Volkswagen, which built its business selling small cars, is building big ones to grow its business.
It would take at least two old-school Beetles to equal the new Atlas in size, weight and seating capacity. Plus, it has a working heater!
What It Is
The Atlas is a full-size three-row crossover SUV — and the largest VW to date.
It gives VW something to offer buyers who need room for more than five people, plus their stuff.
Prices start at $30,895 for the base S trim with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive.
A top-of-the-line SEL trim with a 3.6-liter V-6, eight-speed automatic and VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system stickers for $48,395.
For 2019, the second year the Atlas has been offered, the base S trim gets more standard equipment, including automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers. Top-of-the-line SEL trims come standard with a flat-screen Digital Cockpit, upgraded Discover Media navigation system and a standard heated steering wheel.
The mid-trim SE gets three-zone climate control.
It has two engine choices — and the choice to buy (or skip) AWD.
The third row — and behind the third row — is roomier than rivals'.
It has a lower price to start than rivals'.
What's Not so Good
AWD isn't available with the standard engine.
It's only offered in seven-passenger seating configuration. Several rivals offer room for up to eight.
There's no diesel engine.
Under the Hood
Though the Atlas is big, its standard engine is comparatively small, just 2.0 liters, which is only slightly bigger than the 1.6-liter engine used in '70s-era Super Beetles.
But the Beetle's engine only needed to motivate about 1,700 pounds. The Atlas weighs more than twice that, 4,242 pounds. To deal with that, the Atlas' 2.0-liter engine is boosted by a turbo, which pumps up its output to 235 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, which is about four times as much power as a '70s-era Beetle's four-cylinder delivered.
This accounts for the fact that the 2-ton-plus Atlas can get to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, nearly twice as fast as a '70s-era Beetle (which needed about 15 seconds to do the deed, assuming a perfect tune and the wind at your back).
If you want all-wheel drive, however, you'll have to buy the optional 3.6-liter V-6. This engine has 276 horsepower and can be paired with either FWD or the optional 4Motion AWD system.
With the 2.0-liter engine and FWD, the Atlas can pull a 2,000-pound trailer; with the V6, that figure rises to 5,000 pounds.
On the Road
If you don't need AWD, you may actually prefer the 2.0-liter engine. It doesn't have as much high-RPM horsepower as the optional 3.6-liter V-6, but it has almost the same torque — 256 foot-pounds versus 266 foot-pounds — and just 1,600 rpm versus the V-6's 2,750 rpm.
As 1,600 rpm is basically a fast idle, it means the four-cylinder's maximum torque is instantly available — almost like an electric motor. Very little downward pressure on the accelerator pedal is needed to get the Atlas going smartly.
The main everyday driving advantage of the optional V-6 is that the Atlas can pull more than twice as much as with the four-cylinder. But if you don't need to pull a heavy trailer and don't need AWD, you may find the four-cylinder suits your needs better.
Whether you go FWD or AWD, the Atlas has 8 inches of ground clearance, a bit less than rivals like the Subaru Ascent (8.7 inches, highest in the class) and more than the Honda Pilot (7.3 inches).
At the Curb
The Atlas is about the same overall size as rivals like the Pilot and Ascent, but its interior space is allocated differently.
Nominally, the VW seats seven people versus as many as a theoretical eight in the Honda and Soobie. But the VW's third row has noticeably more legroom: 33.7 inches versus 31.9 inches in the Pilot and 32 inches in the Ascent.
It might not seem like much to read about, but when you're actually physically back there, it is. That extra little bit of room makes the third row more realistic space for two adults rather than two kids.
The VW's second row (split 60/40) also offers more adjustability. The seats can be individually moved forward or back through a range of 7.7 inches. If there aren't any people in the third row, the people in the second row can avail themselves of more legroom than in the first row.
Those second-row seats can slide and tilt forward, too, even with child seats installed.
VW offers an app called Car-Net that lets you lock/unlock the Atlas doors remotely via your smartphone, as well as check fuel level, and even get directions, if you forgot where you parked it.
The Bottom Line
There's now more wagen for the volks !
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.