2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium AWD Test Drive: VW Launches an American built Family-Sized SUV

Boerne, TX
Even though it’s not the microbus re-creation that we longingly and continually lust after, the latest creation from the Volkswagen camp is the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV which will be available in five distinct levels of trim, with two engine choices and the option of FWD or VW’s 4Motion® all-wheel-drive system for select models.

The all-new VW Atlas is based on the award-winning Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) architecture, and it is the largest, most dynamic Volkswagen vehicle ever assembled in America. It is built alongside the Passat at VW’s Chattanooga, TN assembly plant.
The engine choices consist of either a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 235 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque, which becomes available later in production; or the currently available 3.6-liter VR6 engine that cranks out 276 horses, while generating 266 pound feet of torque. Both engines gear power to the driving wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. The 4Motion AWD system is an option that will only be available on models with the V6 engine. The VR6 will deliver an estimated 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway (FWD) and 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway (AWD) *pending EPA certification.
A Driving Mode Selection feature, equipped on all Atlas models with 4Motion all-wheel drive, enables the driver to select specific vehicle profiles based on driving conditions. It has four settings: Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad. Within the “Onroad” setting, additional options are offered: Normal, Sport, Comfort and Individual. These alter operating parameters for drive systems like the engine, transmission, steering and Adaptive Cruise Control, as well as traction-assistance systems such as Hill Descent Assist and Hill Start Assist. The singular user interface is highly intuitive, utilizing both a rotary knob and a push-button. Turning the knob engages the various drive modes, while pushing the button triggers a pop-up menu on the screen of the infotainment system, allowing the driver to fine tune the Onroad mode.

Onroad mode is the default setting. Here, Atlas automatically varies the drive distribution between the two axles, accounting for road conditions. A press of the button triggers the driving profile selection screen to pop up on the infotainment screen, offering the driver a choice of “Normal”, “Sport”, “Eco” and “Individual” drive modes. Within each, the tuning parameters for the engine control, gearbox, steering and optional ACC are varied.

Trim levels offered will be the base S, SE, SE with Technology package, SEL and the flagship SEL Premium. There’s also a limited availability S launch V6 model. Styling for all Atlas models is actually an evolution of the CrossBlue concept vehicle which first appeared in 2013. Pricing will start at $30,500 for the S 2.0-liter TSI FWD model and climb to $48,490 for the SEL Premium with the 3.6-liter VR6 with 4Motion AWD. Option Packages will include: Captains Chars to replace a second row bench seat for a total seating capacity of six rather than seven; a performance-inspired sportier appearance; and Black 20-inch alloy wheels.

The Atlas SEL Premium models up the ante in terms of the luxury quotient, with the 12.3-inch VW Digital Cockpit instrumentation, 20-inch alloy wheels, navigation, LED taillights, power folding door mirrors, door mirrors with puddle lights, leather seating surfaces, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, automatic High Beam Control (Light Assist) and Ambient lighting. Also added are driver assistance and infotainment features such as: Parking Steering Assistant, Area View Camera, and the Fender® Premium Audio System with a 12-channel, 480-watt amplifier and 12 speakers.
SEL and SEL Premium models feature a power tailgate with Easy Open, while the SE w/ Technology grade offers a Power Tailgate. Easy Open works in conjunction with KESSY® keyless access to enable opening of the tailgate with just a kick of the foot below the rear bumper, providing the key is in range.
All Atlas models feature full LED front lighting, including low beams, high beams, turn signal indicators, Daytime Running Lights and side marker lights. LED taillights are standard on SEL Premium models. Overhead, a large panoramic sunroof measuring 4.46 feet by 2.85 feet, with a two-part glass opening system and powered sunshade, is offered on SEL and SEL Premium models.
Visually, the VW Atlas displays a blunt, bold “in-your-face” exterior presence, beginning with the front end that is almost Range Rover-like in its impact. In profile, striking character lines run from nose to tail, featuring athletic, pronounced fender arches above the wheel wells. The sculpted hood meets the sharply angled windshield, and the roof curves gently downward at the rear, which is broad, powerful and distinctive.
The cabin reflects Volkswagen’s classic imagery, with a clean and functional styling execution and a focus on premium ambience. The three-row seating provides seating for up to seven adults to travel in comfort, and the innovative second row has a 7.7-inch fore and aft sliding range, tilting and folding forward even with child seats in place.
Atlas features Car-Net infotainment and connectivity with standard smartphone integration supporting Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. Car-Net also provides security and Service, as well as guidance and information.

My test 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV was an SEL Premium with the VR6 and 4Motion. It wore an exterior finish of Fortama Red metallic, while the interior was executed in Black. The base sticker read $48,490., with a final tally of $49,415.

SUMMARY: Driving over some of the back roads in Texas Hill country, the new Atlas performed admirably. It also did well on the freeway. The 3.6-liter VR6 provided more than ample power and without hesitation. The transmission shift points were customizable within the Drive Mode Select and the ride quality was comfortable and the Atlas remained flat and stable over hill and dale and through dips and twists.
For a vehicle of its size, and taking into consideration the feature and equipment content, this new Atlas is an attractive and affordable gem. Yes, I know that attractiveness is in the eyes of the beholder, but how sexy can one get with an SUV. The styling leans to the masculine side, with its athleticism, but the amenities are sure to please the feminine consumer as well.

There were actually no off-road exercises during the launch, but rock-crawling not withstanding; the Atlas should certainly handle non-paved surfaces without a problem. The handling characteristics were positive and instantly responsive. For those consumers who need to tow recreational toys, the towing capacity is 5,000 lbs. with factory installed towing hardware but drops to 2,000 lbs. for aftermarket systems.
In the final analysis, the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas in SEL Premium trim with 4Motion represents a strong move forward for the American marketplace. In VW parlance, “Life’s as Big as You Make It” and the Atlas is big and bold and should prove to be a winner on the SUV playing field.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium AWD

Base Price: $48,490.
Price as Tested: $49,415.

Engine Type and Size: 3.6-liter,DOHC, 24-valve Direct Injection VR6

Horsepower (bhp): 276 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque (ft./ lbs.): 266 @ 2,750 rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.

Drive Train: Transversely mounted front engine / 4MOTION™ permanent all-wheel drive system with eight-speed automatic transmission, clutch-pack center differential and adaptive torque distribution.

Suspension: Front – Strut-type with lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar.
Rear – Multilink with coil springs and telescopic dampers.

Brakes: Power-assisted dual circuit four-wheel discs (vented front) 4-wheel standard ABS with EBD and ESC.

Tires: Continental CrossContact 235/50 R20 105T mounted 5-Tri-spoke silver painted alloy wheels.

Wheelbase: 117.3 inches
Length Overall: 198.3 inches
Width: 78.3 inches
Height: 70.0 inches
Curb Weight: 4,502 lbs.
Turning Circle: 38.1 ft.
Approach Angle: 20.4 degrees
Departure Angle: 22.4 degrees
Breakover Angle: 17.5 degrees
Fuel Capacity: 18.6 gallons
EPA Mileage Estimates: 17 mpg city / 23 mpg highway – *estimated
pending EPA certification.
Drag Coefficient: 0.34
0 – 60 mph: Not tested.

• Styling – 5 Stars
• Performance – 5 Stars
• Ride & Handling – 5 Stars
• Utility – 5 Stars
• Comfort & Convenience – 5 Stars
• Economy – 4.5 Stars
• Value and Competition – 4.5-Stars

Summary – 5 Stars

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas represents a bold and positive move with its all-new SUV that was designed for the American market and is built in the USA.