One Week With: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas 2.0T SE
Carries big, drives small.
The new, mid-sized 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV is roomy enough to accommodate seven adults comfortably. But you'd never know it from the driver's seat.
It's such a taut, driver-centric machine that after my first few miles behind the wheel I almost pulled over to confirm that this was indeed a three-row vehicle. And there's only a turbo 2.0-liter four under that hood? Doesn't feel like it at all. The Atlas moves effortlessly, no strain or wheezing from the little four-banger, just a smooth surge of brawn. And that's despite the fact that the Atlas is no bantamweight: it checks in at roughly 4,200 pounds.
It's worth noting that the base turbo-four in some ways actually betters the optional, naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6. Torque peak in the four, 258 pound-feet, comes on tap at just 1,600 rpm—versus 266 lb-ft at 2,750 rpm for the six. The four also beats the six on highway EPA mileage: 26 mpg versus 25 in the front-drive V-6 model (all-wheel drive is optional only on the six-cylinder version). For sure, never once in my wheel behind the Atlas's wheel did I think, "I wish this rig had more power." This VeeDub is just superb at wringing the best from its diminutive mill (both engines feed a smooth-shifting 8-speed Tiptronic automatic with manual mode). It's a lovely cruiser on the highway, too.
My Atlas tester was the SE trim, one above the base S and boasted a bounty of standard features. Among them: 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, separate front and rear climate controls, heated front seats (the driver's is power-operated), a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, keyless entry with pushbutton start, and an 8-inch color touchscreen. The window sticker showed zero options; total price checked in at $34,515. VW engineers deserve major kudos for the cockpit design: The cabin is clean and simple, with a driver interface that's as user-friendly as they come. Climate controls are conventional buttons and dials, navigating the touchscreen (radio, Bluetooth streaming, phone, etc.) is a breeze, and the fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel is adorned with a helpful selection of secondary controls—rarely do you have to take your hands off the wheel.
Its front seats are excellent, on the firm side but supportive and comfortable during long stints at the helm. The second and third-row benches, though, aren't as welcoming. Several passengers complained about their stiffness and there isn't much, if anything, in the way of lateral support (second-row captain's chairs are optional, however). That said, legroom in both rows is quite good—better than you'll find in a rival like the Mazda CX-9. No one complained when relegated to row three (a unique feature: the second row folds for third-row access even with a child seat in place). And with both rows folded down, cargo room is humongous (96.8 cubic feet).
The aforementioned CX-9 might have a slight edge in driving dynamics (Mazda really knows its steering), but the Atlas is also a pleasure to pilot. The steering has a pleasing heft, the ride is supple, and brake feel is excellent. Visibility all around is splendid—aided by the standard blind-spot and rear-traffic alerts and, when parking, the excellent rear-view camera. And, as noted earlier, the Atlas drives smaller than it is. It's light on its feet, airy, and easy to maneuver. The structure feels solid, too. Seriously, there's almost nothing no to like about VW's new crossover—though most of my passengers had a strong reaction (mostly negative) to the Kurkuma Yellow Metallic exterior paint. Unless it's in strong sunlight—where it's quite striking—the color takes on the unpleasant hue of mashed baby food.
Without having even tried the V-6, if I were shopping for an Atlas I'd probably only consider the four-cylinder. (Mind you, I live in sunny Los Angeles and don't need all-wheel drive.) It's cheaper (a V-6 SE goes for $1,400 more), more responsive torque-wise, a bit more fuel-efficient, and just a sweetheart going about its work. Really, it's just remarkable how easily the little four motivates this largish rig.
How can you argue about getting more for less?
2018 Volkswagen Atlas 2.0T SE Specifications
|ENGINE||2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbocharged I-4/235 hp @ 4,500 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, FWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||22/26 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||198.3 x 78.3 x 70.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||113 mph (governor limited)|