The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Basecamp Is A Towing Adventure Vehicle! Sort Of: Review

There's plenty to like, but I have a few gripes as well

(Photos: TFLcar)

I drove the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Basecamp about 800 miles towing a 1,200-pound pop-up trailer.

This 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Basecamp did a fantastic job. However, that’s not the end of the story. This car arrived with the stout 276 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that makes 266 lb-ft of torque. It’s hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and it feeds all four wheels with power using the 4Motion all-wheel drive (AWD) system. Gas mileage is listed by the EPA at 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 18 mpg combined.

All in all, those numbers, and its pricing are competitive. Prices start at about $32,000 for Volkswagen’s latest Atlas, while my well equipped SEL came to $45,215. A warning, though: That price is before you add in the accessories to make the Atlas “Basecamp” the Basecamp.

What makes this model special? Some pieces of the 2018 concept made it through to production, with the exception of a slight lift — that doesn’t come as part of the deal here.

Towing and camping with the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Basecamp

This crossover was a comfy, as you’d expect, and a capable tow vehicle at that. With the V6, the Atlas is rated to tow a maximum of 5,000 pounds. That puts it at the upper end of the competition, but not the absolute best-in-class (we have a comprehensive list on that, if you’re looking for a towing SUV). Still, it towed a 1,200-pound trailer with no issues. In fact, compared to many crossovers I’ve towed with, this VW was exceptional. Up and over the Rocky Mountains, from Boulder to Moab, Utah, I averaged over 17 mpg. In my sort of style, wasn’t going slowly either.

That may have contributed to a teensy-weensy issue. As I neared Moab, my trailer’s (nearly new) tire went KABLOOEY! I didn’t know this at the time. The Atlas had so much extra grunt, I didn’t notice my trailer’s breakdancing moves behind me. Fortunately, a nice (and quite animated) driver flagged me down and pointed out the issue.

Sure, the whole incident sucked, but the Volkswagen Atlas never waivered. It was resolute and allowed me to maintain complete control. I used the VW jack to take care of the tire, which worked fine. As there was so much space inside (20.6 ft³ minimum and 96.8 ft³ with all of the seats folded), I easily pushed my gear away from the rear spare tire cover.

The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Basecamp became a great companion during my lengthy stay. Some folks noted its most noticeable, and confusion addition – tires and wheels.

Volkswagen’s Basecamp package

Ugh, this part’s more of a pain to the wallet than you might expect. The Basecamp option is actually a parts catalog selection that’s not available as a factory option when configuring your Atlas. In other words, you can’t click the option as a package or a trim like you can with, say, the R-Line. You have to go to site to get the Basecamp bits. Volkswagen sells everything you need as a kit to install, or you can buy the pieces à la carte.

Parts like the Basecamp fender flares ($610) have be purchased separately, then you can decide how to go about installing them. Many dealerships will do it, of course, but that’s another cost to consider. I suppose you can do it yourself and save some cash, but I doubt many will.

Oh, and those tires and wheels? Those are 17″ x 8″ Traverse MX wheels by fifteen52 in Radiant Silver wheels? They cost $250 a piece and you’ll have to bring your own tires. I will say, the beefy Continental TerrainContact A/T tires were excellent, and provided a smooth ride, without compromising handling. Depending on where you buy them, you’ll have to shell out about $200 more for each tire, plus the cost to get them fitted to the wheels.

If you get all the bits, including fake skid plates, badges and valences, the Basecamp runs $2,498, before wheels and installation.

I recommend, if you want this package installed, tell your VW dealership that free installation must be part of the deal. It’s possible that they might work with you on that, but expect a hefty hit to your wallet if you want to Basecamp your Atlas.

Other than the R-Line (since it is, in itself, an appearance package), you can get the Basecamp on just about every Atlas, but it must have the tow package in order to get the whole kit and caboodle. That includes the 2.0-liter engine, as well the bigger V6 4Motion models.

Bottom line

Even though I find the Basecamp package unnecessarily complicated and pricey, it does look cool. I would save a few bucks and find less expensive wheels. Seriously, that’s what this package is all about. Also, since it’s not a selectable option through Volkswagen’s configurator, it’s a hassle just to buy these parts and get them mounted to your vehicle. On top of all of that, it doesn’t enhance the performance at all. Underneath, it’s still your typical Volkswagen Atlas, for all the pros and cons that come with that if you want to go off-roading.

Just my opinion: I would pass on the package. But, looking at the bigger picture, the Volkswagen Atlas is a compelling option against the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and (the old) Nissan Pathfinder. Honestly, I found the V6 Atlas an excellent lightweight tow vehicle, one that pampered me and kept me safe too.