The all new Volkswagen Atlas crossover SUV (XSUV) launches in late May in the United States. It is being dropped into the highly competitive mid-size crossover SUV market dominated by the Ford Explorer and the Honda Pilot. Those two vehicles are Atlas’ strongest competitors.
Volkswagen, like Hyundai, can be criticized for being late to the American-style XSUV market. Sure VW has had the Touareg and Tiguan crossovers in the market, but neither have the volume potential of the Atlas. Atlas is produced at VW’s 300,000 unit assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN. Atlas shares Chattanooga capacity with the Passat that sold 73,000 units in the USA in 2016. Clearly, VW has room in Chattanooga for the Atlas and perhaps one or two additional entries.
The Atlas is sized right for its competitive set. It is almost exactly the size of the very successful Ford Explorer on the outside, but has a much longer wheelbase. It makes great use of its interior space yielding much more cargo capacity than the vehicles compared above. The front seat area is spacious and the cockpit is well laid out. Ergonomics are first rate. The second row can accommodate three large child seats and is adjustable for better legroom. The third row seat is accessible, but only for small children or adults for short trips.
The Atlas is styled like you would expect a VW XSUV to be. The front end styling is definitely a VW face with standard LED lighting and accent lights – distinguishable from afar. The muscular bodysides communicate capability with a strong character line connecting the front and rear wheel openings. The taillamps are connected by a chrome strip that highlights the rear styling and gives an upscale image. The liftgate opens to the very large cargo area which is flat when all the rear seats are folded.
Driving the V6 Atlas crossover is pleasant, but not particularly exciting. That is a good thing for a XSUV targeted at family car usage. Ride quality is good, but there is a bit too much body lean on the twisty roads in Texas’ Hill Country around San Antonio. Quiteness with its 20-inch tires is poor on many road surfaces. When you find that elusive stretch of absolutely smooth asphalt, quietness is superb. On rougher road surfaces you cannot carry on a conversation.
In search of the Atlas’ unique selling proposition you conclude that the reconfigurable VW Digital Cockpit may be it. The 12-inch wide instrument cluster can can change to provide several different information displays. Unlike some reconfigurable systems, you cannot change the overall appearance, just the information shown. The 8-inch center stack display is intuitive and turn by turn driving directions can be displayed on the instrument cluster at the swipe of a finger. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
The Atlas crossover has a complete suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems available.
Checking prices, the price for a FWD 4-cylinder Atlas S is $30,500. An AWD V6
Atlas SEL Premium is $48,490. So, the price is in line with competition.
Who will buy the Atlas? The Atlas crossover is selling in a growing segment but there are two giants among its seven-passenger competition – Explorer and Pilot . Both Explorer and Pilot have a loyal buyer base and they may be the superior products. Volkswagen has a buyer base that loves the brand (let’s not discuss “Dieselgate”) and will likely consider the Atlas for their family hauler. The question is can VW dealers position the Atlas as superior to its strong competitors or will they have to hope for VW loyalists coming in looking for aggressive prices?