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Volkswagen Atlas: The New VW 2018 SUV

By Sue Mead, May 6th, 2017

What's the first image that comes to mind when you think of Volkswagen? Many picture the Beetle "Bug." Stretch your thinking, because VW has stretched its dimensions.

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is this German brand's first entry in the full-size seven-passenger SUV market and is the largest Volkswagen ever sold in the U.S. It's 198.3 inches long, 78.3 inches wide and 69.6 inches tall, with 8.0 inches of ground clearance. It offers extra room and utility for modern families at a competitive price point in the market.

Atlas comes in five trims (S, SE, SE w/Technology, SEL, and SEL Premium), two engine choices with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and available all-wheel-drive. The four-cylinder SE front-drive model begins at $30,500; the V-6-powered SE all-wheel-drive starts at $31,900.

Volkswagen's designers have penned the new sport ute with a bold look that is both modern and muscular with clean lines and good proportions. All trim levels have attractive full LED front lighting for low beams and high beams, turn signal indicators, side marker lights, and daytime running lights; all ride on standard 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.

A wide assortment of other features are standard or available depending on the model; some of these add-ons include roof rails, heated power-adjustable side mirrors with puddle lamps, heated washer nozzles, LED taillights, automatic headlights, a large panoramic dual glass opening sunroof with sunshade, power tailgate with hands-free Easy Open, and 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Inside are three rows of seating for seven adults in the 153.7 cubic foot cabin, with good head- and legroom -- even in the third row. The second-row 60/40-split bench seat has a 14-degree backrest recline function and a 7.7-inch sliding range for comfort and access. A tilt-and-slide folding mechanism enables the second-row bench to slide forward, even with child seats in place, for easy third-row access. Fold-flat second- and third row seats allow a maximum cargo volume of 96.8 cubic feet.

Premium features and amenities for comfort and convenience bring ambient lighting, rear sunshade, cloth- and leatherette-trimmed seats, heated seating for the front and second rows, Captain's chairs in the second row, and a collection of outlets for 12V, USB, and auxiliary input connectivity, as well as cup and bottle holders and storage cubicles. Two-zone climate control is standard with a second-row control panel for rear passengers and three-zone Climatronic automatic climate control is available.

Standard on all models, Volkswagen's MIB II infotainment system delivers entertainment, information, and connectivity via an updated version of Volkswagen's Car-Net connected services platform. Depending on the trim, 6.5- or 8.0-inch color-capacitive displays support the system.

Atlas is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine rated at rated at 235 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 rpm, or an available 3.6-liter V-6 that delivers 276 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. at 2,750 rpm; both have Start/Stop technology. The V-6 models can tow up to 5,000 pounds when set up with a factory-installed trailer hitch; dealer-installed hitches have a maximum towing capacity of 2,000 lbs.

We drove a V-6 AWD version of the new model over a course of 150 miles in the Hill Country of Texas, on a variety of roads that allowed us to assess its driving dynamics. The full-sizer with 4Motion all-wheel drive has four drive settings: Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad. The "Onroad" setting allows for Normal, Sport, Comfort and Individual driving modes, whereas the Custom Offroad is programmed to let the driver alter steering, engine, and gearbox behavior to accommodate different driving preferences. Hill descent assist and hill start assist are bundled in for steep gradients.

The six-cylinder Atlas had plenty of power on tap, and handled its length and weight admirably, benefiting from an independent suspension and standard three-channel ABS, with electronic brake pressure distribution. We also liked its electric rack-and-pinion, speed-sensitive variable-assist steering. We preferred the Sport mode for tighter, more sports-minded driving.

A plethora of standard and available driver assistance systems provide safety and mannered control. Atlas provides an assortment of both passive and active safety systems, with six airbags, standard electronic stability control, and segment-exclusive automatic post-collision braking system.


Base price $31,900 (as tested: $32,825)
Curb weight 4,336 lbs.
Displacement 3.6-liter
Engine type 24-valve V-6
Epa mileage rating 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 18.6 gal.
Horsepower (net) 276 at 6200 rpm
Overall length 198.3 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 266 at 2750 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Vehicle type 7-passenger AWD full-size SUV
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