Susan Frissell, Editor,

Offered for the first time as a 2018 model, the Volkswagen Atlas was VW’s first attempt at a three-row midsize SUV. Popular from the start, the Atlas is a more ‘rugged’ SUV than say, its competition (think Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, etc.). This market has evolved quickly as there seems to be a need for something in the SUV lineup that can accommodate families. That is, something more desirable than a ‘minivan.’

Minivans are fine with this writer and in fact, are believed still to be the smartest car on the road. But I guess they are just not cool enough!

The 2021 Atlas has its pros and cons, as do all vehicles tested. The pros include a spacious interior in all three rows, in spite of the fit feeling somewhat tight for taller passengers. The design is straight-forward and very much Volkswagen; meaning it is sporty and tough. Not a luxury boat, but a comfortable, serviceable interior. Our test vehicle came equipped with the optional V6 so it accelerated a little better than the 4-cylinger. Not anything to write home about, though.

As with its competitors, the Atlas isn’t a vehicle one purchases for its fuel economy. However, the Atlas was left behind its competition when fuel economy was measured. The 2021 Atlas earned a five-star crash-test rating from NHTSA.

There are a few updates for 2021 including restyled headlights, taillights, a new grille and bumpers. Inside, the Atlas has a few updates including a new steering wheel, and a system that can scan traffic signs, informing the driver of speed limits without seeing a sign.

The front and rear fascia increase the Atlas’ overall length by about three inches. The updated front grille-now three-bar is utilitarian, but a nice look with the revised headlights. Elements are standard LED. Those models with the R-Line option sport special badging, a body kit and 20-21-inch rims. The seating is handsome with stitching. The 4-cylinder Atlas can be had with all-
wheel-drive this year for the first time.

The same engines are available in the 2021 Atlas: The turbocharged 235-horse 4-cylinder and the 276 hp. 6-cylinder. This is a large SUV and the six, although powerful, lacks a little umph.

Pricing has increased slightly from the 2020 model. Our test Atlas was the V6 SEL R-Line 4MOTION edition with AWD, adding on a few more bucks ($1900). As with all vehicles in this class, you can expect a wide range of contemporary features including an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, three-zone climate control, remote start and adaptive cruise, to name a few.

The engine in our Atlas SEL was the 276-hp, V-6, paired with the 8-speed automatic transmission. The V6 provides adequate power for this driver. Although not having driven the 4-cylinder version, it is assumed it would be satisfactory for around town driving. The Atlas performed well on highway driving and would be a very comfortable SUV to take a road trip in.
We found the Mazda CX-9 a car had better road manners, but felt the Atlas lived up to its reputation as a sportier, solid ride.

Driver-assistance technology is ever present on the Atlas and includes for 2021 standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, available adaptive cruise with stop-and-go technology, and standard blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert.

The front-wheel drive variant has ratings of 21 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The thirstier V-6 model is rated at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway with all-wheel drive. Unlike with some of the competition, we did notice that after a week, the fuel gauge needle had moved down. The V-6 Atlas returned 24 mpg, and the four-cylinder model delivered 27 mpg.

The VW Atlas is a family-friendly SUV space is plentiful. No worries about enough cupholders; there are plenty for all. Third row seats appear to be able to accommodate adults, as well as kids. The interior, although not luxury-oriented, seems rugged and serviceable. It would hold up to the abuse of big families and their stuff; i.e., gear. The Atlas designers remembered the necessary hooks for all that stuff, as well as little cubbies to store things.

Our press 2021 Volkswagen Atlas was the V6 SEL RE 4MOTION trim level. The ride was quiet and handling sharp. It felt much like a VW vehicle, part sporty despite its size This is a large SUV and shaped squarely which lends itself to a larger cargo area.

This writer didn’t feel overwhelmed when behind the wheel, despite its size. It is quiet and comfortable, even if it does possess less ‘glamour’ than the competition. In some ways, the VW sport ride is a nice change from all the other high-end SUV’s.

Whatever the trim level, the Atlas is well equipped for sound and conveniences. The touchscreen interface is intuitive. The base S models come with a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, six-speakers, Bluetooth and audio connectivity, Wi-Fi hotspot and USB port. On the SE and SEL models you get a 8.0-inch display, three more USB sports and SiriusXM satellite radio with two additional speakers.

Most notably, the Atlas’ main competition is the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-9 and the Toyota Highlander. All nice vehicles.


Pricing: $31,545-50,695; As tested $47,624
Capacity 7 seats, 4-dr.
Engine: V6 3.6L, 276 hp. 2.0T I4, 235-276 hp.
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual. FWD
Height: 70.0 in.
Weight:4,253 lbs.
Length; 198.3 inc.
Wheelbase: 117.3 in.
Towing capacity: 2000-5,000 lbs.
Tires: 255/50-20 Goodyear Assurance
Wheels: 20-inch, alloy
Fuel Economy: up to 21/24 mpg.17/23 mpg V6 front-wheel-drive
Fuel Tank Capacity: 18 .6 gal.
Competition: Kia Telluride, Sorento; Honda Passport, Mazda CX9, Hyundai Palisade
Warranty: Basic-48/50,000; Corrosion Perforation-84/100,000; Powertrain,48/50,000; Maintenance 24/20,000; Roadside Assistance 36/36,000.