Volkswagen is not new to the crossover segment, they have been selling the Tiguan and Touareg for years, but the introduction of the Atlas marks their first foray into the midsize crossover market. The question is can it compete with already established models like the Explorer, Santa Fe, Highlander, and Pilot.
The midsize crossover segment targets families that need want a minivan that does not look or act like a minivan. These customers are looking for passenger room, cargo space, and overall comfort. Oh yeah, and something to keep the kids occupied during those Summer road trips.
So, what did Volkswagen do once they decided to enter this segment? They benchmarked the Honda Pilot which delivers on all of these features better than most and is a leading seller in the midsize crossover niche.
Knowing that space is a major selling point, VW went big with the new Atlas adding 4 inches to the overall length compared to the Honda and 6 inches to the wheelbase. It’s a larger exterior footprint that translates nicely to more passenger room and cargo space inside.
Like other models in this segment the Atlas offers three rows of seating and because of its larger size it actually does a better job accommodating seven passengers comfortably. Even with all three rows of seats in place, the Atlas still offers 20 cubic feet of additional cargo space for strollers and groceries.
Drop the second row seats and you get another 35 cubic feet, and with the third row down and you’ve got nearly 97 cubic feet of cargo space – plenty of room for the average family and 7 cubic feet more than the class leading Toyota 4-Runner.
When it comes to passenger seating the new Atlas has enough for seven people, but putting three adults in the second row will likely draw complaints from all three – it is a bit like Delta business class, but with far more leg and headroom.
These second row seats do an excellent job of getting out of the way when trying to gain access to the third row, folding and sliding forward even with child seats in place. Like the second row, third row seating offers ample head and leg room, but is best suited for two rather than three people.
Still, overall the Atlas performs as well in this area as most of the competition. It offers 17 cupholders, USB ports, door pockets, center console storage, and even sunshades for the back windows. Where it fails with regard to passenger comfort is with second and third row entertainment systems.
The Driving Experience
The new Atlas is powered by a 3.6 liter V-6 that delivers 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. It has plenty of power to get you onto the freeway and blow past the slower drivers along the way.
The cockpit is equipped with an impressive 12.3 inch digital display that replaces the traditional instrument cluster and allows the driver to access a variety of information in high resolution.
The center of the dashboard is home to a 6.5 inch touchscreen with sound system controls mated to a premium Fender audio system. You’ll get smartphone connectivity and can even load your favorite apps to the screen.
For ease of driving the Atlas offers adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, rear traffic alert, lane assist, and park assist. You also get an overhead camera view and a rearview camera system.
All in all the 2018 VW Atlas is a strong contender in this competitive segment. It will be interesting to see if the German automaker can steal some market share from current segment heavyweights.