The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is the product of a German company, but it was designed and developed especially for the United States. So that means it’s a roomy crossover with seating for up to seven occupants — with no one far away from a cupholder — and it’s wide enough for three adults in the second row. It’s even built in Tennessee.
Volkswagen is eager to please its American market in other ways, too. If anyone is a little unsure about getting a VW instead of something Japanese or Korean, they may feel reassured by the company’s transferable drivetrain warranty of 72,000 miles or 6 years (whichever arrives first).
What’s New for 2018?
The Atlas is completely new for 2018.
What We Like
Lots of space for people and things; great safety scores; sliding second-row seats that also tilt, even when there’s a child seat attached
What We Don’t
The entry-level S trim is really basic; neither engine is particularly punchy.
At the entry level is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This connects to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is the only setup available with this engine. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts fuel consumption at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving.
The more powerful alternative is a naturally aspirated (nonturbo) 3.6-liter V6 developing 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Same transmission, but with the availability of all-wheel drive, which VW calls 4Motion. The EPA’s consumption figures are 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined (front-wheel drive) and 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined (all-wheel drive).
Standard Features and Options
The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas 3-row, 7-seater midsize crossover is available in the S, SE, SE w/Technology, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels.
The S ($31,675) starts with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and headlights, roof rails, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, cloth upholstery, a rearview camera, a 6.5-in infotainment touchscreen, voice control, Bluetooth, a USB port, an SD card slot, a 6-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration and an AM/FM radio. A panoramic sunroof, an 8-in touchscreen, satellite radio and a garage-door opener are included in a limited run of V6-powered S Launch models ($34,675).
The SE ($34,675) adds keyless entry/ignition, rain-sensing wipers, simulated leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, a second-row center armrest, heated windshield-washer nozzles, heated side mirrors, rear sunshades, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, an 8-in touchscreen, four USB ports, an 8-speaker audio setup, HD Radio, satellite radio, a CD player and an auxiliary audio input.
The SE w/Technology ($36,865) brings adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation, lane-keeping assistance, remote start, tri-zone automatic climate control and a powered tailgate.
The SEL ($40,335) adds a panoramic sunroof, driver’s-seat memory settings, a power-adjustable front passenger seat, hands-free tailgate opening, a 115-volt power outlet and parking sensors front and rear. The V6 version also gets a trailer hitch.
The SEL Premium ($49,665) comes with the V6 engine and all-wheel drive as standard, along with LED taillights, a power-folding side mirror with puddle lights, a 12.3-in configurable digital driver information display, ambient LED cabin lighting, leather seating surfaces, ventilated front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, navigation, a semi-automated parking feature for parallel and perpendicular spaces, automatic high beams, an overhead-view camera setup, a CD player and a 12-speaker/480-watt Fender-branded upgraded audio system.
Options include second-row captain’s chairs (SE level and up, turning the Atlas into a 6-seater), an R-Line cosmetic package (SE w/Tech and up) and black-finished 20-in alloy wheels (SEL and SEL Premium).
Cargo space behind the third seating row is a generous 20.6 cu ft. Behind the second row is 55.5 cu ft. When both rows are folded flat, maximum cargo area is 96.8 cu ft.
Towing capacity with the 2.0-liter engine is 2,000 pounds. The V6 can pull 5,000 pounds. And in case anyone was curious about possible off-roading abilities, ground clearance is 8 inches, while the 4Motion system has various settings that include Off-road and Snow.
As well as all mandatory safety equipment (including full-length side airbags and disc brakes at each corner), the Atlas comes with a post-collision braking system that reduces the chance (or severity) of a secondary accident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the Atlas a full five stars overall, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has made the Atlas a Top Safety Pick.
Behind the Wheel
Comfort and serenity are the hallmarks of the Atlas’s driving experience. It feels stable and composed, and its high driving position will please many. The main downside is that neither engine has much muscle. A full complement of family members and vacation gear is going to require patience. This is one of the roomiest vehicles in its class, but also one of the slowest.
While those in the front will see cabin materials that are almost premium-quality, the kids behind get the less classy stuff that’s harder and can take more punishment. Third-row seating in many crossovers is a cramped and awkwardly accessed affair. Not in the Atlas. There are 33.7 inches of legroom, which is remarkable. It isn’t just for kids back there — even a couple of lanky teenagers will find it bearable (whether you’ll find the lanky teenagers bearable is another matter).
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Chevrolet Traverse — A new generation debuts for 2018. Roomy and with a punchier V6 than the Atlas.
2018 Ford Explorer — Not at the Atlas level for space, but more engine options might compensate.
2018 Honda Pilot — Can seat up to eight. Honda build quality is consistently superb.
2018 Hyundai Santa Fe — Makes a tempting price/equipment proposition.
2018 Kia Sorento — Charming, but smaller than the Atlas.
2018 Mazda CX-9 — Somewhat tight in the third row, yet stylish and a genuine pleasure to drive, which is unusual in this category.
2018 Toyota Highlander — Exemplary Toyota build quality, reliability and resale values go a long way, even if third-row passengers may not want to go a long way.
To get a decent level of equipment, it has to be at least the SE w/ Technology trim. If space is more important than performance, the Atlas is for you.