It took a while, but Volkswagen finally is building one of those big sport-utility vehicles that Americans have been in love with since the 1990s. Better still, the German automaker is building it in Chattanooga, Tenn. Meet the Atlas, Volkswagen’s third entry in the SUV competition.
Our 2018 Atlas stood out from the crowd with its coat of Kurkuma Yellow paint and its crisp, engaging lines. It’s bigger than the hoary Touareg but costs less — as little as $30,750 for an Atlas equipped with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. Nodding to the wide variety of tastes among American car shoppers, VW endowed versions of the Atlas with V-6 engines and all-wheel drive.
The Atlas indeed is roomy. With the second- and third-row seats folded down, it can accommodate 96.8 cubic feet of cargo. That’s 12 cubic feet more than the Dodge Durango, 15 cubic feet more than the Ford Explorer and 2 cubic feet more than the mighty Chevrolet Tahoe can accept. Moreover, it’s possible for adults to sit in the third-row seats. That’s unusual even in some full-sized SUVs.
There are bigger, roomier SUVs, as well as minivans, but they aren’t much fun to drive. The Atlas is a true standout in this regard. It may transport cargo and passengers as well or better than the most of its competitors, but it takes corners and puts the driver in touch with the road in ways that normally are reserved for the likes of the Mazda CX-5. Its independent suspension is nicely dialed in to deliver sharp handling and a smooth, quiet ride.
Fuel economy is pretty good across the board, despite the Atlas’ considerable bulk. The base model is rated at 22 mpg city, 26 highway, using regular unleaded gasoline. V-6-powered models with front-wheel drive get 18/25, while all-wheel drive lowers mileage to 17/23.
Right from the rollout last year, Volkswagen offered numerous trim alternatives. The base model, equipped with the inline Four, is available only with front-wheel drive. Choose the V-6 and you can opt for front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
The base model, the S, is modestly equipped. The list includes tilt and telescoping steering wheel, backup camera, automatic climate control, cruise control, heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, and an AM/FM radio with six speakers. An additional $3,000 for the SE model provides leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, push-button start, blind-spot monitoring, satellite radio with 12 speakers, and other features not included in the base model.
There’s no shortage of technology even in the base models, which are equipped with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth. Meanwhile, the higher-end models, priced in the high $40,000 range, can be fitted with such flourishes as a panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, leather upholstery and adaptive cruise control.
Volkswagen soon will introduce a 5-passenger SUV based on the Atlas.
The Atlas has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 276 horsepower, 266 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Ground clearance: 8 in.
Weight: 4,502 lb.
Suspension: four-wheel independent
Wheels: 18×8-in. alloy
Tires: 245/60R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 7
Luggage capacity, all seats upright: 20.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 96.8 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 5,000 lb.
Fuel capacity: 18.6 gal.
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.