2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Volkswagen literally translates into English as "People's Car." Back in the 1930s, when Ferdinand Porsche was tasked with designing a vehicle for the masses, people wanted little more than durable and cheap. The Beetle fit that bill perfectly. Today, a car for the people – specifically Americans – needs to be big and relatively affordable. The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas nails those two bullet points, offering seats for up to seven passengers at a starting price of $31,245.

Meeting that basic criteria means that VW probably has a sales success on its hands. Thing is, there isn't any one area where the Atlas stands out from the rest of the herd. From its styling to its powertrain, it seems that Volkswagen is content to do the bare minimum to make a competitive crossover, and in this currently very crowded marketplace that's just not good enough to be a segment leader.

From the outside, VW has definitely erred on the vanilla side of plain, with just enough flourish to round off the Atlas' corners and make it more than just a basic box. The slab sides are so massive that the optional 20-inch wheels look almost a size too small. On the positive side, indented kinks at the leading edges of the front fenders are a nice touch, and the bland but inoffensive styling matches that of the current Passat and Jetta models. Clearly, this straight-line approach is what Volkswagen's stylists think Americans want.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas2018 Volkswagen Atlas2018 Volkswagen Atlas2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The pumped-up Passat theme continues inside, with a long and mostly flat dashboard and center stack broken up by a couple of silver-plastic and wood-trimmed panels. The good news is that most everything you'll need to mess with on a daily basis has a dedicated button, including a volume knob and three dials for the climate controls. But there's bad news for those who revel in premium materials. The top third of the dash, door panels, and all the other various bits of trim are a reasonable rubbery material with a nice grain. Anything you touch below that, though, is the kind of hard plastic that Chrysler and Dodge rightly got dinged for in the mid-aughts. The standard gauge cluster includes an analog speedometer and tachometer, and the available Digital Cockpit replaces those with a 12.3-inch LCD screen but only comes on the top-shelf SEL Premium grade. Making the high-tech gauges optional across the board would help alleviate some of the interior boringness.

Check out the quick overview of the Digital Cockpit below, and stick around for a look at the second and third row, the cargo area, and for a comparison of the various trim levels of the Atlas range.


There are all kinds of cubbies in which to stash baubles and trinkets in the Atlas, including a generously sized center console up front and deep cutouts in the door panels for the middle row. Third-row passengers are fairly well treated, too, with cup holders and recesses on either side. There's decent room in the way back; a six-footer can sit back there for short rides without hugging his or her knees, even with another equally tall passenger in the middle row. Seven-passenger seating is standard, or, for an additional $625, the middle bench can be replaced with twin captain's chairs. Either way, that middle row benefits from nearly eight inches of adjustment fore and aft to help maximize roominess and cargo carrying capability. Getting into the third row is pretty easy and doesn't necessitate the flexibility of a yoga instructor. It may be a little harder to get situated in the Atlas than a proper minivan, but ingress and egress of VW's seven-seater is easier than most other crossovers.

To give a sense of scale, the Atlas sits on a wheelbase measuring 117.3 inches. That's 4.5 inches longer than a Ford Explorer and 7.5 longer than a Toyota Highlander. Interior volume stands at 153.7 cubic inches, which puts it right in between those two competitors, but, at 96.8 cubic feet, the Atlas boasts significantly more cargo space than any of its rivals when the second and third row are folded flat. It's worth noting that the upcoming 2018 Chevy Traverse will compete against the Atlas, too, and it'll have a smidge more interior room in nearly every dimension that the VeeDub along with seating for up to eight.

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The cabin feels light and airy, more so in light gray than black, though rear visibility suffers dramatically once the massive third-row headrests are in their upper position. Riders in the way back may have to figure out a comfortable place for their feet, since the middle row sits on seat tracks that are raised up off the floor.

Even with its massive exterior proportions, the Atlas doesn't feel ponderous from behind the wheel. The crossover's ride is taut, with firm damping that helps the driver know exactly what the wheels are doing on the asphalt. The roads in Texas Hill Country suffer from

published by Ahmed Al-Sharif

Many of the powertrain components, like the 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger and the DC-DC inverter, are all mounted on a big bracket that is sub-assembled and then lifted into place when building the van. The new Pacifica Hybrid will be made on the same.

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    • Ahmed Al-Sharif
      7/11/2017 1:14:15 PM


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