The Volkswagen Atlas reviewed: A people’s wagon for the American people

Enlarge (credit: Eric Bangeman)

Like many Gen Xers, my first car was a Volkswagen—a 1973 Beetle, to be exact. Back then, VW was known primarily for making quirky, fun cars like the Beetle, the Thing, the Bus, and the Karmann Ghia. You could get behind the wheel of a Rabbit or Jetta for a more conventional driving experience, but that was not VW's strong spot a few decades ago.

Times have changed. Volkswagen is now one of the three largest car companies in the world, and its lineup reflects that reality. And as of the 2018 model year, VW's vehicle lineup includes a three-row SUV, the Atlas. Even though it has been on the market for only a year, the Atlas had become VW's second-most-popular car in the German automaker's lineup in March 2018, showing that the American car-buying public's thirst for crossovers and SUVs remains unslaked. (The small crossover Tiguan topped VW's sales charts.)

Marketed as a "family SUV," the Atlas starts at $30,750 and comes in five trim levels. As is the norm for press cars, the Atlas I drove was the SEL Premium with 4MOTION, the highest trim level with all the bells and whistles for $49,415. VW offers two engine options: a standard four-cylinder, 2.0L turbocharged direct injection engine that gives you 235hp (175kW) and 258lb-ft (350nM) of torque that comes standard, and a 3.6L V6 engine that generates 276 horsepower (206kW) and 266lb⋅ft (361Nm) of torque. Both are available across the Atlas, except for the Premium, which excludes the 2.0L power plant. All told, the Atlas weighs in at 4,728lb (2,144kg) with the V6 and AWD.

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