2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Full-Size SUV rides big

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Volkswagen’s reputation was built on small, economical, people movers. Eighty years after the first “People’s Car” was built, VW has gone big, with the introduction of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas – a full-size SUV. With three rows, room for seven inside, five trims and a five-star safety rating (highest rating) from The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Atlas is luxurious, comfortable and filled with high-tech connectivity. Built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the seven-passenger Atlas is roomy and quiet, and it draws appreciative nods from onlookers and passengers. Marketed as the Teramont in China and the Middle East, Atlas is the “biggest and boldest VW ever produced in the United States,” according the VW CEO-North American Region, Hinrich J. Woebcken. I secured a test ride during a pre-New Year’s week trip to Seattle, Washington – a family wedding, some touristy trips to Pike’s Place Market, the Space Needle and some treks to farm country. Atlas is an evolution of VW’s CrossBlue mid-size hybrid concept vehicle of 2013, and it comes at you with a muscular design, clean lines, and full LED front lighting including low beams, high beams, turn signal indicators, Daytime Running Lights and side marker lights. Overhead, a large panoramic sunroof with a two-part glass opening system and powered sunshade was included in my test SEL, as was a power tailgate. Built to full-size specs, Atlas is 198.3 inches long, 78.3 inches wide and 70 inches high on a 117.3-inch wheelbase, with ground clearance of 8.0 inches. Atlas is stout and confident at 4502 lbs. curbweight for my test V6 SEL model with 4MOTION®. Big and roomy on the inside, headroom measures 41.3 inches in front, 40.4 inches in row two and 38.3 in row three; legroom is ample at 41.5 inches in row one, with 37.6 and 33.7 in rows two and three; and shoulder room comes in at 61.5 inches for driver and front passenger and 60.8 and 54.9 in the two back rows. Packed with standard uplevel items, the Atlas interior designers report that “driver controls are positioned for optimal ergonomics and usability, and simple, driver-centric displays enhance involvement behind the wheel rather than distracting from it.” However, I didn’t find the controls to be very intuitive, from the push button start on the console, rather than the dash, to the rear wiper on a pushback from the wiper controls, to the user-friendliness of the info screens. However, interior space was generous, Captain’s Chairs were luxurious, fold-flat functionality of the third row was sufficient for travelers bags, and can accommodate golf clubs and lots of gear. Two-zone (first row and second/third row) climate control is standard on Atlas S and SE, and my SEL came with three-zone Climatronic® automatic climate control, rear camera and KESSY keyless access on all five doors. Atlas offers a 2.0-liter engine that provides 235hp and 258 lbs.-ft. of torque, but this economical powerplant was not offered on my 2.25-ton SEL. My test ride was powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 that delivered 276 horses and 266 lbs.-ft. The four-valves-per-cylinder engine operates with variable valve timing and an eight-speed automatic transmission to help maximize efficiency. This transmission sends the power to all four wheels as needed in the 4MOTION® set-up and power shuts off during idling, but often takes a beat to re-engage, which required some two-foot driving (pedal and brake) on steep hills in Seattle. The system can do an 8-second zero-to-60mph sprint and a 16-second quarter-mile, and Atlas is quiet and stable, so you have to watch the speedometer because you can get above speed limit effortlessly without realizing it. Sightlines are good and the command view was excellent during some very rainy, foggy, dreary Seattle days and nights, before the sun finally made an appearance during fourth day in the Pacific Northwest. I did notice that the vehicle’s 70-inch height was susceptible to top-wobble during quick turns and some sway in high winds, but steering was compliant and the ride was always secure. EPA rated at 23/highway/17/city and 19mpg overall, my five days in Seattle showed poor city mileage at 12.6, but 24.0 on the highway for a 19.8mpg average overall, with several trips from Fife/Tacoma to Seattle, and a short hop through the Maple Valley Countryside. Safety is attended to in superior fashion with an assortment of both passive and active safety systems. It has been engineered to meet or exceed all current safety regulations and features six airbags (driver, passenger, driver and passenger side, and full-length curtain) as standard along with a number of electronic safety systems. My test 2018 VW Atlas V6 SEL with 4MOTION® based at $42,690 and was fully loaded, with the exception of navigation. While many of us use our cell phone apps for navi, most $40,000-plus vehicles either include navi or add it matter-of-factly as an option package. I was surprised at the omission, but perhaps VW chose to eliminate it as a cost-saving to consumers. Reflex Silver Metallic exterior paint and Titan Black leatherette interior were included, and the 20-inch Black Wheel Package for $995 and the 2nd-row dual Captain Chairs package for $625 were added. With destination charges of $925, my 2018 Atlas V6 SEL stickered at $45,235. > Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby. Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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