2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Three Rows From Chattanooga
By Ron Amadon
HERDON, VA. – It is not just us.
In Europe, SUV’s account for one in four sales as consumers turn away from cars and demand grows for large luxury models.
Despite government moves to bolster demand for electric cars in China, SUV sales rose 21 percent in the first quarter of this year. Electric car sales were up by only four percent.
Here at home, cars are sitting longer on dealer lots as people flock to crossovers, trucks and SUV’s, and like their European neighbors, large and luxurious selections.
Now comes the Atlas, a three-row SUV with room for seven that, at 198 inches long, is roughly the size of a Ford Explorer or Nissan Pathfinder. Assembly will be carried out at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The largest VW offered here in the U.S., the Atlas has a longer wheelbase than rivals at 117.3 inches and that allows adults to be comfortable in a very accessible third row. Even with the third row seats in the up position there is lots of storage left over, 21 cubic feet, for their gear and that is more than most of the competition. Entry and exit is aided by a second row seat that folds and slides forward at the touch of a lever.
With all seats up, the Atlas will seat seven and offer 96.8 cubic feet of cargo hauling with the second and third rows folded.
There will be two engine selections: A 2.0-liter 235 horsepower turbo four with 258 lb-ft of torque or a 3.6-liter V6 with a more robust 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Both come with an 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode. The four will be offered with front wheel drive only, while the six offers either front or VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive. Only the six was available for a get acquainted test drive with the four making its debut sometime after the six appears in showrooms next month.
In a short outing here in suburban Virginia, the larger offering delivered more than adequate acceleration, and the 8-speed was a smooth operator.
The interior design will be familiar to any VW owner, just larger and more spacious. The leather clad seats were instantly very comfortable with a minimum of adjustments. Luxury touches were abundant, the steering wheel was right sized, and the driving position felt (almost) sporty.
Excellent sound reproduction came from the 12-channel, 480 watt Fender audio system with a dozen speakers. VW said Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are friends with the large 12.5 inch center display system.
Operators will be able to dial in extra traction in AWD models with On Road, Snow, Off Road and Custom settings. And there are four driving modes, Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual.
Atlas will not shrug when it comes to model choices. S, SE, SE w/Technology, SEL and SEL Premium will be offered.
With interior luxury touches, better than expected handling and ride, the Atlas should more than meet the expectations of consumers seeking a solid, quiet, and easy to drive, slightly larger than midsize SUV.
Allow me again to applaud VW designers for making a third row seat with adequate head and leg room along with ease of access that really does allow Atlas to haul seven people. Too many three row SUV’s offer only enough room out back for small children.
Atlas pricing starts at $30,500 for the late arriving turbocharged 2.0-liter four. For the base model six, the bottom line comes to $31,900 on up to a $48,490 base for the very well-equipped SEL Premium that I drove. Atlas is scheduled to appear in showrooms next month.
At the end of the test drive, I thought, “Wow, has VW design come a long way from the days of my uncle’s bare bones bus.” As I remember my Aunt wanted zero options and in the end, the dealer kicked in the AM radio!