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Volkswagen goes big

 

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Starting Price: $31,425 | Price yours

Above Average: Unprecedented interior space and a monstrous 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Below Average: More power to move the beast is at the top of our wish list.

Consensus: Priced responsibly, smartly equipped, and roomier than you can imagine, the all-new Atlas makes a strong case for you and the family to revisit the brand.

Built alongside the Passat at Volkswagen's factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the 2018 VW Atlas is the biggest passenger vehicle that Volkswagen sells in the U.S. The company has been hurting for a 3-row SUV for around forever, and now the birth bells are ringing. This new Atlas is a big boy. It's exterior fits well within the norms of a midsize SUV and its competition, but once inside or once you start packing it with your cargo, you'll find an interior that feels and acts like it could fit the whole of the Montana sky and still have enough room left over for a racquetball court. Just sayin'. To move the mass, the Atlas starts out with a 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, to be followed later this year by a 235-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder. Both engines will come with 8-speed automatic transmissions.

Pricewise, VW's new SUV sits right on top of its peers, starting a little over $31,000 and reaching into the thinner air just below the $50,000-foot level for the best-of-everything model. In conjunction with the birth of the 3-row Atlas, however, Volkswagen has another new product that's worth passing out cigars about: a 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. That's right, the new Atlas is covered with the new gold standard of stem-to-stern protection for an SUV.

 

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

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Highway Driving

The new Atlas has a fairly quiet demeanor on the open road, and a long wheelbase that makes the ride very easy-going no matter what shape that road is in. Comfortable and steady at high speeds, we noticed that the Atlas was no lightweight in the class, though it was by no means the heftiest player either. Nevertheless, when we wanted to make a really good, quick showing on a freeway onramp or if we needed to get around some lollygagger on the highway, we had to work pretty hard to get the Volkswagen SUV on full steam. On paper, the VW's 276-horsepower V6 looks good, with 266 lb-ft of torque powering up at a low 2,750 rpm and an 8-speed automatic transmission calling the shifts. The reality, however, was really OK acceleration and second effort, but nothing more. 

Midsize SUVs tend not to develop well into race cars, but by the same token, the Germans won't let a car out of their grasp without giving it some sporting character. That's so true with the VW Atlas. On mountain roads, the Atlas was all game, moving in and out of hard corners and sweepers without panic. As mentioned earlier, our all-wheel-drive Atlas came with a bonus: a "Drive Mode Selection" (DMS) knob on the center console that allowed us to choose varied driving characters for the vehicle. Beyond the DMS's "Snow," "Offroad" and "Custom Offroad" settings, the default "Onroad" setting gives you four mode choices: Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual. Essentially, each of these modes remaps the engine, transmission and steering to whichever personality you've chosen. We enjoyed Sport mode most, even for everyday driving, and we like that the mode you set stays chosen -- meaning you don't have to reset "Sport" (or "Eco," if that's your style) every time you restart the car.

City Driving

In spite of its size, the VW Atlas behaved itself well in the big city. With the Drive Mode Selection's Sport mode setting engaged, red-light/green-light became a fun game again. The Atlas is big, yes, but it slips cleanly into (and out of) normal-sized parking spots without a lot of back-and-forth fine tuning. If you're nervous or wealthy, however, the upper reaches of the Atlas model line -- especially the all-wheel-drive SEL Premium version -- offers the ultimate assistances like a 360-degree Area View camera, Park Assist (the SUV automatically steers you into a parallel parking space), and Light Assist (your brights will never blind anyone ever again).

Interior Appeal

A good steering wheel and a comfortable, supportive seat are all that a real person needs to be happy. The new Atlas takes care of that, along with universe-class roominess in all three rows. And while the interior styling didn't blow anybody's doors off with either innovation or showboating, some very practical, thoughtful benefits appear even at the base trim level. For instance, separate climate controls for the first and second row are a stand-out. You can spend your way up to all kinds of trim-level-specific lovelies like a 12-speaker Fender audio system, leather, extra rows of USB ports, heated rear seats, and adaptive cruise control, but before you do, take a long look at some of the less-expensive models -- you may well find the value model that gives you everything you need to be happy.

Infotainment

The first truth: The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas infotainment system is a pretty menu-heavy system, but you'll get used to it. The second, and much more important truth: Every Atlas is ready for your smartphone. Standard across the line, VW's MIB II and Car-Net App-Connect welcomes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (and MirrorLink, if that's who you are) to give your Atlas immediate smartphone interaction (including navigation) and capability. In the base model only, the standard infotainment touch screen is a 6.5-incher. Every move up from there blesses you with an 8.0-inch, glass-covered screen that produces some of the sharpest image and color reproduction we've seen.

Rear Seat Room

Overall roominess is where the Atlas feels like it's in a class all by itself. Our 6-foot, 5-inch absurdity-testing editor lounged in the second row's generous legroom and headroom, and then bounded -- bad knee and all -- into the third row where he was simply unable to make himself uncomfortable. Getting in and out of the second row bench seat was velvet smooth and easy for our tall tester. Better than that, however, was that the second row seat folded and slid dramatically forward to allow our on-staff giant unfettered access to the third row.

Cargo Room

The new Atlas uses its big-midsize-SUV dimensions to an extremely useful advantage. Even with all three rows of seating in place, it still provides 20.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind that third row -- that's more than Chevy's massive Impala can fit into its trunk. True, loading things in and out of the Atlas is a little tougher than in the lower-liftover Toyota Highlander, but the VW's seatbacks fold pool-table flat, and when they're all down, you can stuff 96.8 cubic feet of stuff into the back -- that's more than a full-size GMC Yukon or Nissan Armada can accommodate. The rear liftback opens wide, too.

Fuel Economy

The little rain that must fall into the Volkswagen Atlas' life came down when we checked fuel economy for our comparison test. The combination of weight, all-wheel drive and a short-of-breath V6 engine sent the Atlas to the back of the class for fuel economy. VW's new SUV didn't fall too hard by comparison, but with an overall trip fuel-consumption of just a hair over 20 mpg, it's clear that the Atlas won't be seeing the "Best Gasoline Saver" podium any time soon.

Resale Value

Historically, resale values for Volkswagen SUVs have been nothing to crow about. Keep in mind, however, that Volkswagen SUVs have, historically, been a pretty unfocused lot. The new Atlas, on the other hand, is very clear about what it is, what its mission is, and where it belongs in the marketplace. While it's too early to predict resale values for such a new vehicle, two things are certain to help the Atlas hold its value. The first is that some of its greatest hits -- roominess, 3-row utility, standard Apple CarPlay compatibility -- don't wear out. The other big plus is the 6-year/72,000-mile warranty -- it's fully transferable, which means that the peace of mind of warranty coverage stays with the car. That's not the case with some other super-warranties.

 

Inside and Out: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

 

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