. – Volkswagen, the German auto giant that was car-centric as recently as 2013, is now firmly focused on SUVs, and there’s no better example of this sea change than the Atlas.
A three-row, seven-seater built at Volkswagen’s sprawling plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Atlas has become the company’s standard-bearer in North America
Since arriving in the summer of 2017, the Atlas and its five-seat Atlas Cross Sport sibling introduced in 2020, have sold a staggering 564,000 units across North America to date, including 62,000 in Canada. It is now one of the best-selling three-row SUVs, so these updated models are important to say the least.
To reset, both Atlases are built on Volkswagen’s MQB (modular transverse matrix) platform, which underpins all gas-powered models. While both 2024s are virtually the same size as their predecessors, there’s a significant powertrain change. The VR6 (3.6-litre V6) has been dropped, leaving just the EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which is an updated version of the same engine found in the Golf GTI, as the only Atlas powerplant available.
As for output, the 2.0-litre turbo four produces 269 horsepower and 273 lb-ft. of torque. For reference, the outgoing VR6 produced slightly more horsepower (276), but less torque (266). The remainder of the powertrain is unchanged: 8-speed automatic transmission and standard 4Motion all-wheel drive.
Regarding exterior design, Volkswagen is throwing a lot at the ’24 Atlas. Up front, both cars receive new front-end styling which includes a wide chrome four-bar grille, and new LED headlights with an Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS). LED daytime running lights wrap around the headlights and connect to an illuminated light bar above a lit VW logo.
A new front fascia with redesigned air intakes is further differentiated on the Cross Sport, which receives gloss black trim and a black X design element like the one on its compact Taos sibling.
At the rear, both cars receive a longer roof spoiler, an illuminated light bar and VW logo, while the Cross Sport has a redesigned diffuser insert as a means of differentiating it from the Atlas. New wheel designs, ranging in size from 18 to 20 inches are also on tap, with 21-inch alloys standard on Execline R-Line trims.
As significant as the updates are on the outside, the overhauling the Atlas cabin receives is even more extensive.
Long viewed as a weakness for the outgoing models, even among Volkswagen reps I’ve spoken to, the 2024 cars have been designed specifically to address concerns that the Atlas interior, while spacious, is too plain, uses too many cheap trim materials and isn’t an inviting place to inhabit.
From the base Comfortline up, the 2024 Atlas is replete with premium materials, soft-touch plastics, and fabrics covering just about every high-touch surface imaginable. From the stitching on the console bin cover to softer door panel inserts, to the dashboard, which has been redesigned and backlit with 30 ambient lighting colours, the Atlas cabin ups the premium ante in nearly every conceivable way.
On the tech front, all 2024 models come standard with a 12-inch floating infotainment touchscreen display and a 10.25-inch configurable Volkswagen Digital Cockpit Pro instrument cluster. A head-up display is available, as is a 45-watt fast smartphone charger, and dash-cam USB-C port mounted in the A-pillar.
Volkswagen Canada has re-ordered the lineup for 2024, by dropping the Trendline and adding the Atlas Peak Edition, an appearance-package grade based on the Basecamp Concept revealed in 2019. The Peak Edition comes outfitted with 18-inch black alloy wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires, black and silver body cladding, black trim and two unique exterior colours, Avocado Green, and Pure Grey.
Volkswagen organized a scenic drive route through the Catskill Mountain region of New York. The weather was hot and sunny, ideal conditions to test the new Atlases on the two-lane roads that winding their way through some of the most picturesque areas in the state.
The 2.0-litre turbo four offers impressively snappy acceleration, both from rest and at speed, and can be quite spit snarly when one mashes the throttle. Dialling the drive mode selector to sport, really livens things up, with a much sharper throttle response and delayed upshifting from the eight-speed automatic.
The combination of higher torque delivery from lower in the powerband (28 percent higher Volkswagen says), delivers multiple benefits, including better fuel efficiency, 0.8 second faster 0-97 km/h (60 mph) time, and the same towing capacity (5,000 pounds) as the outgoing model.
Atlases are big SUVs, but their crisp handling belies their size and weight. They are responsive, with direct steering and a comfortable ride.
Beyond snappy performance, what also impresses is an overhauled cabin that looks and feels premium. The two grades I drove were U.S.-spec SEL Premium R-Line models (Execline R-Line equivalent), so they were fully loaded, but the most impressive changes filter down to the base trims, such as big digital screens, higher quality trim materials, ambient lighting, and better seats.
The only thing the ’24 Atlas gets wrong is the lack of hard buttons and knobs for climate controls and stereo volume and tuning. Fortunately, the GTI I drove to the event, which uses the same multimedia touchscreen, allowed time for adjusting but it could be quite challenging for those unfamiliar.
The shortcut buttons located below the screen are handy, sort of, but touch-sensitive sliders for warming and cooling and raising and lowering fan speed are distracting and fussy to use. A global redesign is coming for future Volkswagens, but it’s unknown when these changes will impact the Atlas family.
Despite a needlessly fussy touchscreen, the depth and breadth of the updates the ’24 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport receive should make them compelling options for consumers. They’re more handsome on the outside, more premium on the inside, but still have loads of space and a more spirited driving character.
Seems like a winning formula.
2024 Volkswagen Atlas pricing
Comfortline – $49,995
Peak Edition – $53,995
Highline – $56,995
Execline R-Line – $59,995
2024 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport pricing
Comfortline – $48,895
Highline – $55,895
Execline R-Line – $58,895
The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport go on sale this summer.
2024 Volkswagen Atlas
Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 8-speed automatic transmission
2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (269 hp / 273 lb-ft.)
(Regular 87) 12.2 / 9.2 / 10.8 L / 100 km (city / highway / combined)
Atlas – 2,735 / 1,572 / 583 litres (96.6 / 55.5 / 20.6 cu ft.) (behind first / second / third row)
MAXIMUM TOWING: 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg)
$49,995 base, excl. freight, taxes, and fees