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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Volkswagen’s new three-row crossover takes the middle road

Designed in the U.S. for U.S. families, the Atlas succeeds not by quickening one’s pulse but by comfortably and safely transporting seven humans and their goods. (Volkswagen)
Designed in the U.S. for U.S. families, the Atlas succeeds not by quickening one’s pulse but by comfortably and safely transporting seven humans and their goods. (Volkswagen)

Since we’ve had automotive DNA on the brain lately, this seems like a good time to check in on Volkswagen.

As it happens, VW is rewriting its genetic code as we speak. Known for cars that were often edgy and almost always fun to drive, the brand is creating a new breed of Volkswagens aimed squarely at the middle market.

Cars focused less on vehicle dynamics and driver engagement than on such commonplace virtues as comfort, utility, safety and technology. 

You know; the things that matter most to most people.
Designed in the U.S. for U.S. families

Count the all-new 2018 Atlas crossover ($30,750) among them. Designed in the U.S. for U.S. families, the three-row CUV succeeds not by quickening one’s pulse but by comfortably and safely transporting seven humans and their goods. 

Atlas is sandwiched in Volkswagen’s crossover lineup by the compact Tiguan ($24,595) and the  luxury-oriented Touareg ($49,495). 

Parenthetically, the Tiguan is fully made-over for 2018 and also embodies the DNA shift, including the availability of third-row seating on front-wheel-drive models.

If Atlas spurns VW’s the taut ride and sharp handling of VW tradition, it inherits the brand’s propensity for crisp esthetics and well-executed cabins. There’s a burly, no-nonsense aspect to its sheet metal that carries over to the inside, where a flatly horizontal dash dominates the forward cabin. A broad console, with covered storage, separates the front seats.

“It feels like we’re riding in a truck,” my wife Diane observed on her maiden voyage.

Nothing trucky about ride and handling

There’s nothing trucky about the ride-and-handling package, though. From behind the wheel, the Atlas feels like any well-sorted three-row crossover. Its lightly weighted steering lacks the crisp immediacy typical of old-school Volkswagen, but is quick and accurate.

Ride quality is generally quite good, although some road-surface imperfections provoke sharp responses from the suspension. The Atlas was prone to get a bit floaty on our lumpy, winding two-lane, an issue I resolved by dialing up Sport from the three available drive modes.

No corner-carver, the Atlas is most at home on the open road, where it is stable, settled and quiet. 

Good for seven

Accommodations are fine for seven, including a pair of third-row adults. The second- and third-row seats recline and the second row slides fore and aft. The large front seats are supportive of even long-legged occupants, but would be more comfortable if they were more deeply contoured.

Second- and third-row seats fold flat with minimal effort to yield a generous 96.8 cubic feet of storage space.

All trims include VW’s MIB II infotainment system. Lower trims get a 6.5-inch capacitive (it responds to a hovering finger) touchscreen; upper trims get an 8-inch screen. Only the top SEL Premium ($48,700), is available with native navigation; all others utilize Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

The system’s menus are user-friendly but hide some key functions in secondary screens that can’t be accessed when the Atlas is moving. 

A blind-spot monitoring system is standard across the board; otherwise, the availability of driver-assist features — adaptive cruise, automated braking, lane-departure alert, et al — is dependent on trim.

A pair of engine choices

A pair of engine options include a 235-hp turbocharged 2-liter inline-four and a 276-hp naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6. Both power the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. VW’s 4Motion AWD system is available only with the six.

That makes sense, as 4Motion adds 460 pounds to the Atlas’s 4268-pound curb weight. With either engine, the Atlas is no street racer, though the lighter, four-cylinder version is said to be nimbler and more responsive than its AWD sib and nearly as quick. 

Four-cylinder trims are tow-rated to 2,000 pounds, six-cylinders to 5000 pounds. 

Editing the corporate DNA is risky business, but it’s working for VW. Sales are on the rise in the wake of the diesel-emissions debacle and more fresh product is on the way. 

As for their part, VW enthusiasts are counting on VW to limit the new regimen to its mass-market cars. Leave the Golf R and GTI unmolested and they’ll be fine. 

Contact Don at

2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL w/4Motion
Vehicle base price: $30,750
Trim level base price: $42,690
As tested: $45,235 (including destination and handling)
Options: 20-inch wheels package; 2nd-row captains chairs
Tow rating: up to 5000 pounds
EPA rating: 19 combined/17 city/23 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.