VW Atlas lacking muscle but not appeal
You have to pity poor Atlas, the mythological Greek god who led the Titans into a losing battle against the Olympians. Zeus sentenced him to hold the weight of the heavens on his shoulders.
Fortunately for Atlas, he was buff.
Unfortunately for drivers, Volkswagen’s new crossover utility vehicle of the same name is strong only to a point.
The three-row, seven-passenger 2018 Atlas’ payload capacity is only 1,213 pounds. Load it up with four women and three men of average weight, and you’ll be over that threshold before even putting a single golf club in the generous 20.6-cubic-foot cargo area.
Why does this matter? It’s simple. Exceeding a payload rating degrades handling and can lead to a tire blowout and loss of control.
Perhaps the Atlas name refers to Volkswagen’s hopes of strengthening its U.S. market share. In this regard, there’s little doubt the vehicle will deliver.
The crossover’s crisp, timeless styling won’t look dated by the time your lease is up, and some of the aesthetic touches — the airflow-aiding hood creases, for example — are also functional.
Inside, you’ll find an incredibly spacious, family-friendly cabin that’s classically VW Spartan and agreeably finished in textured plastic trim. The driving position is perfect for long stints behind the wheel, and though tire noise is noticeable on rough surfaces, you’ll find the cabin pleasantly quiet.
For now, all models come with a 3.6-liter VR6 engine producing 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive or 4Motion all-wheel drive sends up to 50 percent of power to the rear axle. Eventually, a front-wheel-drive model powered by Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine will be made available. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard.
Performance is good but not overwhelming with the VR6, with passing maneuvers revealing a very linear torque curve. The automatic transmission shifts smoothly, although some might wish for quicker shifts in manual mode.
By ordering 4Motion, you’ll get the expected adjustable driving modes of Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual and also settings for Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad. But really, few drivers will be going off-road in this ride.
Steering is nicely weighted and suitably quick, returning good feel in Sport mode. In Normal mode, the steering feels too light and numb. The suspension is well-dampened, delivering enough compliance to provide ride comfort without being too soft. You can push the Atlas to perform and it will, but it’s first and foremost a family vehicle.
As with most new vehicles, it comes loaded with a long list of driver assistance features including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, lane departure warning, park distance control, parking steering assistant, high beam control, and an overhead view camera.
For most buyers, however, the standard infotainment system matters most. Base S models have a 6.5-inch touchscreen, while SE, SEL and SEL Premium models are equipped with a glass-covered 8.0-inch touchscreen. Connectivity is easy, and audio systems start with six speakers and top out with an impressive 480-watt, 12-speaker Fender audio system. If you’ve used to older VW infotainment systems, you’ll find the newest one a nice departure. The large screen and simple interface makes it easy to use.
Volkswagen has gotten almost everything right with the 2018 Atlas. Its disappointing payload cap will likely go overlooked as its roomy cabin, handsomely conservative looks and balanced performance find acceptance in cul-de-sacs across the country, just like the station wagons of yore.
Consider it a millennial Country Squire.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Base prices: $30,500-$33,700
Engine: 3.6-liter VR6
Fuel type: Regular
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 17/23 (AWD); 18/25 (FWD)