With the big Atlas, Volkswagen is putting size and functionality front and center. It may not possess Volkswagen's traditional premium air, but the Atlas proved thoroughly competitive against its established three-row SUV peers. With its competent ride and handling, quiet cabin, easy-to-use controls, and generous interior accommodations, the Atlas is one SUV that shoppers shouldn't shrug at.
Of course, VW is no stranger to SUVs, but the original Tiguan and the larger Touareg were too small and too expensive. The Tennessee-built Atlas takes a different path. Volkswagen's big SUV trumps most of its competitors in second- and third-row room. It also offers a unique second row: By using a lever with just one hand, the row effortlessly pivots and slides out of the way, opening a large access path to the third-row seats. And the Atlas also eclipses its competitors in terms of cargo capacity when the second- and third-row seats are folded. Towing capacity is a generous 5,000 pounds.
This big coach rides comfortably, absorbing bumps and ruts well. Barring the odd side-to-side jostle and an occasional firm jiggle, the Atlas is a relaxed cruiser. The cabin is quiet with only the occasional wind murmur at highway speeds.
Judging by the Atlas's size and weight, one might expect it to be ungainly, but that's not the case. Its handling is quite capable and surprisingly adept at cornering both on winding roads and on our track. Still, the Atlas doesn't possess VW's typical sporty character, because that isn't a priority for most buyers in this category.
While the powertrain feels lively in everyday driving situations, benefitting from the tested V6 engine's rich torque and the eight-speed automatic transmission's smooth and responsive shifts, it's no rocket ship -- it trails its competitors in the 0 to 60 mph dash at 8.7 seconds. Fuel economy at 20 mpg overall is par for the course but isn't a standout. Unlike most other VWs, the Atlas takes regular gas.
Inside the sumptuous cabin are supportive front seats, limousinelike middle seats, and an adult-worthy third row. Plus, the interior is highly versatile -- moving the second row forward and back takes little effort, and it's easy to fold down all rear seats.
And as a public announcement to all manufacturers -- The Atlas' controls are a model of clarity, particularly the intuitive touch-screen infotainment system, which is straightforward to use, has a clear display and offers big buttons and text. Radio presets are always displayed and you even get rotary volume and tuning knobs. Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are supported.
Cabin ambience may seem rather drab and straightlaced at first glance, but the material quality and feel of the switches, cubbies, and bins are at least on par with competitors in terms of their fit and finish.
Beginning with the 2019 model year, advanced safety features such as forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning and lane-keep assist are standard on all versions.
The bumper-to-bumper warranty for this model goes is six years, 72,000 miles, going well beyond the three years, 36,000 miles Volkswagen provides on most other models.
There's no question that Volkswagen has checked all the boxes that matter for a successful suburban family mobile. It remains to be seen if its reliability will eventually match its competence.