Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


2021 Volkswagen Atlas: Roomy three-row CUV gets facelift, sees drop in AWD pricing

Compact crossovers may be the industry’s hottest segment, but their midsize three-row cousins aren’t far behind.

The segment is flush with new and updated models equipped with the latest and greatest.

When it debuted in 2018, the Volkswagen Atlas won acclaim for its spacious cabin and agreeable ride-and-handling package. But as competition has intensified, Volkswagen decided Atlas needed a mid-cycle refresh.

The 2021 Atlas gets a mild but effective facelift and an expanded list of standard and optional features.

Its base price remains unchanged at $31,545. 

Snow-country win

Snow-country drivers get a big win. Changes to the powertrain lineup cut the AWD entry price by $1,300.

The facelift amounts to a nip here and a tuck there — a redesigned grille, restyled bumpers and new headlight and taillight assemblies — but it’s enough to elevate Atlas’s street-appeal from anonymous to quite good looking. 

Buyers wanting a bit more flair should consider one of the sporty R-Line trims.

Atlas bests most rivals in passenger room and cargo space. Adults will be comfortable in all three rows, though the third row’s bottom cushions are set a bit low to the floor.

An ingenious second-row setup makes third-row access dead simple. And, with the second and third rows folded, Atlas boasts a class-leading cargo hold. 

Quiet and relaxed

Atlas’s all-independent suspension produces a smooth ride and seemingly effortless control of unwanted body motions. It smooths out the impact of all but the worst potholes and other broken surfaces. And though the Atlas is hefty (average weight is around 4,400-pounds), and has 8 inches of ground clearance, there’s less body lean than might be expected. 

Atlas isn’t nimble but it’s not clumsy either. Because they’re lighter, four-cylinder trims are better balanced and more engaging.

Its cabin is quiet and relaxed at speed, though a bit of wind noise sneaks in at highway speeds.
Except for replacing the previous steering with a beefy new flat-bottomed unit, Volkswagen leaves the Atlas cabin essentially untouched. 

The standard-features list grows to include full LED lighting and rain-sensing windshield wipers The latest edition of Car-Net smartphone connectivity app is standard. It’s compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink and includes WiFi capability, satellite radio, remote start and more.

Model of simplicity

Standard driver-assist features include forward-collision alert and emergency braking and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. The latter are often reserved for up-level trims or pricey options packages. 

The cabin is a model of simplicity, which can be seen as dull or quietly efficient. Its chunky dashboard is free of ornamentation and the touchscreen and assorted controls are well integrated.

Abundant hard plastics suggest that designers sharpened their pencils when picking materials. 

The MIB III infotainment system is notable for its ease of use. The base S trim uses a 6.5-inch touchscreen and all others get an 8.0-inch unit. Capacitive-touch technology, borrowed from mobile devices, allows swipe and pinch-to-zoom functionality.

Climate and audio controls are managed by traditional buttons and knobs.

Two-engine lineup

Two powerplant choices include a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 235 horsepower and a naturally aspirated V-6 rated at 276-hp.

Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission optimized for efficiency, rather than swift gear-changes. 

Properly equipped, V-6 models are rated to tow 5,000 pounds. The four is rated at 2,000 lb.

Four-cylinder models are both thriftier (22 vs. 19 mpg in combined driving) and quicker, too. They run the 0-60 dash in just 7.2 seconds, while the heavier six-cylinder models need another half second or more.

Last year, the four powered lower trims exclusively. This year, it’s available across all trims.

At the same time, VW expands the availability of AWD. Previously available only on six-cylinder models, it now can be had on every trim and with both powerplants. This accounts for the discounted AWD starting price. AWD pricing starts at $33,445, $1,300 less than last year.

The Atlas enters 2021 better equipped to thrive in the three-row segment. It deserves a look if you’re shopping.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas 2.0 SE AWD
Vehicle base price: $31,5 45
Trim level base price: $36,795
As tested: $37,815 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Our tester included no options
Tow rating: 2000 lb/5000 lb
EPA rating: 22 combined/20 city/ 24 highway
Regular unleaded gas specified

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