2021 Volkswagen Atlas 2.0T SEL Premium 4Motion Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Lots of room to schlep stuff, but not much power to do it - still gets 8 of 10 stars
Photos And Story By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
When I popped the hood to take pictures of the latest Atlas powerplant, two things stood out. The first was that VW thoughtfully provides a pneumatic strut to assist with the awkward hood lifting procedure. This simple feature distinguishes the Atlas from almost all other SUVs that make you fiddle with a spindly prop rod while you're hoisting a heavy hood. Unfortunately, the good news mostly stops with the provision of that lift strut.
The engine bay of the Atlas is huge, easily big enough to fit a 7 liter Hemi V8. Instead, you get a puny looking 235hp , 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder motor that is visually lost in that vast cavern of an engine compartment. Although equipped with a turbocharger, the inline 4 is hard pressed to supply adequate motivation for this 4,670lb. sport utility. With 258lb.-ft. of torque, however, the package is optimistically tow rated at 5,000lbs.
If such heavy haulage does not figure in your travel plans, you might find the turbo 4 more appealing, because for 2021 VW has added all-wheel-drive (4Motion) availability for the 4 cylinder Atlas. Until now, you had to opt for the more expensive V6 powered Atlas (276hp, 266lb.-ft. of torque) in order to enjoy 4Motion. Around town, with the assistance of an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox, the turbo 4 gives a decent account of itself. In its favor, silent acceleration and quiet freeway cruise top the list of attributes. Handling is clumsy but acceptable for a vehicle of this size. VW fits 255/50R20 Goodyear Assurance Finesse rubber to busy-looking 20 inch alloy rims.
If you find the need to extract extra performance, resort to the Tiptronic gearbox feature which allows you to slide the gear lever to the right to engage manual up and down shifts. Be aware, however, that even in manual mode, the transmission will automatically upshift when the engine speed reaches 6,000 rpm. VW does not provide steering wheel paddles for shift actuation.
VW revised the appearance of the Atlas with new front and rear fascias for 2021. The nose now incorporates sparkling LED headlights and daytime running lights, while the tail sports new LED tail lights. These stylistic refinements have added a total of 3 inches of external length to the already sizeable Atlas, which now stands at a whopping 17 feet long. Parking this SUV in an urban setting can be problematic, as I discovered while trying to nudge it closer to the curb in a rather unsuccessful attempt at parallel parking.
The interior of the Atlas is finished with understated good taste. The SEL Premium version features finely tailored full leather seats for the first row, plus the outboard seats of the second row. Third row occupants make do with leatherette, which is also used to wrap the fat rim of the steering wheel. The only stylistic flare in the cabin comes from simulated barn wood inserts in the fascia of the dash and door panels. The Premium SEL The 2021 Atlas features first time availability of a Fender premium Audio system with center speaker and subwoofer.
VW's new Digital Cockpit offers configurable instrument displays plus an 8 inch touchscreen for Navigation and Infotainment control. We found the touchscreen to be somewhat irritating to use. One feature we could do without was the unit's proximity sensor which enabled the screen to detect the approach of your hand and change its display (!) before you ever touched the screen. This idiosyncrasy resulted in inadvertent loss of my selected radio channel on repeated occasions as my hand approached the screen to adjust the unit's volume knob. It wasn't until I stopped the Atlas and repeated the gesture that I realized that VW's Digital Cockpit was responsible for such unbidden behavior.
What this SUV has going for it is neither torque, nor towing capacity, nor athletic handling. The chief benefit here is space. The Atlas is huge inside, with three usable seating rows. That square exterior silhouette provides 50.5 cubic feet of interior cargo space which can instantly be subdivided in any number of useful ways. I chose to flop the 3 third row seats flat, as well as 2/3 of the second row bench. I then inserted my mountain bike, slid the privacy screens up on the rear doors, and spend a week enjoying the luxury of transporting my bike to various riding spots while still having enough interior room to do a full week's grocery shop. For that kind of convenience, the Atlas can't be beat.
2021 VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS 2.0T SEL PREMIUM
ENGINE: 2.0 liter TSI 16 valve DOHC turbocharged inline 4
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 20 MPG CITY/24 MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $48,420
HYPES: Vast Interior Space
STAR RATING: 8 Stars out of 10