From station wagons to crossovers, family vehicles have evolved to accommodate the needs of modern households. Most manufacturers have major players in every segment, but a few still don’t. Volkswagen is the latest to join the midsize sport utility vehicle (SUV) crowd with the all-new 2018 Atlas. Latino Traffic Report recently attended the launch in the Texas Hill Country.
“This is the biggest and boldest Volkswagen we have ever built in the United States, delivering the distinctive design and craftsmanship we’re known for, now with room for seven,” said Hinrich J. Woebcken, CEO of the North American Region, Volkswagen. “The Atlas marks a brand new journey for Volkswagen to enter into the heart of the American market.”
Built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the seven-passenger Atlas is available in five trim levels—S, SE, SE w/Technology, SEL and Premium SEL—and is scheduled to appear in dealer showrooms in the spring of 2017. At the launch, the four top trim levels were available, i.e. all but the S were there. The SE and Premium are separated by more than $10,000 in price and the driving experience, particularly the interior, reflected that.
The Premium offers a digital TFT gauge cluster, while the SE uses traditional hardware. The digital 12.3-inch display can also be customized, a feature usually reserved for premium vehicles, no pun intended. The Atlas Premium interior also includes heated leather seats while the SE comes with leatherette upholstery.
Still, all Atlases offer utility with three rows of seats, including second and third rows that can fold flat to provide a maximum cargo volume of 96.8 cubic feet behind the front-row seats.
For those a little more concerned with fuel economy, the Atlas will offer a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft. of torque. For families who’d like more power, the Atlas can also be outfitted with a 3.6-liter VR6 that delivers 276 horses and 266 lb.–ft. of torque. Both are matched to an eight-speed transmission. The maximum towing for the V6 is 5,000 lbs. with a factory-installed hitch. The standard Start/Stop technology on both engines that cuts the engine off at a stop, also helps conserve gas and while noticeable, it was less jarring than other systems.
While the Texas Hill Country can’t match the curves and climbs along some California highways, it did provide enough of a challenge to test the V6 engine and it reformed successfully. The turbo wasn’t available at the launch. Both engines are available on all trims with the exception of the Premium SEL, which is only offered with the VR6 engine and 4Motion all-wheel drive (AWD). While there was no off-road course at the launch, Atlases with AWD do come with Driving Mode Selection or settings for handling road (and off-road) conditions—Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad—plus, within the “Onroad” setting come additional options—Normal, Sport, Comfort and Individual.
EPA testing is still underway, but the front-wheel drive VR6 models are expected to earn around 18 miles per gallon (mpg) in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. As the 2.0-liter engine will have late availability, no mpg information is currently available.
Family vehicles need to be packed with safety features as well as utility. Setting the Atlas apart is the Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, which is standard on all models. Unavailable on the base model, the following features are standard based on the trim level. A blind spot monitor is standard on the SE and above while Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning with emergency braking and pedestrian warning, and Lane Assist come with the SE w/Technology and above. Park Distance Control is only standard on the Premium.
Standard convenience features include a rearview camera, two-zone (first row and second/third row) climate control, cruise control, the MIB II infotainment system, and a 6.5-inch capacitive touchscreen display.
Forging its way into a crowded field, the Atlas may not shake up the segment, but it will certainly carve out a niche.
Pricing for the 2018 Atlas starts at $31,425. The as-tested pricing on the 2018 Atlas SE and Premium trims at the launch came to $36,225 and $49,415, respectively.