Family-oriented SUVs are nothing new, but the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is one of the latest players in this very competitive segment. It offers the space and utility you’d expect from a three-row crossover, as well as a level of refinement that’s unusual for the class. Carlike driving dynamics, a technology-filled cabin and a high-quality interior make the Atlas a standout among its chief competitors.
The VW Atlas is an all-new midsize SUV that seats seven across three rows. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, while a V6 engine and all-wheel drive are available.
The 2018 Atlas is offered in S, SE, SE with Technology, SEL and SEL Premium trims.
While family-friendly SUVs typically put function before form, the 2018 Atlas has an attractive and rugged exterior design that we expect to resonate with a number of buyers. Oversized wheel arches give the Atlas an athletic appearance in profile, which is complemented by standard roof rails, privacy glass and 18-inch wheels. A broad grille dominates the front fascia, and it’s flanked by LED headlights and daytime running lights.
Higher trims add features such as a hands-free power liftgate, heated sideview mirrors with puddle lights, heated windshield washer nozzles, a panoramic moonroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED taillights and 20-inch wheels.
The 2018 Atlas’ cabin lives up to what we’ve come to expect from the Volkswagen brand, with a clean interior design, high-quality materials and exceptional fit and finish. In addition, the Atlas also provides a spacious and comfortable environment with seating for seven across three rows. We were impressed with the roomy front row, which offers ample head- and legroom. The second row is also really spacious, and well-placed LATCH connectors made it easy to install a rear-facing car seat with little effort. Our test Atlas featured a 60/40-split second-row bench, though a pair of captain’s chairs is offered that reduces seating capacity to six. A 50/50-split third-row bench that folds flat is standard in all models.
The Atlas’ cargo-carrying ability is also noteworthy, with a maximum of 96.8 cubic feet of space available when the second and third rows are folded. There’s 55.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row, and 20.6 cubic feet with all seats in use.
The Atlas comes standard with cloth upholstery, two-zone air conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column and manually adjustable front seats. Higher trims bring in tri-zone automatic climate control, leatherette or leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats and a heated steering wheel.
Three-row SUVs aren’t typically known for their driving refinement, but the 2018 Atlas stands out as a midsize SUV that offers an enjoyable experience behind the wheel. Base models come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That engine is mated exclusively to an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. A 3.6-liter V6 engine is also offered, delivering 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. That engine is available with the choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
The V6-powered Atlas earns an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg with front-wheel drive, or 17/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.
We tested an all-wheel drive model, and were truly impressed with the Atlas’ composed driving dynamics, especially for a three-row SUV. The V6 engine and eight-speed automatic are never intrusive, offering smooth power delivery and quick gear changes that are nearly imperceptible within the cabin. The V6-powered Atlas also offers good off-the-line acceleration, and it didn’t leave us wanting for more highway passing power.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is how the Atlas strikes a balance between ride comfort and composed handling. Despite its large size, the Atlas offers firm brakes and steering that feels connected to road, at least by midsize-SUV standards. It’s also relatively nimble, with minimal body roll in most driving situations. The result is a family vehicle that doesn’t sap all the fun out of the driving experience, which is fairly rare in this class. Among its competitors, only the Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9 come close to matching the Atlas’ composure, and for the moment, Volkswagen may have the most fun-to-drive SUV in the class.
The Atlas ushers in a new infotainment system for Volkswagen, and it offers intuitive controls, crisp graphics, the latest smartphone mirroring technologies and a straightforward touch-screen display. We believe the Atlas’s infotainment system is on par with some of the best systems on the market, including Ford’s Sync 3 and Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect.
The base Atlas comes with a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, voice recognition and a 6.5-inch touch screen. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration are also standard, and they’re provided through VW’s App-Connect system. All other trims bring in an eight-speaker audio system, keyless entry and ignition, satellite radio, HD radio and a larger 8-inch touch screen.
Every VW Atlas comes with a rearview camera, while adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and forward collision warning with autonomous braking are standard on higher trims. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is also offered, as well as a parallel parking assistant and a surround-view camera system that we found quite useful considering the Atlas’s size.
The Atlas earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The Volkswagen Atlas starts at $30,500, not including a $925 destination charge. The SE trim brings in the V6 engine as standard equipment and is priced from $34,990, while the Atlas SEL adds features such as a panoramic sunroof and starts at $40,890. A fully loaded SEL Premium, like our test Atlas, comes standard with all-wheel drive and carries a suggested price of $48,490.
Our pick in the Atlas lineup would be the SE with Technology model, which includes niceties such as leatherette upholstery, keyless entry/ignition, the larger touch-screen display and the eight-speaker sound system. That trim also includes the bulk of the available driver assistance features, including forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane keeping assist. Expect the Atlas SE with Technology to carry a suggested price of $37,090 with front-wheel drive, or $38,890 if you add the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
Three-row SUVs are held to a certain set of criteria, with space, comfort and family-family features often dominating the list of needs held by their prospective buyers. The 2018 Atlas delivers in spades on all three fronts, and brings even more to the table with an exceptional suite of tech features and interior quality that approaches what you’ll find in the luxury segment. The Atlas punches above its weight class when it comes to the driving experience, too, as only a select few of its competitors can match its carlike driving dynamics.