2018 Volkswagen Atlas: American-Size 3-Row SUV with European Flair [Review]

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

With the growing popularity of three-row SUVs in America, Wolfsburg jumps into the market with the redesigned 2018 Tiguan and all-new 2018 Volkswagen Atlas. The Atlas, which is close in size to the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder, was designed to meet the needs of American families by offering copious amounts of space, a comfortable and functional cabin, and purposeful driving dynamics all wrapped up in a package with tidy European styling.

As the newest and biggest member of the lineup, the mid-size 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV offers family-ready passenger and cargo volume, as well as everyday usability and utility. Available in five trim levels — S, SE, SE w/ Technology, SEL and SEL Premium – – all are equipped with a powerful 3.6L VR6 or four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0L TSI. A choice of FWD or VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is available for the V6 models.

Powering our 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is a 3.6-liter V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Output is a gutsy 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg for combined city and highway for the front-wheel drive variant and 1 mpg less in the all-wheel drive model.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

A second engine option, a 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder will soon become available. The 2.0T is rated at 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of twist. Estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg overall and can tow up to 2,000 pounds. The V6 has a towing capacity of 2,000 to 5,000 pounds.

We logged hundreds of miles on the highway and were able to manage 26 mpg and more than 400 miles of range on a single tank of gas at speeds hovering around 75 mph. Even with a light foot on the pedal, getting the 2-ton family hauler in motion is not an easy feat. We observed 21 mpg overall with mixed around-town and highway driving.

Hey, good looking

For the Atlas, Volkswagen settled on a modern and muscular design that retains classic proportions and clean lines. Measuring 198.3 inches in length, 78.3 inches wide, and 69.6 inches tall, its exterior measurements are close to the CX-9, Explorer, and Pathfinder. And comparatively bigger than the Highlander, Santa Fe, and Pilot. Despite having a generous ground clearance of 8.0 inches, slipping into the front seat doesn’t require a small hop.

3-Row Crossover Dimensions
2018 VW Atlas 2018 Ford Explorer 2017 Nissan Pathfinder 2017 Honda Pilot 2017 Toyota Highlander
Seating Capacity 7 6, 7 7 8 8
Passenger Volume 153.7 cu. ft. 151.5 cu. ft. 157.8 cu. ft. 151.7 cu. ft. 144.9 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume Behind 3rd Row 20.6 cu. ft. 21.0 cu. ft. 16.0 cu. ft. 16.0 cu. ft. 13.8 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume Behind 2nd Row 55.5 cu. ft. 43.9 cu. ft. 47.8 cu. ft. 46.8 cu. ft. 42.3 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume Behind 1st Row 96.8 cu. ft. 81.7 cu. ft. 79.8 cu. ft. 83.9 cu. ft. 83.7 cu. ft.
Headroom (1st/2nd/3rd row) 41.3 / 40.4 / 38.3 in. 41.4 / 40.6 / 37.8 in. 42.2 / 39.4 / 37.8 in.
(w/o moonroof)
39.5 / 39.9 / 38.9 in. 40.7 / 39.9 / 35.9 in.
Shoulder Room (1st/2nd/3rd row) 61.5 / 60.8 / 54.9 in. 61.5 / 61.0 / 50.8 in. 60.7 / 60.4 / 57.1 in. 62.0 / 62.0 / 57.6 in. 59.3 / 59.6 / 55.0 in.
Hip Room (1st/2nd/3rd row) 58.2 / 58.0 / 45.1 in. 57.3 / 56.8 / 40.7 in. 56.8 / 56.1 / 42.0 in. 59.1 / 57.3 / 44.6 in. 57.2 / 57.1 / 45.6 in.
Legroom (1st/2nd/3rd row) 41.5 / 37.6 / 33.7 in. 42.9 / 39.5 / 33.3 in. 42.3 / 41.7 / 30.7 in. 40.9 /38.4 / 31.9 in. 44.2 / 38.4 / 27.7 in.
Liftover Height n/a 31.1 in. 31.5 in. N/A N/A

Quite often, the Atlas is closely compared with the Ford Explorer and the Nissan Pathfinder. Dimensionally, the mid-size crossovers are essentially the same size outside, but the Atlas feels quite a bit roomier inside. The boxy exterior shape isn’t the most elegant of designs, yet the Atlas has an airy, spacious feel that mirrors VW hatchbacks and sedans rather than the enshrouded feel of some crossovers.

What’s on the inside?

For what it’s worth, the cabin appointments are distinctly Volkswagen. There’s a lot of room in the sliding middle row and an adult-usable third row, with walk-through space that rivals minivans to get back there. Keeping it family-friendly, the middle row can slide and flip forward to allow passage to the back row, even with multiple child seats latched in place.

Passengers enjoy a well-appointed cabin in all trims, with the SEL Premium with 4Motion being the top dog. Stepping up to the SEL Premium is also the only way to get leather seats, the 12.3-inch digital cockpit display, LED taillights, and the 12-speaker, 480-watt Fender audio system.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas steering wheel controls

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas was used for a 1,200-mile road trip and its performance was stellar. Cup and bottle holders abound for everyone, even third-row passengers. There are plenty of cubbies and bins to stash snacks, toys, and whatever else that comes along for the ride. For the driver, access to the infotainment and climate controls are good — even for people with that have short arms.

Multiple USB ports for first and second row passengers kept our electronic gadgets charged and smartphones connected via VW’s Car-Net. The Car-Net connectivity system is standard on all Atlas models and offers users the ability to run select smartphone apps directly on the vehicle’s display through services like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink.

Volkswagen is strong on safety features and it shows in the new Atlas. Every model comes with a rearview camera, antilock brakes, a rollover sensor system, stability control and an army of airbags. Optional equipment on the seven-passenger Atlas includes an overhead view camera, pedestrian monitoring, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring.

How does it drive?

The ride is firm and comfortable except when traversing over harsh surfaces. Then the ride gets quite bumpy and passengers get bounced around a bit.

Steering is light at parking lot maneuvering speeds and weights up nicely with speed, but sport mode feels artificially heavy without adding much feedback. Brake feel doesn’t require much effort and has an initial bite that makes it difficult to apply a light application. Stopping power is strong and will drag the two-ton crossover to a stop in short order. If the forward collision warning alerts the driver, it preloads the brakes in anticipation of an emergency stop.

The crisp and engaging handling we’ve come to expect from other VW products is missing from the Atlas. Instead, the mid-size crossover — specifically designed for the American and Chinese markets — is more on the sedate side and drives like a full-size cruiser. Qualities typically desired by the family set and middle America.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas
20.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind third row

The sweet spot of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas has to be its VR6 and 8-speed automatic transmission combo. The pair delivers creamy smooth power that can be sent to either the front wheels or all four corners in the 4MOTION version of the Atlas. The Aisin 8-speed gearbox shifts smoothly and smartly every time without any hesitation during our long-distance road trip between Northern and Southern California.

Driving the SE model, we noticed that much of the road, wind, and tire noise was kept at bay, which could be attributed to a combination of tire choice, trim level sound-deadening, and the type of road surface we were on.

The Family Review

TFLcar’s Grant Davis also had a chance to spend time with the same model Atlas during a trip to Los Angeles with his family. Here’s what he had to say about it:

Functional Hauler
Like Derek, we found the 3-row Atlas to be a spacious transport vehicle with easy ingress/egress to the third row and plenty of head and leg room back there for adults. While we wouldn’t want to spend all day back there–the seats are too hard–it was fine for carpools and errands around town. The 2nd row is a vast space of comfort, and thanks to the big windows and vast glass moonroof, one that doesn’t feel visually cramped. It was so comfortable in fact that my kids weren’t fighting over who call ‘shotgun’ to sit in the front. As a parent, that’s gold.

At a shopping center in Manhattan Beach, a caterer approached me to ask if I could drop all the seats in the back. He’d heard that the Atlas offered a rare feature in today’s 3-row crossover/SUV world, a flat cargo area. He was impressed to see that was the case, and even more impressed to note that he could slide a full-size folding table into the back. Between that and the cargo-space numbers listed by Derek above, it became obvious to us that the real hero feature of the Atlas is its people and cargo capacity. It’s a big vehicle, and it handles and functions like one as well.

City Traffic
While Derek found the V6 and 8-speed transmission to be a sweet set-up on his long road trip and around town, I found the system to be a little rough in the nonstop crush of Los Angeles traffic. I found the Atlas lacked the power to quickly dart into open spaces in traffic; the transmission seemed to struggle to find the appropriate gear before grabbing hold of the V6’s power. In fact, I eventually stuck the vehicle in manumatic mode to keep the power band where I wanted it while driving in slow traffic.

Over the 214 miles of city streets and clogged freeways we traveled during our trip, the Atlas posted an average of 18.8 mpg. According to the EPA mpg numbers, that’s about right.

TFLcar’s Take on the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas:

The seven-passenger Atlas offers competitive levels of technology and spaciousness combined with passive and active safety systems that serve well to protect its occupants. The interior is comfortable, excluding the hard seats, as well as family-carrying practical. It’s priced competitively against the competition and ready to serve duty as your only vehicle.

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2.0T V6 FWD SE w/Technology V6 AWD
MSRP $30,500 $37,090 $33,700
Price as tested N/A $S38,015 N/A
Engine 2.0L 4-cylinder, turbocharged/intercooled FSI 3.6L VR6 direct injection 3.6L VR6 direct injection
Power (hp) 235 @ 4500 rpm 276 @ 6200 rpm 276 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 258 @ 1600 266 @ 2750 266 @ 2750
Transmission 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
Drivetrain layout front mounted/transverse FWD front mounted/transverse FWD front mounted/transverse 4MOTION permanent all-wheel drive
Curb weight 4,222 lbs 4,336 lbs 4,502 lbs
Towing Capacity 2,000 lbs 2,000 – 5,000 lbs 2,000 – 5,000 lbs
EPA-estimated fuel economy mpg 22 / 26 / 24 (city/hwy/combined) 18 / 25 / 20 17 / 23 / 19
Wheelbase 117.3 inches 117.3 inches 117.3 inches
Ground Clearance 8.0 inches 8.0 inches 8.0 inches
Approach Angle 20.4 degrees 20.4 degrees 20.4 degrees
Departure Angle 22.4 degrees 22.4 degrees 22.4 degrees
Breakover Angle 17.5 degrees 17.5 degrees 17.5 degrees

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