We have been waiting for this, and it’s pretty good!
The name of this car says it all: ‘Volkswagen’ means wagon for folks, or a car for people.
So it’s been a huge irony for the last few decades that the brand has been focused on small sedans and finely tuned performance cars ideal for enthusiastic drivers but not as much fun for passengers.
Editor’s Note: It’s good, so good that the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas was just named cars.com Best of 2018 winner. Congrats VW!
Who This Car is For
- Families or drivers who need space for a lot of people, pets or cargo
- Families with children in car seats
- Buyers who appreciate VW’s streamlined design
- Drivers who need all wheel drive
- Buyers who need a three row SUV
- Buyers who value a lot of space behind the third row
- Drivers who want top safety technology
What This Car Costs
- S (base) model,2.0 L turbo engine with 235 horsepower: $30,750
- S V6 with AWD, 3.6 L engine with 276 horsepower: $33,950
- SE V6 AWD model adds rain sensing wipers, auto start/stop, leatherette upholstery, upgraded touch screen and center row captains chair option: $37,040
- SEL V6 AWD model adds panoramic sunroof, motion-activated lift gate, household power outlet, Park Pilot auto self parking and adaptive cruise control: $42,940
- SEL Premium V6 AWD adds digital cockpit electronic driver cluster, surround view/rear view camera, premium Fender sound system and leather seating: $48,740
- Price of the SEL V6 AWD model we drove, which includes delivery: $43,615
Atlas: The All New Three-Row Family SUV from Volkswagen
About a year ago VW introduced the Atlas as strategy to stanch the bleeding from the diesel scandal. The Atlas started rolling out in mid-2017 and American families took notice. The Atlas finally hit all the important details that families look for in a car: room for everyone, room for child car seats, room for gear like strollers, book bags and sports bags, all wheel drive, high ground clearance and top technology.
Personally, I love this story: VW’s US management team lobbied their German leadership to be able to take the lead in developing the Atlas. They knew they could ensure it would fit what American families need in an SUV.
And Germany listened. The American team focused on details and features that they knew, from their research and from their own experiences, that families would love. And it’s a home run.
The Atlas’ Design: Classic SUV Design With VW Flare
Seeing the Atlas in my driveway was a pure pleasure. Seeing it in a parking lot or on the street was nice too. It’s boxy in the classic SUV sense, with gently rounded edges that keep it from being severe or looking dated. Alongside a Land Rover, Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot the Atlas’s tall and muscular stance fits right in.
Inside, the Atlas has a very open and airy cabin. There is a lot of headroom and interior elements are minimal and streamlined, not overly plush. Materials like leatherette upholstery, wood accents and soft-touch plastic panels give the cabin a clean, comfortable feel.
Adding to the open feel is the panoramic sun roof, which spans nearly the entire roofline. This is GREAT for keeping third row passengers feeling happy; they don’t feel like they’re stuck in a moving cave.
Seating For 7, and Peace-Keeping Captains Chairs
The model we test drove had seating for 7, which we used during our family holiday. To seat 7 means the center row is a bench seat for three, but captains chairs can be added as an option (with this the Atlas seats 6). Families with two or three kids may really appreciate this feature since captains chairs can be a huge peace keeper on short trips or long ones.
Getting in and out of the third row is pretty easy. The center row seats slide and tilt forward to allow access to the third row, even with child car seats installed in the second row.
Another impressive thing is that there is a ton of space behind the third row. We could fit several suit cases, hockey bags or other gear in the space. Four kids, a dog and a trip to Costco? No problem.
Child Car Seats in the Atlas: What You Need to Know (This is Pretty Good!)
You can access the third row with child car seats installed in the second row. This was a stipulation by the American development team; clearly they’ve felt the pain of having to install and uninstall child car seats to let someone in and out of the third row. Second row seats slide forward and tilt even with a child car seat installed making the third row easy to access.
But here’s the rub: child car seats have to be LATCH installed. If they are installed via the car’s seatbelt the center row seats will not tilt forward. So, like any child car seat configuration, it’s a dance. LATCH can only be used until a child is about 40 pounds; after that the car’s seatbelt must be used to secure the seat.
Families with children in forward facing car seats who need regular access to the third row may want to consider center row captains chairs; this allows access to the third row through the center aisle.
A Nice Balance of Tech and Features that Keeps the Price Right
This might be my favorite thing about the Atlas: it has a good edit of features; lots of great stuff, but not everything.
Keeping certain things off the table means that VW was able to keep the price under– in some cases significantly under–$50,000. Pretty nice for an SUV with all this passenger room.
Among the tech features we found helpful or critical:
- A full suite of active safety features including adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitors, lane departure assist, parking sensors and emergency braking
- 4 USB ports (1 in a cubby at the bottom of the center console, one in the arm rest and two in the second row) and a household plug (in the second row)
- Upgraded infotainment system with VW’s app suite
- Hands free motion activated lift gate
- Park Pilot auto parking (keep reading)
Here’s a look at how some of these driver assistance features work:
The Atlas Drive Experience: Easy, Breezy
Driving the Atlas was fun and easy. Yes, it’s a big car, but even so it was easy to drive and park. The model we drove had the larger V6 engine, which I found easy on both city streets and on the highway. It had plenty of power and I had plenty of confidence.
The Atlas offers a unique parking feature called Park Pilot. This awesome semi-autonomous system parks the car for you; you control braking and shifting gears and the Atlas does the rest. What I loved best is that it pulls the car in FORWARD into a parking spot rather than backing in. Ever try getting the Costco cart around to the back of your car in a packed parking lot? Or opening the lift gate when the car behind you has pulled up too close? This is a brilliant detail.
And just another reminder that this car was built by people who drive it like you do. Which is, in itself, a brilliant details.
What We Loved
- Super roomy seating for 7 or 8
- Slide and tilt center row seats that accommodate child car seats
- The upgraded infotainment system—super easy to use
- Park Pilot
- The warranty: 6 years bumper to bumper!
- Apple Car Play/Android Auto
- That panoramic sun roof!!!
What You Need to Know
- Seats 7 with a center row bench; 6 with center row captains chairs
- Built in Chattanooga TN
- 17MPG city/23 MPG city
- Uses regular gas
- Center row bench is standard; captains chairs are an upgrade
- Center seats don’t slide and tilt if a car seat is installed with the car’s seatbelt
- Front wheel and all wheel drive options
- AWD is an $1,800 upgrade
- No rear seat entertainment option
What we listened to in the VW Atlas
Music matters of course! And this big, roomy cabin provides plenty of space to be filled with music. And with the Fender sound system upgrade, it’s even better. This is what we listened to in the Atlas.
Disclosure: The Atlas was provided for this review; all opinions are my own.