For several decades now, selling SUVs to Americans has been about as easy as peddling ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day. But not for Volkswagen. VW introduced its first SUV, the Touareg, in 2003, and followed up with the smaller Tiguan a few years later. Neither caught on. Over 14 years, VW has sold fewer than 400,000 copies of those two models in total; for perspective, consider that Honda sold almost 360,000 CR-Vs just last year.
VW now seems to be overcompensating with the new-for-2018 Atlas. While the somewhat unconventional Tiguan and Touareg were always too expensive and too, well, European to have wide appeal here, the Atlas aims directly at the American-style three-row crossover bullseye. Its name is appropriately adventurous-sounding (and easy to pronounce); it’s massive, with a nearly 200-inch length that makes for a cavernous seven-seat interior; and it looks blocky and trucky—somewhat similar to the Ford Explorer, the current sales leader.
Unlike the space-inefficient Ford, the VW’s squared-off shape pays dividends inside. The Atlas’s interior is airy and open, with oodles of room for legs, feet, and elbows in all three rows. Seven seats are standard courtesy of a three-seat second-row bench and a two-place third row, while a $625 option for second-row captain’s chairs (available later this year) reduces that capacity to six.
Polished and Premium
This six-cylinder is refined enough for us to forgive its sluggishness, with smooth throttle tip-in, an intuitive automatic transmission that performs nearly imperceptible shifts, and low amounts of noise, vibration, and harshness. A bit of excess wind noise on the highway is the only hiccup in an otherwise quiet, polished, and luxurious driving experience.
Luxurious also describes the Atlas’s price, at least in its fully loaded SEL Premium form, which just slides in under $50,000. If $50,000 for a Volkswagen seems like a tough pill to swallow, remember that mid-size SUVs from Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge are similarly pricey.
The top-level Atlas also comes with a high level of equipment, such as adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera system, remote start, three-zone climate control, a Fender-branded audio system, and an easy-to-use 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. With some cheap plastics found on the door panels and tacky-looking fake wood on the dash, however, the Atlas’s interior quality reminds us less of the polished Euro-centric Golf and more of the cheapened cabins of the American-made Jetta and Passat.