits right within the 13.7/10.1 figures provided by Natural Resources Canada. With gas prices beginning to trend back upward, this could begin to hurt before long.
On the road, there’s no denying it: this thing is big. But that comes with a lot of benefits in terms of interior space, and without much of a hit to handling. I wouldn’t exactly be clamouring to head out onto an epic mountain pass with it, but in everyday driving it’s level, predictable, and handles rough roads well, which in most of the country is all anyone truly asks of a car of this nature.
Function Over Form
How do you avoid making a three-row SUV look like a gigantic box? Well, most of the time, you don’t. The Atlas has a lot of flat surfaces and well-defined corners, broken up only by the emphatic fenders. It certainly isn’t unattractive to my eye, but it hardly stands out in a crowd.
All is forgiven, however, once it becomes clear how this translates into the interior.
Each of the Atlas’s three rows comes with a goodly amount of space – even the third row, which is nicely accessible thanks to wide rear doors and second-row seats that can move forward with child seat installed, though they are a little thinner and may not stay comfortable for long on long rides.
With the rearmost seats in use, there’s still a nicely sized and rectangular-shaped cargo space of 583 L left behind. The back two rows easily drop to a nicely flat surface to provide a total cargo area of 2,741 L.
Our tester is a six-seater with the optional second-row captain’s chairs, which come with heating. What they don’t come with is any kind of storage space between them – if the seats already move out of the way for easy third-row access, why not put some kind of console in between them?– or any sort of rear-facing entertainment system, though I’m not sure how often people actually use those anymore.
Five Features that Make a Car Better (and Five that Don’t)
The front-row seats come heated as standard in all but the base trim, and they’re ventilated in the Highline and Execline trims. This is a rare example of a car where the driver’s seat actually has room to go lower than my preference, which makes the Atlas a good choice for people who are taller or like to sit closer to the ground. I find them comfortable and supportive, but my primary gripe is that much of the height adjustment pivots from the front of the seat, which means that sitting higher tilts the seat base forward and takes away some of the thigh support.
Between the front seats, there’s a centre console large enough to hold a hardcover book or a small handbag. The powered panoramic sunroof that comes standard on Highline and Execline models adds so much brightness to this large cabin that I’d be hesitant to go without it if it was within my budget.
There’s a lot to love about Volkswagen’s infotainment systems. Android Auto and Apple Carplay are standard on the Atlas, the screen’s graphics are clear and easy to navigate, and I’m a big fan of the fact that I can twirl the tuning dial to quickly preview what’s playing on various SiriusXM stations before pushing it in to commit to a switch.
For my short arms, though, the controls at the far end of the screen are a bit of a reach. This is one of those systems with a visually pleasing symmetrical layout that doesn’t necessarily translate into perfect usability for all drivers.
On this point, the Atlas is well-equipped. Post-collision braking is standard equipment across the board, which is a feature that brings the car to a stop after an accident to prevent further damage or injury in the event the driver isn’t able to respond. Rain-sensing wipers are included as well.
Spend more for Comfortline and you can have heated washer nozzles, adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability, blind spot detection with rear traffic alert, and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
Jump up to Execline and you’ll add a 360-degree camera, lane assist, automatic high beams (though this feels like it should be available at a lower price point), and parking assist.
7 Three-Row SUVs That Will Make You Forget the Minivan
Provided my finances could handle the higher fuel bills, the Volkswagen Atlas would be on my three-row SUV short list. It’s neither stylish nor flawless, but its composed drive dynamics and meticulous attention to detail in interior functionality make this a welcome new offering in the segment.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas Execline
BODY STYLE: Three-row mid-size SUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
ENGINE: 3.6L V6 (Power: 276 hp @ 6,200 rpm; Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm)
CARGO CAPACITY: 583 L behind third row/2,741 L behind first row
FUEL ECONOMY (Regular): 13.7/10.1/12.1 L/100 km city/highway/combined
PRICE: MSRP $54,065; total with fees $55,960
Follow Wheels.ca on