SEATTLE, Washington — The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL 4Motion occupies a liminal space, as does the site of my testing: the Seattle and Tacoma regions of Washington. VW’s biggest-ever vehicle straddles the threshold of family haulers and full-blown utes with its muscular styling and terrain-selection knob. This area of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a delightful blend of the wild and the urban.
I reached out to VW to ask them if I could test the Atlas in the context of a friend’s wedding since I’d be staying in an Airbnb with five other friends. My tester exceled in these northern proving grounds with better-than-average road-going chops, the ground clearance to tackle the unpaved terrain I encountered over the weekend, and the space to accommodate everyone and their belongings.
I picked up the seven-seater from an airport parking lot and fell in love with its looks at first sight. The Reflex Silver Metallic paint paired well with the optional black-painted 20-inch alloy wheels, a $995 option, and gave the SUV on-road presence that set it apart from rival family cars.
The interior accouterments should be familiar to anyone who’s been inside a modern Volkswagen, but blown up from the usual size. One of the comments I received from a friend was, “The seats are so big!” I agree; the bolsters are wide set and although the leatherette chairs are fairly comfortable, they don’t offer much by way of lateral support. It seems VW committed to going full-American with the Atlas and supersized the seats as a result.
The dash in my tester had some attractive faux wood, but the black-everywhere aesthetic was otherwise pretty bland. I do like VW’s infotainment, however, and Android Auto synced up right away. The touchscreen is on the more responsive side of the spectrum as well, which made it easy to poke around maps when planning routes in the unfamiliar area.
Each squeeze the throttle ushered in the thrum of the 3.6-liter narrow-angle V-6 engine fills the cabin. The engine note is very pleasant, if not wholly enjoyable, but isn’t loud enough to drown out a conversation. It’s a reminder of how much character a naturally-aspirated powerplant can bring to an otherwise normal car.
Acceleration is ample, VW claims 0-60 mph comes in 7.5 seconds, but the experience doesn’t wow. Delivery of the 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque is smooth and when all the seats were full, I could manage passes on the highway with no issue. The engine and 8-speed transmission communicate well and with little hesitation to select gears. The 4Motion system was more than plenty in terms of offering grippy starts off the line.
My first task as the group’s driver was to collect our home’s occupants from downtown Seattle. The Atlas felt big among the tighter streets, but the great visibility and ride height made maneuvering simple enough. The motorized lift gate proved to be a champ when everyone had their hands full of luggage, and although the rear cargo area was down on space with the last row of seats up, we were still able to fit our crew’s baggage without squishing too much.
With this accomplished, shuttling folks around without any bags was a total breeze. It proved to be a great car to take everyone along to buy the goods needed to stock up our temporary home. The Atlas strikes the right balance of space for passengers and storage.
My second row passengers were especially spoiled with the upgraded 2nd row dual captain’s chair package. Although it stickers for $625, the feedback I received was indicative that it’s well-worth the cash.
The Atlas SEL 4Motion has some great driving-assistance technology that helped offset the SUV’s size. The model includes forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking (which I found to be a little sensitive), front pedestrian monitoring, parking assistance, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring. Of all of these systems VW’s lane departure system stands out as it would only engage as the vehicle began to depart the lane, and didn’t make me feel like I was wrestling with the car for control.
As a semi-suburban chariot, I found the Atlas to get the job done with style and comfortable efficiency. VW knew for whom it was designing a car and created a vehicle that satisfied both the American fantasy of going off-road and conquering literal frontiers while catering to the way Americans actually use their cars with aplomb.
At $45,235 after destination, the Volkswagen Atlas SEL 4Motion is an SUV that will serve a large family well. It’ll excel on roadtrips, on sports practice pickups, and doesn’t suck the joy out of zipping through corners. I consider it to have navigated its liminal space well.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL 4Motion Specifications
|PRICE||$42,690/$45,235 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/276 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 266 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||17/23 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||198.3 x 78.3 x 70 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5 sec|