Despite being a latecomer in the three-row SUV segment, the Volkswagen Atlas shows up to the party in spectacular and refreshing fashion.
Crossovers and SUV’s galore! That’s a fitting way to describe the current automotive landscape during the early stages of 2018, as most, if not all automakers are cranking out small, car-based crossovers as well as large, three-row SUVs.
While the behemoths of Detroit jumped into the SUV bandwagon decades ago, it took others like Volkswagen a bit longer to catch on—even though its smaller Tiguan showed signs of success from early on. Finally (and thankfully), the Atlas came to be in 2017, promising a very German approach to the oh-so-American three-row SUV segment.
Volkswagen recently gave us the opportunity to spend an entire week at the wheel of an Atlas V6 SEL Premium, and to say that we were taken aback by it is an understatement. After driving 30+ of the hottest and newest crossovers and SUVs in recent years, we have a pretty good idea of what it takes to succeed in such a crowded market.
Here are the top three reasons why we think the Volkswagen Atlas raises the three-row SUV bar.
This one may or may not appeal to some of you, but the Atlas goes about daily life relatively understated, much like its corporate Audi sibling, the Q7. The Atlas sports a classy and somewhat athletic stance with well-defined lines across its body, giving it an “I’m cool but I like to fly under the radar” type of attitude.
At 198 inches long and 78 inches wide, the Atlas appears to be slender and more “compact” looking than the Honda Pilot despite being four inches longer. If you’re looking for a three-row SUV that boasts plenty of interior space but doesn’t resemble a Chevy Suburban or a minivan, the Atlas is in to please.
The Atlas has a maximum cargo volume of 96.8 cubic feet behind the front-row seats. With just the third-row folded cargo capacity is 55.5 cubic feet, and with all seats up cargo capacity is 20.6 cubic feet.
Chances are you spend quite a bit of time at the wheel of your daily driver, meaning that while the exterior of a vehicle is important, the interior is even more so. The Atlas is as German as it gets, with a nearly identical center-stack layout as in the Beetle and Passat we recently tested.
As with all VWs, the highlight of the interior is its simplicity and attention to detail. The infotainment screen is clear, sharp, and extremely responsive. The climate controls are clear, legible, and within reach—and unlike most cars today, you’ll never confuse the temperature knob for the volume knob. That being said, all knobs and buttons are on the smaller side and can be difficult to operate with winter gloves.
The premium leather-wrapped seats in the SEL trim are quite comfortable and offer 10-way adjustability, as well as heated and ventilated functions. Oh, and VW’s Digital Cockpit is totally awesome, as is Apple Carplay/Android Auto.
If you’re considering a three-row SUV, chances are you have kids and need to transport them and their friends from time to time. During our weeklong test with the Atlas, our oldest daughter attended a formal dance at her high school, which meant we were stuck picking up a few of her friends and carpooling downtown.
The sliding mechanism to make way to the third row is easy to understand and ultimately does its job, but the passageway remains narrow compared to others. The third row is easy to deploy from the second row or the trunk, and the seats are big and comfortable enough to sit a regular-sized adult. It’s worth noting that the Volkswagen Atlas can also be equipped with captain chairs in the second row, which provides a better passageway to the third-row seats.
Speaking of seats, your little ones (or big ones) will appreciate their own climate zone (with rear controls), heated second-row seats, two USB charging ports, built-in window shades, and cupholders. If you’re looking to strap a few car seats in, you’ll be pleased to know that the Atlas can fit five of them total, with three LATCH anchors in the second row.
Whether it is for its looks, safety credentials (5-star overall rating by the NHTSA), technology, convenience, or purely because it’s a Vdub, the Atlas proves that the new kid on the black can also be the cool kid on the block.
- Starts at: $30,750
- As-tested: $49,665