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2018 Volkswagen Atlas 7 Passenger SUV Review By Larry Nutson

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2018 Volkswagen Atlas

4 Star Rating From The Auto Channel

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

If you’re shopping for a new mid-size SUV with seating for seven and loads of cargo room there’s a new player in the market.

Or, as VW put it “there’s a new sheriff in town.”

On the invite of VW, I drove the all-new 2018 VW Atlas 3-row SUV around the environs of the Texas Hill Country. The town of Boerne, located just a bit north of San Antonio, was first settled in 1849. It’s rich in German heritage and seemed an appropriate place for VW to stage their launch program. The Texas roads and highways to the west and north provided plenty of twists, turns, undulations and straight stretches to feel-out the Atlas’ strengths and attributes.

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The new Atlas is VW’s first entry in the mid-size SUV market. It’s bigger than VW’s 5-passenger Touareg and joins the ranks of others such as the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9.

Its 198.3 inch length and 78.3 inch width makes for lots of interior space. The Atlas will be offered with two engine choices. A 2.0-L 235 HP turbo 4-cylinder and a 3.6-L VR6 with 276 HP each will be mated to an eight-speed automatic. Drive is through the front wheels with VW’s 4Motion AWD available on the VR6.

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Initially only the VR6 will be available, with the 4-cylinder coming a bit later. We only got to drive the VR6 in Texas. Its power and performance was quiet good with good elasticity, acceleration and passing as well as smooth upshifting and downshifting of the automatic. Engine noise is well managed and not at all intrusive.

The Atlas will be offered in six models - S, S Launch (with limited availability), SE, SE with Technology, SEL and SEL Premium. It’s priced starting at $30,500 and then runs up close to $49,000.

The big news is, of course, the seven passenger seating. Usually the rear most two seats are for the small ones. But I sat back there and was fairly comfortable as I did not have my knees up in my chin. Access to the “way-back” is made very easy with the second-row tilt and fold forward feature that is really easy to operate both getting in and out. This can even be done with a child seat in place.

Jim Burch, the Atlas Product Manager, is 6ft 7in. and he can even get back there and not die doing it.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Fold the rear seats and there’s nearly 21 cuft behind the third row and 55 cuft behind the second. Fold them both and you have nearly 97 cuft. Plus, with the factory installed towing package, which includes some engine cooling upgrades, you can tow 5,000 lbs.

EPA test-cycle fuel economy ratings for the VR6 are 20 combined, with 18 city mpg and 25 highway mpg for front-drive models. AWD VR6’s have EPA test-cycle ratings of 19 mpg combined, with 17 city mpg and 23 highway mpg. EPA ratings for the turbo 4-cylinder are not yet available.

The cockpit is well laid out and ingress and egress is quite easy which is typical of all SUVs. There’s good outward sight lines and overall visibility. Fit and finish is very good with various surface textures of plastic and vinyl. There’s plenty of room up front and seats are comfortable but firm like many German designs. The middle row can be had as a three-person bench or as two individual captain’s chairs.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Standard equipment includes full LED front lighting, 18-inch aluminum wheels, start/stop system, rearview camera, automatic post-collision braking, App-connect smart phone integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Atlas we drove was fitted with 20-inch wheels and 50-series tires that sang a bit on Texas’ rough surfaced state roads. Conversation was strained but on smooth asphalt tire noise is minimal.

A full suite of driver assistance safety technology is offered. It includes front assist and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring (a first for VW), blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane assist 360-degee area view camera, adaptive cruise control with stop & go, park distance control with maneuver braking that will stop the Atlas if you don’t, park assist with parallel, and forward and rear perpendicular parking.

The digital cockpit with its 12.3-inch display is reconfigurable. There’s a huge panoramic sun roof and a power tailgate with easy open (a wave of your foot under the rear fascia).

The Atlas comes with a Fender Audio sound system, suggesting that "The best seats in the house are the first three rows." An R-line package and black 20-inch wheels are optional.

Atlas was developed in Germany and is built in Chattanooga, Tenn. Styling being subjective, I’ll leave it up to you. I don’t think the styling will offend anyone and should do well to attract a good segment of the market. Marked by LED lights up front, a bold character line down the sides and chrome trim across the rear, the Atlas has a nice look.

Overall I think the Atlas is well designed and put together along with having good ride and handling that is typical of its Germanic heritage. It’s priced right in the middle of the mid-size SUV segment but will have to earn its stripes amongst the established nameplates.

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One thing is for sure, the Altas delivers on having lots of room. Although I didn’t drive the 2.0-L, I would say the VR6 is the way to go since larger payloads will be commonplace in most SUV usage.

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas should be at dealers in May 2017.

With the introduction of the Atlas along with the new, longer Tiguan VW is revamping its SUV offerings. The Touareg will be around for at least another year, perhaps longer, and the new 2019 T-Roc small SUV with a more sporty design (think Mazda CX-3) is confirmed by VW for U.S. dealers next year.

© 2017 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

This report comes from an invitation-only Volkswagen launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Volkswagen provided my overnight accommodations, meals, and transportation.

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