No doubt about it, one of the most popular vehicles available for the American family is the three-row SUV. That additional row offers the passenger-carrying ability of a minivan without the stigma attached to driving a, well, minivan! The VW Atlas is rife with competition from all major competitors, but VW wants you to spend your hard-earned dollars with them and offers its “People First” bumper-to-bumper warranty of 6 years/72,000 miles. For those looking to purchase instead of lease, the VW warranty does offer the buyer a reduction of what the auto industry calls “Post-Purchase Cognitive Dissonance.”
Firing up the V6 for the first time, you’ll notice how quiet it is. What is really surprising is how fast the eight-speed automatic transmission is to react. This really is an award-winning transmission, and it can deliver the power through the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system. All Atlas models with 4MOTION all-wheel drive feature Active Control, which allows the driver to select specific vehicle profiles based on driving conditions. It has four settings: Onroad, Snow, Offroad and Custom Offroad. Within the Onroad setting, additional options are offered: Normal, Sport, Comfort and Individual. These modify the operating parameters for drive systems like the engine, transmission, steering and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), as well as traction-assistance systems like Hill Descent Assist and Hill Start Assist.
The user interface is highly intuitive, with both a rotary knob and a push button. Turning the knob engages the drive modes, while pushing the button triggers a pop-up menu on the screen of the infotainment system, allowing the driver to fine-tune the Onroad mode. It’s fun to alter the settings, but unfortunately, most buyers will never change from the default Onroad/Normal settings.
The rest of the cabin is also relatively quiet, but the Atlas is not as dressed up and polished as newcomer Kia Telluride. But unlike the Kia, the VW allows the customer to choose one of seven specs. Just as with the drive modes, the options are the S, SE, SE w/Technology, SE w/Technology R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line and SEL Premium. The Atlas family for 2019 received a modest value realignment, with driver-assistance and innovation features moving to lower trims. Front Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Traffic Alert are now standard on all models. Volkswagen Digital Cockpit — the high-tech configurable instrument cluster — is now standard on SEL models. We like this addition because it shows the screen of the navigation system in the instrument cluster instead of forcing the driver to gaze over to the infotainment screen.
My tester was an SEL model wearing optional 20-inch black wheels for $995. If you like the look of big wheels, this option would be sensible as a factory purchase. The cost of decent 20-inch tires can become almost as much as the wheels. However, the aftermarket can make the truck look even hotter with 22-inch options if you live in an area with decently paved roads.
We really liked the clean interior layout of the VW. The Atlas’ interior design is classic Volkswagen. It is clean and functional, with a premium feel. The driver controls are positioned for optimal ergonomics and usability. Simple, driver-centric displays enhance involvement behind the wheel rather than distracting from it. The seat position, shifter height and the spacing between the pedals are fine-tuned for driver comfort. Our SEL tester featured ambient lighting, which did a really nice job of making the driver think they were in something more special (like a big-brother Audi). Interior lighting options and additional charging ports for portable devices can be easily added by your local mobile electronics specialist, making your Atlas more enjoyable for daily use.
The Fender-branded audio system is a surprise. It is actually made by Panasonic and they license the Fender name. It is a substantial improvement over the stock six-speaker audio. But for those who want the Fender name because they love rock music, it would be beneficial to tuck a small subwoofer system into the trunk. True audiophiles can even opt for aftermarket digital signal processor tuning that can make the driver’s seat the best seat in the house.
The Volkswagen Atlas represents a new chapter in Volkswagen’s U.S. story. Built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the seven-passenger Atlas offers competitive levels of technology and spaciousness combined with hallmark Volkswagen driving dynamics and attention to detail, all at a price designed to draw attention in the crowded family SUV segment.