Wed | Jun 20, 2018

Auto review: VW charts new course with 2018 Atlas

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Appropriately enough, it was on a road trip along the sugar cane fields of South Florida that it hit me: Volkswagen may have hit the sweet spot for family touring with its new-for-2018 Atlas.

The midsize crossover SUV, a long overdue entry from the German maker, is ultra-roomy back to the third row, smooth and steady on the open road, and offers great visibility for all. Volkswagen, after limited success with its Touareg and Tiguan crossovers, now has a capable challenger to class leaders like Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, and Honda Pilot.

This is VW's first shot at a three-row SUV and, though it arrived late to the game, it's quickly apparent that it took the challenge seriously.

With its boxy shape and narrow pillars, passengers can enjoy great views out the large windows and optional panoramic sunroof. Plus, there's tons of room and comfort for all the body parts head, shoulders, legs, and feet. Front seats are large with a broad range of adjustments, and a second-row bench seat slides 7.7 inches fore and aft for flexibility and easier access to the rear (captain's chairs are available but reduce capacity from seven to six).

The unusually roomy third row is the best in class. It isn't just for kids. It can accommodate two adults comfortably, with good thigh support, even on a trip, as long as the trip is not too long.

Atlas also excels in its cargo area, with plenty of room behind the third row 21 cubic feet for groceries and packages. Fold down the third row and it opens 56 cubic feet of space. And, with both the second and third rows folded flat, a huge 97 cubic feet are available.

Up front, the dashboard is accented with distinctive stitched seams. The top-line Premium trim offers an LCD instrument cluster that replaces standard gauges and can be configured personally. A 6.5- or 8-inch touch screen infotainment centre is user-friendly and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While Atlas offers a quiet cabin and comfortable ride, drive performance comes up a little short, especially by German standards. It gets the job done, but without any real spirit.

Standard is a familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, good for 235 horsepower. It's essentially the same engine found on other VWs like the Golf GTI and some Audis. But most folks will choose the stronger 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 276 hp and 266 pound-feet of torque.

Problem is, the V-6 feels underpowered at times, too, especially when loaded or climbing hills. Even with only a couple of folks aboard, the 4,728-pound Atlas takes nearly eight seconds to get to 60 mph.

Both engines are mated to a smooth eight-speed transmission, which sends power to the front wheels. All-wheel-drive is available, but only with the V-6.

Steering is rather numb and there is little road feel. Still, it does handle various road conditions competently. Corners are taken with only moderate lean, and bumps and holes are gobbled up nicely by the suspension.

Plus, four driving modes can tailor the ride to your desires: Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual. Sport, mode improves steering and transmission responses, while Individual lets you customise responses even further.

The Eco mode helps boost fuel economy, but not enough. EPA estimates give the V-6 version (with AWD) an unimpressive 17 mpg around town, 23 on the highway for a combined 19. The FWD does only a tad better with 20 mpg combined. Those figures lag behind segment leaders.

Advanced safety features are available as part of an optional tech package (US$2,000) but, sadly, not on the base trim. It includes forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning.

The base version, the Atlas S, starts at US$32,400 and has the basics: 6-speaker sound, cruise control, power windows. The top-line SEL gets you into the US$41,000 range and adds the tech package, giant sunroof, power tailgate, and a trailer hitch (Atlas has a 5000-pound towing capacity).

VW also includes an impressive six-year, 72,000-mile warranty on every Atlas. You don't need miles of sugar cane to spot a pretty sweet deal.

 

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

 

 

What's all the excitement about?

 

All-new 2018 Atlas surprisingly roomy with a third row that even adults can enjoy

Powertrain: 3.6-liter V-6 good for 276 hp with 8-speed automatic transmission

 

How's the performance?

 

Not a spirited ride, but smooth, comfy and great for road trips

 

What about fuel economy?

 

Not a high point here: EPA-rated at 19 mph combined (17 city, 23 highway) with the all-wheel-drive version (20 mpg combined for the FWD)

- Barry Spyker

(TNS