Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: May 3, 2019
Every automaker is aware that there is an insatiable demand for SUVs in North America, with a general motto of “bigger the better,” and nearly all of them have this type of arrow in their quiver. The only kid missing from the proverbial playground last year, also happened to be one of the largest in the world market, Volkswagen.
While the Tiguan served the needs of the compact SUV market, the larger Touareg couldn’t quite cut the mustard when more than five passengers were involved. To that respect, Volkswagen pulled the plug on the Touareg in the domestic market, went back to the drawing board, and created the aptly named Atlas, a bespoke SUV for the North American market.
Despite being the largest SUV Volkswagen has ever produced, it’s technically rated as a mid-size as it sits on their MQB platform. From the outside though, you’d never guess it. This thing looks like a behemoth, and a boxy one too. Sharp angles and horizontal grill lines connect the LED headlamps, accentuating the wide stance. The R-Line styling package adds aesthetic flair via piano black exterior mouldings on the front and rear bumpers, 20-inch “Trenton” style wheels adorning each corner, and exclusive R-line badges strategically placed on the grill and fenders.
In Execline guise (that’s top-trim in Volkswagen speak), the Atlas is as tech-laden as it is stylish. Hoist yourself behind the wheel and you’ll immediately notice VW’s Digital Cockpit, a 12.3-inch digital screen customizable to the driver’s preference, showing a variety of vehicle telemetry. This replaces the traditional instrument cluster gauges in lower trims. Infotainment is handled via a plus-size 8-inch screen, immediately familiar if you’ve been in any of Volkswagen’s other top-end trim models. The system is lag-free, intuitive, and maximises screen real estate via a proximity sensor that hides the user-interface when not in use.
Keeping with the upscale look, leather adorns all the seating surfaces and 7-passenger seating comes standard, but there is a $625 option to swap the second row seats for Captain’s Chairs, making ingress and egress to the third row far more accessible. As with other Volkswagens and not just in their top-level spec, fitment of panels and materials is exceptional. The finish however doesn’t quite match other offerings in the portfolio. For example, there is chintzy gloss wood veneer accents scattered throughout. Additionally, the abundance of dull-faux leather soft touch plastic on the dashboard is a distracting let down on an otherwise nicely appointed and convincingly premium cabin.
The Atlas offers two powerplant options: their esteemed 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo workhorse, and a naturally aspirated 3.6-litre VR6. If you want the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system, you are exclusively left with the V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic. Without turbochargers to beef up the V6, it noticeably lacks the low-end grunt that you’d find in the turbo-four, as the 266 lb-ft of peak torque comes over a thousand RPMs later at 2,750. It doesn’t quite live up to that “push-you-into-your-seat” rush when you mat the gas pedal either. The heavier engine up front subsequently drags driving dynamics down too. Although the springs and dampers are tuned for comfort, the larger V6 makes the MQB platform feel lethargic and slow to respond, and is further exacerbated by the pronounced dive and body roll.
Volkswagen designed the Atlas from the ground up for the North American market and succeeds in offering a predictable, inoffensive, three-row SUV that is high in demand. A punchier powertrain wouldn’t hurt, but there is little other than driving dynamics to detract from this otherwise premium, tech-laden, spacious, and versatile competitor.
Model: 2019 Volkswagen Atlas R-Line
Paint Type: Fortana Red Metallic
Base Price: $53,590
Price as Tested: $54,975
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,036 / 1,978 / 1,778
Engine: 3.6-litre V6
Horsepower: 276 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.7 / 10.1
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.3
Tires: 255/50 R20