The 2018 VW Atlas marks the German automaker's foray into the three-row crossover arena. Sitting between the Tiguan and the Tuareg, the new Atlas is a well-done, roomy, and efficiently-designed crossover with a lot to like ... not the least of which is its name, which we think is perfect.
The 2018 Atlas was designed in-house at Volkswagen's North American operations center in Tennessee. It is aimed squarely at the American market, and is being built there as well. The big crossover is slightly larger in size than the Tuareg, but slots below it in the VW lineup as a midsize with a lower price point. The Atlas takes on extremely competitive contenders in the midsize three-row segment like the Chevrolet Traverse.
The exterior look of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is an aggressively beefy design that is very different from most VW vehicles on the market. The flat-faced, two-slot grille, squared headlamps, and decidedly truck-like fascia all seem designed to emphasize the bulk of the Atlas. Along the bodywork, strong lines are also marked. The flat hood, lightly tapered roofline, and squared-off rear hatch create a boxy, truck-themed profile while the body lines mimic the wheel wells and lower edge of the Atlas to add a little beef and sport to the look.
This bigger-than-life design fits well with the Atlas' intended market, though, foregoing the often car-like and upscale-reaching designs of most in the midsize crossover-SUV segments. It's a look that may be a bit polarizing for some, but one that seems to really sit well with an American audience.
Inside, the 2018 Atlas is all Volkswagen. The function-makes-form essence that makes up most VW interiors is loud and clear inside the new Atlas. Materials quality is good, but there is no bling factor or upscale "wow" to be found. It's instead highly functional.
Entry and exit from the Atlas is one of its highlights, with low sills and easy access from any of the four doors. The front driver and passenger seats are very well done, with good amounts of comfort and a nice balance of firm cushion. The second row is also well done, with good outboard seating and a mostly adult-friendly center position. Three across, even if they're grownups, is not a problem in that second row of the Atlas. The third row is meant for two and is mostly relegated to the kids, but is otherwise nicely done. Our chief complaint there is getting to that third row.
The Atlas' second row folds forward and slides towards the front in order to provide access to the third row of seating. The split-fold design of the second row means that it's easier to fold forward the passenger's side seat (the smaller 40-percent side) than it is the driver's side seat (the larger 60-percent side). Smart thinking on VW's part, as this puts the easier fold-down seat at the curbside. Kids who are in the back will have little trouble squeezing through the opening thus created, but adults may have to be schooled in some yoga to make it happen.
Cargo space in the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, an important selling point in this class, is not skimped on. With the third row up, there is still an impressive 20.6 cubic feet (583 liters) of space. Fold the second and third rows down, and a massive 96.8 cubic feet (2,741 liters) becomes available – all with flat-fold seats and a lot of space between walls. The big, squared opening of the rear hatch makes it even easier.
Where the VW Atlas' interior misses, though, is in gadget storage. We'd like to see more USB ports for passengers and more places to put small items up front. The large armrest bin is nice and the door pockets are huge, but there isn't a great place for more than one phone.
We did enjoy the latest in Volkswagen's infotainment. Our test model of the new Atlas had the upgraded 8-inch infotainment system with navigation and other goodies. We couldn't find any Wi-Fi connectivity with this one, sadly, but the Atlas has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, and our upgrade included some apps integration and the bigger, more clear-output screen. The learning curve on VW's infotainment is fairly short too.
Powering the big new 2018 VW Atlas are two engine choices. The base model 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will be familiar to most Volkswagen fans as a staple in the carmaker's line. This engine outputs 235 horsepower (175 kW) to a smart eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts well and isn't afraid to drop a gear for more acceleration. Sadly, though, our brief time driving with that engine also showed it to be largely underpowered for the big Atlas. We'd recommend moving to the six-cylinder engine offered in our week-long test vehicle.
That V6 is a 3.6-liter with a moderate but predictable and strong 276 horsepower (206 kW). The same eight-speed transmission, re-tuned for the longer power curve of the bigger engine, remains. This model has an all-wheel drive option as well. With a full load of passengers and their stuff, the V6 had no signs of struggle getting up to speed for a freeway merge or pass, going up hills and small mountains, etc. It's a quiet, well-done powertrain that really fits the 2018 Atlas well.
Fuel economy estimates are pretty good for the Atlas, being about on par with the segment in general. The four-cylinder offers an EPA-rated 22 mpg (10.7 l/100km) in the city and 26 mpg (9 l/100km) on the highway. The V6 drops those numbers to 18 and 25 mpg city/highway (13 and 9.4 l/100km). We averaged about 21 mpg (11.2 l/100km) over a week's worth of driving with varied passenger loads in the V6 AWD model, so those EPA estimates seem about right.
What's really interesting about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is its drive quality. The big VW drives really well for its bulk, and maneuvers like a much smaller vehicle. Visibility is good and the squared-off front and rear make for easy estimation of vehicle position when parking in tight spaces. Steering is engaging and responsive and road absorption is very good. The Atlas is quiet and well-mannered as a highway driver too. The 2018 Atlas is not a sports car, but it leaves a good impression on the driver.
We really like the Atlas overall. It has a few quirks, but none are potential deal-breakers for buyers in the three-row segments. This is a nicely-done crossover that adds an attractive new option to the midsize market. Volkswagen did well with this new Atlas.
The Atlas has a starting price of US$30,750 and was priced at $49,415 (after delivery) as we drove it.
Product Page: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
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