2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Up on spaciousness but down on power
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Volkswagen has made minor revisions to freshen the Atlas for its fourth year of production in 2021. Most noticeable is the pugnacious looking bumper, grill and headlight treatment. This look debuted at auto shows on the Atlas Basecamp Concept then appeared on the 2-row Atlas Crosstrek in 2020. Now the 3-row Atlas benefits from this revision as well, with "IQ" branded LED headlights and integrated fog/turning lights. But the latest Atlas remains instantly identifiable thanks to its blocky stance, and gently sculpted side paneling. It's a refreshingly foursquare, honest look that distinguishes it from the overdone ornamentation of so many Japanese and Korean competitors.
Inside, the same elegant Bauhaus austerity prevails with front seats that are not only supportive and comfortable but visually attractive in two tone Mauro Brown and Black leather. Dash and door coverings are similarly handsome without being ostentatious. The only sour note is sounded by a set of industrial grade rubber floor mats that look rather out of place in a $50,000 dollar SUV. The interior of the Atlas is imposingly huge and airy. We spent significant travel time in each of the 3 rows available. Up front, the SEL Premium model offers heated and ventilated, 8-way adjustable seats with height adjustment. The height factor is important to shorter drivers because direct front vision from the driver's seat of the Atlas is difficult at best. Happily, VW includes standard "Park Assist with Park Distance Control" front and rear on the SEL Premium Atlas.
The only option fitted to our test VW was the Dual Captain's Chairs Package ($695) which replaced the standard split/fold second row bench seat with a couple of thinly padded seats that proved rather uncomfortable after a 30 minute stint in them. In defense of the captain's chair option, these single seats make access to the third row seats much easier. The back row positions are upright and hard, but certainly adequate for short term occupancy. Take these positives away from people packaging in the Atlas: ingress/egress are both excellent, legroom is exceptional for all positions, and ventilation needs in rows 2 and 3 are well tended by strategically placed air ducts.
We had previously tested a 2020 Atlas Cross Sport equipped with the base 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder motor (235hp/258lb.-ft. of torque). Since the response of that engine proved less than scintillating we expected significantly more punch from the upmarket 3.6 liter V6 (276hp/266lb.-ft. of torque) in the 2021 Atlas SEL. But the V6, despite its extra 41hp, still feels overwhelmed dealing with the hefty 4,670lb. curb weight of the SEL Premium. Even with the gas pedal floored, acceleration is modest, although to its credit, the narrow angle V6 does issue a rather perky exhaust note. The top echelon SEL Premium lacks shift paddles. for the 8-speed automatic transmission. Yes, you can slip the "Tiptronic" floor shift into manual mode, but without paddles, gear change simplicity is absent.
The all weather capability of the Atlas is one of its strong suits. VW's 4Motion all wheel drive technology is one of the best systems on the market today, with ancestral roots tracing back to the Kubelwagen of the 1930s. In Atlas guise, 4Motion offers 4 terrain settings via a hefty knob on the center console: Snow Mode, On Road, Off Road and Off Road Custom. In the "On Road" position, four further distinctions include Eco, Normal, Sport and Custom, so you can tailor the behavior of the Atlas to suit virtually any climate or path you might encounter. We preferred to leave the Mode selector in the Sport position, although we did find the shock absorber response to bumps rather harsh. But the tradeoff in comfort was worth the stability in cornering. The 255/50R20 Goodyear Assurance radials, with their long life treadwear rating of TW 540, proved surprisingly capable of generating excellent side bite in cornering maneuvers.
If you are looking for a conservatively styled, exceptionally spacious 3-row SUV with tasteful interior appointments, give the 2021 Atlas V6 SEL Premium a hard look. But if snappy engine response is important, than you might want to look elsewhere.
2021 VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS V6 SEL PREMIUM
ENGINE: 3.6 liter V6, DOHC, 24 vale with FSI Direct Fuel Injection
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 16MPG City/22MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $50,710
HYPES: Most Spacious SUV Available
GRIPES: Down On Power
STAR RATING: 8.5 Stars out of 10