2024 Volkswagen Atlas SEL 4Motion – Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Set sail in this admirably appointed land-yacht
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
If you're looking for more road real estate for your buck, VW's heavily revamped 2024 Atlas is a perfect choice. This SUV is so spacious (97 cubic feet!) that it could serve as an accessory dwelling unit. The Atlas we tested was VW's SEL model, which carries a base price of $48,445, and an as-delivered price of $50,490. There's only one higher echelon available, the SEL Premium R-Line which retails for $53,805. A set of 21-inch alloys upgrade the R-Line from our test SEL's 20-inch rims. Unlike the previous Atlas lineup, which offered both 4 and 6-cylinder engine options, the 2024 model line eliminates choice in favor of just one 4-cylinder turbo motor driving 2 or 4 wheels through an 8-speed Tiptronic gear box. Our SEL was equipped with standard 4MOTION. The new 2.0-liter turbo falls just short of the old V6 in horsepower (269 vs. 276), but is 34hp more powerful than last year's 235hp base 4-cylinder motor. VW equips the SEL with a standard tow hitch and oversize rear-view mirrors and assigns it a tow capacity of 5,000 pounds.
We never found the new inline 4 to be speed-deficient. It's bottom end power production is significant, with 273 lb.-ft. of torque coming on line at 1600rpm - just off idle speed. By using the provided paddle shifters, you can twist its tail to extract maximum thrust. With eight cogs to choose from, you'll never be at a loss for go, and the SEL's acceleration numbers testify to that fact: 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds, standing start 1/4 mile in 15.4 seconds at 92mph. Considering its 4,630 pound curb weight and middling power-to-weight ratio of 16.9 lbs./hp., this Atlas surprised us with its alacrity. It's one of the fastest non-hybrid, full-size SUVs we've driven to date.
VW has done an admirable job of freshening the previously mundane exterior appearance of the first generation Atlas. The huge new grill resonates with a field of chromed dog bones that twinkle your eye. The oversize faux corner vents of the previous model have given way to more modest styling exercises. The slack-mouthed look of the lower grill has been tossed in favor of a jutting upturned chin outlined in silver. The net effect is that the Atlas now looks pugnacious enough to do battle with its many three-row SUV competitors. Inside, the story is a bit more restrained. The heated and ventilated front-row seats are pleasantly supportive. Finished in a combination of "French Roast" and Black Vienna leather, they complement the coffee and cream finish of the dash and door card inlays. VW has achieved a visual tranquility that makes the new Atlas SEL an inviting place to spend extended travel time.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the "soft touch" dash and cockpit controls. In their relentless pursuit of Bauhaus design symmetry, VW has forsaken practicality for the holy grail of symmetrical appearance. You will search in vain for simple ways to control the HVAC system, adjust radio volume, or manipulate the power tilting/sliding sunroof. Discarding knobs altogether, the design staff has instead provided four tiny touch spots with confusing labels, located between the central air vents. These non-illuminated spots are impossible to read while driving. Unfortunately, you must use them to activate virtually any system. Even after a week's familiarity with the routine, I found it unnerving to have to remove my sunglass darkened eyes from the road to conduct menu searches. It also took a trip to the owner's manual to locate the elusive switch for the rear window defroster which was consigned to an inconspicuous panel for minor functions. By the time my week in the Atlas expired, I had become somewhat comfortable with mastering the mysterious Art of the New VW. But really, a slide control for radio volume doesn't begin to compare with the precision of a good old-fashioned knob, especially when your hand's bouncing all over the place to control the slider.
Aside from its dash design idiosyncrasies, I really enjoyed actually driving the new Atlas. It handled freeway travel with aplomb and silence, and offered plenty of traffic passing punch. Its pair of second-row Captain's Chairs ($895 option) made the interior feel as open and spacious as a motor home. On backroads, I wouldn't go so far as to call it nimble, but predictable is a fair description of its handling. A set of 255/50R20 Nexen Roadian GTX tires (TW 580) did well in herding the Atlas through the twisties. Just be sure to dial up the Sport setting from the tiny Mode panel before you start attacking those curves.
2024 VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS SEL
• ENGINE: 2.0 liter inline-4, turbocharged and intercooled DOHC, 16-valve, iron block and aluminum head, DFI
• HORSEPOWER: 269hp@5500rpm
• TORQUE: 272lb.-ft.@1600rpm
• FUEL CONSUMPTION: 19MPG City/25 MPG Highway
• PRICE AS TESTED: $50,490
HYPES: Nice Restyle Outside
GRIPES: Goofy Dash Controls
STAR RATING: 8.5 Stars out of 10
©2023 David E Colman