Test Drive Notes Library
- From the makers of the Beetle, a large, utilitarian, three-row SUV, which, we suppose, is the modern day “People’s Car.”
- Plenty of room. It seats 7. The Atlas feels spacious when you’re sitting in either of the first two rows. The second row bench slides back enough to make your passengers feel like they’re not flying Spirit airlines anymore. Adults can ride in the third row, as long as they’re not tall adults. Headroom is more of an issue back there than legroom, believe it or not. Access to the third row involves a bit of spelunking. With the third row folded down, cargo room is plentiful. But even with the third row of seats in use, there’s room in the back for some luggage. This thing is big inside.
- Clean, tasteful interior. Inside the Atlas feels open and airy. Materials are all short of luxury car specs (we’re talking about you, fake vinyl stitching on the dashboard), but the interior is, overall, simple and tasteful, and easy to live with. Seats themselves are firm but comfortable. Surprisingly (to us) the third row of seats felt like they could accommodate a couple of adults for an hour without them emerging permanently crippled and cursing.
- Smooth drivetrain. The Atlas comes with either a four cylinder or six cylinder engine, paired with a smooth eight-speed automatic. We drove the front-wheel-drive SE with Volkswagen’s 3.6 liter V6 listed at 276 hp. If you want all wheel drive, you’ll have to get the V6. That’s probably what most people will get. But the V6 only produces about 40 more horsepower than the turbocharged four-cylinder, so people who can live with front wheel drive and a little less power can opt for a less expensive, lighter engine and its better gas mileage. But at well over two-tons, the Atlas is a regular at Denny's, and we’d want to drive it with the four cylinder before recommending it.
- Ride tuned for comfort. While most VW suspensions are firm, the Atlas was almost floaty. That made it very comfortable over bumps and uneven roadways. It’s calm inside the Atlas on the highway.
- Ergonomics are pretty good. Things are where you expect them to be. Ventilation controls are simple and easy to use. Apple Car Play and Android Auto simplify the touchscreen interface.
- All the safety you need. Our V6 SE test Atlas, which stickers for $38,000, comes standard with the all-important forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. It also has blind spot monitoring (we wish the warning lights on the mirrors were adjustable for intensity — they’re not always noticeable enough in certain light), rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning. Thumbs up for the standard safety technology on the mid level trim.
Test Drive Notes Library
- The steering is so light that it causes wallowing on the highway. Very un-Volkswagen. Volkswagens have always been characterized by sporty handling and a certain fun-to-drive quality. There’s really nothing fun to drive about the Atlas. In handling qualities--with its light steering and body lean--the Atlas is indistinguishable from a Ford Explorer. Of course, the Ford Explorer outsells VW’s SUV by about a zillion to one, so maybe that’s not a coincidence.
- Mediocre gas mileage. We saw about 16 in real city driving, and 18-19 overall.
- Inoffensive, but uninspiring styling. It’s a box.
- The keyless entry system was finicky for us. Sometimes the Atlas would lock when you touched the driver’s door handle, sometimes multiple attempts would not make it lock and we had to resort to using the key fob (I know, cry for us!). Some of these systems work better than others, and this one was “others.”
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