The Volkswagen Atlas
Volkswagen’s 1959 “Think Small” ad campaign has
been ranked as one of the best of the century by
Ad Age and defined the company for decades. Fast
forward 62 years, and how things change. “Think Atlas”
might be a better ad for today’s Volkswagen because
it is a popular seven-passenger SUV that is larger
than any other vehicle in the company. Engineered
from VW’s MQB platform architecture, Atlas is 200.7
inches long, 78.4 inches wide, and 70.1 inches high. It
is assembled in Chattanooga, Tenn., and typifies how
the automotive industry has changed and evolved to
suit the needs of families on the go. Carpooling in a
1959 Beetle would be a challenge.
Of course, Volkswagen also builds smaller vehicles,
and, in fact, has recently introduced a 2022 compact
SUV called the Taos that will go on sale in the second
quarter of 2021. A whole family of electric cars is on the
way, as well.
But back to the Atlas. Because it slots into a
segment populated with vehicles such as the Honda
Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Kia Telluride, Ford Explorer,
and Mazda CX-9, the Atlas has three-row seating
and a spacious interior. For folks who want a sportier
version, the Atlas Cross Sport has two rows of seats and
a slightly lower roofline.
The Atlas comes in eight different trim levels. The
base S, with a four-cylinder, starts at $31,555. Add
4Motion all-wheel drive and the base price is $33,455.
Models SE w/Technology and above are equipped
with the VR6 engine. Prices start at $38,345 for front
ATLAS SEL PREMIUM
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
4Motion all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 117.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,614 pounds
Base price: $48,995
As driven: $50,825
MPG rating: 16 in the city,
22 on the highway
wheel drive and $40,245 for all-wheel drive. The model I drove,
an SEL Premium, had a base price of $48,995 and a sticker price
Before we go any further let’s take a quick look at the two
available engines. The 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder
develops 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from
a low 1,600 rpm. That should give it good off-the-line throttle
The 3.6-liter, narrow-angle VR6 has direct-injection and it cranks
out 276 horsepower 266 pound-feet of torque. This engine utilizes
a crossflow aluminum-alloy cylinder head design, twin overhead
camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing. It
is capable of towing 5,000 pounds. Fuel economy is rated at 16
miles per gallon in the city and 22 on the highway.
Each engine is coupled to an eight-speed automatic
Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system drives the front
wheels under light load, but a center differential adds power to
the rear wheels in a fraction of second, as conditions require. An
advanced control unit activates a multi-plate clutch in the center
differential and quells wheelspin almost before it begins. The
center differential also functions as part of the electronic stability
control and can briefly brake a wheel that is slipping. The 4Motion
system has four settings: On-road, Off-road, Snow, and Custom
A generous cabin is the heart of an SUV and the Atlas doesn’t
disappoint. It makes maximum use of its three-row seating layout
to offer space for up to seven adults, boasting a cavernous 154
cu-ft of total passenger volume. Headroom is generous, and rear seat
legroom, at 37.6 inches, is huge. The second-row bench seat
splits 60/40, reclines and can slide forward up to 7.7 inches. The
second row folds and slides forward, even with a child seat in
place, to provide easy entry to the third seat. Maximum cargo
volume is 96.8 cubic feet when all rear seats are folded down.
Cargo capacity is 55.5 cubic feet with the third seat folded and a
smallish 20.6 cubic feet when all seats are up.
Second-row captain’s chairs are an option on models above SE
The Atlas interior is classic Volkswagen: clean and functional,
with a premium feel. Driver controls are positioned for ease of
use. A 10-inch TFT instrument display offers 21 viewing options,
including digital gauges, car status, navigation, driving data,
phone information, and driver assistance features. The driver can
even select a full-screen navigation view. A center touchscreen
controls many of the vehicle’s functions as well as smart-phone
The seat position, shifter height, and the spacing between the
pedals are all designed to suit drivers of all sizes.
Overhead, roof rails are standard should you need to add a rack for cargo. A power tailgate is standard on the Atlas
SE, while on the SE w/ Technology and higher models the
tailgate can be opened with a kick of the foot below the
rear bumper when the key is in range. That’s a huge benefit
when your arms are full of grocery bags.
As one would expect, the Atlas is brimming with technology.
Items such as lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitor,
adaptive cruise control, emergency braking are all available.
But going one step further, the Atlas has “maneuver braking”
that detects static obstacles front and rear while moving
between 1 and 6 miles per hour and applies the brakes. Great
for avoiding bikes in driveways, shopping carts, and such like.
Park steering assist is available on the SEL Premium and
it can automatically steer the vehicle into parallel and
perpendicular parking spaces (the latter both forward and
When it comes to vehicle connectivity, Atlas can connect
to smart phones and has Apple Car Play, Android Auto, and
Mirror Link. Volkswagen Car-Net has several features such
as Remote Access, Safe and Secure, and Hotspot. Safe and
Secure is a subscription service that offers automatic crash
notification, emergency assistance, anti-theft alert, and
stolen vehicle assistance. The price is $99 for one year. The
Hotspot connects through Verizon or T-Mobile for $20 a
Atlas has a four-years, 50,000-mile warranty and the
10,000- and 20,000-mile scheduled maintenance services
are free for two years or 20,000 miles.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR / PHOTOGRAPHER
Tom Strongman has a degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri and was
formerly the director of photography and then the automotive editor of The Kansas City
Star. Tom, a member of the Missouri Press Association Photojournalism Hall of Fame, has
written about and photographed cars for more than three decades.