2021 Volkswagen Atlas

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas Test Drive Review: Charm Offensive

Don't be fooled by its svelte appearance. The Volkswagen Atlas is the biggest midsize crossover currently on the market, capable of pulling up to 5,000 pounds with the bigger 276-horsepower 3.6-liter naturally-aspirated V6 engine equipped. For the more frugally minded, the base engine is Volkswagen's tried and true turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 235 hp.

The traditional boxy SUV appearance of the Atlas is a clue to the amount of space available inside for three rows of seating and a family's worth of cargo. While the interior comes across as spartan compared with rivals such as the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, or Subaru Ascent, the standard feature and driver assistance list helps the Atlas shine in a segment abundant with value propositions. For our review, we took the extravagantly named SEL Premium R-Line 4Motion, which is only available with the V6 engine, for a week-long test drive. It tops out the range at a hefty price of $50,725, while the base model with the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive starts at a much more affordable MSRP of $31,555.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Changes: πŸš™What’s the difference vs 2020 Atlas?

The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas has a bolder exterior with updated front and rear designs, and VW's well-known turbocharged four-pot is now also available on high-end models. The most affordable all-wheel-drive model is $1,300 cheaper than last year. Additionally, mid-year updates mean new infotainment and driver-assist features are on the menu, including the MIB3 infotainment system with wireless App-Connect. Travel Assist and Emergency Assist are now standard from the SEL models upwards. There are also some new available features, including a digital instrument cluster, 21-inch wheels, a Fender premium sound system, and a host of advanced driver assistance features.

Pros and Cons

  • Value for money
  • Lots of interior space
  • Wide range of available models
  • A generous list of standard features
  • Comfortable long-distance cruiser
  • Lackluster performance
  • Fuel economy not on par
  • Not many optional extras are available

Best Deals on Atlas

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0T S
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$31,545
2.0T SE
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$34,895
2.0T SE TECH
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$36,895
V6 SE TECH
3.6L V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$38,295
V6 SE TECH R-Line
3.6L V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$39,695

Atlas Exterior

VW's biggest SUV already had an aggressive, muscular exterior. The designers threw every SUV cliche in the book at the Atlas, including extended wheel arches, sharp angular lines with minimal round edges, and power bulges on the hood. The 2021 model comes with a more aggressive lower bumper with larger air intakes, a three-bar grille, and new signature daytime running lights. The rear is less of a success, as it just looks like a generic VW SUV design.

Turbocharged four-cylinder models get 18-inch alloys, while V6 models run on 20s. 21-inch alloys are standard on the SEL R-Line model. All models are now equipped with full LED exterior lighting, while top-spec trims come as standard with a panoramic sunroof.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Front View CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Rear View CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Rear Angle View CarBuzz
See All 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Exterior Photos

Dimensions

The Atlas is a Heffalump of a car and is 2.4 inches longer than the outgoing model, with an overall length of 200.7 inches. Wheelbase-wise, you're looking at 117.3 inches. The maximum width is 78.4 inches, and height is measured at 70.1 inches - V6 models are 0.3 inches taller, still. Ground clearance is a useful eight inches, helping ingress and egress into this leviathan SUV.

For such a big car, the Atlas doesn't weigh all that much. The lightest model has a curb weight of 4,248 pounds, while the heftiest models weigh in at 4,614 lbs.

  • Length 198.3 in
  • Wheelbase 117.3 in
  • Height 70.0 in
  • Max Width 78.3 in
  • Front Width 67.2 in
  • Rear Width 67.8 in
  • Curb Weight 4,253.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

The entry-level S model is available in five colors: Deep Black Pearl, Platinum Gray Metallic, Pyrite Silver Metallic, Tourmaline Blue Metallic, and Pure White. High-end models add Aurora Red Metallic ($395) and Racing Green Metallic at no extra cost.

  • Aurora Red Metallic
  • Racing Green Metallic
  • Deep Black Pearl
  • Pure White
  • Platinum Gray Metallic
  • Pyrite Silver Metallic
  • Pacific Blue Metallic, Limited Production. Build Out: 10/30/2020
  • Tourmaline Blue Metallic

Atlas Performance

Only two engine options are available, neither providing enough power to make this large SUV feel spirited. The entry-level engine is a turbocharged inline four-cylinder, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The larger, more powerful option is the 3.6-liter naturally-aspirated V6, also coupled to an eight-speed auto. Both front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models are available.

The V6 model is the one to buy for towing purposes. Both FWD and AWD models can tow up to 5,000 lbs, while the four-pot can only manage 2,000 lbs. In terms of acceleration, both models are evenly matched. The V6 produces more power but weighs more. The turbocharged engine delivers its full whack of torque from lower down. The result is a 0 to 60 mph sprint time of around seven seconds, but this hardly matters in this segment anyway.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Rearward Vision CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Gauge Cluster CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Wheel CarBuzz

Engine and Transmission

The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The latter figure is available from just 1,600 rpm. VW's 3.6-liter VR6 is also an iconic powertrain at this point, producing 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. While the larger engine may have more power, the turbocharged powertrain delivers its maximum power and 2,000 rpm earlier. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, sending the power to the front wheels or an AWD system.

Out on the road, the V6 engine is the more refined, smoother option. However, the four-cylinder engine does feel peppier off the line and gives more confidence when joining heavy traffic from a standstill. While neither engine is underpowered, neither turn the Atlas into the swift and businesslike vehicle it appears to be. Instead, both drivetrains promise to be solid and dependable, while the eight-speed auto is smooth with a healthy habit of being in exactly the right gear at the right time.

  • Engines
    2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas, 3.6L V6 Gas
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

There's little to write home about in terms of performance for the Volkswagen Atlas compared to the driving dynamics of, say, Mazda's CX-9. However, a sporty drive and hitting top speed isn't what the large or midsize crossover segment is about. The core competency for the Atlas is a smooth, comfortable ride for passengers and an easy businesslike experience for the driver. The steering response is on point, and due to a clever use of Volkswagen's MQB platform shared with the Golf and Jetta, is surprisingly nimble around the city. It's an easy vehicle to drive smoothly and surprisingly deft and easy to maneuver in tight spaces. The suspension soaks up bumps on rougher roads, even on larger wheel options with thinner tires, with little fuss. Out on the freeway, the Atlas is a consummate and comfortable cruiser that makes long journeys a breeze. On windy roads, it's better to relax and go with the flow and ignore sport mode altogether.

Atlas Gas Mileage

According to the EPA, the 2.0-liter Atlas with FWD should do 21/24/22 mpg city/highway/combined. Adding the 4Motion system doesn't have a dire effect on gas mileage. The EPA-estimated figures for the 2.0 4Motion are 20/24/22 mpg. The FWD V6 has figures of 17/23/19 mpg, while the 4Motion model drops down to 16/22/18 mpg.

All models are equipped with a 19.5-gallon tank, large enough for more than 430 miles between refills in its most efficient guise.

During our week with the Volkswagen Atlas, our V6-powered tester came in remarkably close to the 22 mpg combined estimate despite having the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system sucking a little extra gas.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    18.6 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 21/24 mpg
* 2021 Volkswagen Atlas 2.0T S FWD

Atlas Interior

Not much has changed on the inside, although the next-gen MIB3 infotainment system has been made available, the cabin itself didn't need much updating. Volkswagen products are well-known for having upmarket interiors, and the Atlas is no different. With a relatively low entry-level price, we were expecting acres of cheap plastic. The reality is that every model in the range feels premium, even models equipped with basic cloth seats.

The Atlas is a seven-seater with a usable third-row. It's not the roomiest third-row seats we've ever experienced, but you can put an adult there for a short drive, in a pinch. The Atlas also has another trick up its sleeve when it comes to refinement. It uses VW's MQB platform, also used in Golf 7, Passat, and Arteon. All three cars are known for having sublime road manners. This explains why the Atlas feels more car-like than SUV-like in terms of interior refinement.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Dashboard CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Central Console CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Steering Wheel Design CarBuzz
See All 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The Atlas comes standard with seating for seven, but a six-seater setup is optional by installing two captains seats in the middle row instead of the three-person bench seat - this is available from SE with Technology models and above. A couple of six-footers will have nothing to complain about in the middle row, but, as with all midsize crossover vehicles, a full-size adult won't want to spend too much time in the rear seats. However, the rear does benefit from the boxy styling of the Atlas, and headroom is better than many rivals, back there. In fact, headroom is excellent throughout, with 41.3 inches available in the front and 40.4 inches in the middle.

While the interior lacks overall style, it excels in practicality. For a five-person family that occasionally has to deal with an extra couple of passengers, the Atlas has all the room anyone should need.

  • Seating capacity
    7-seater
  • Front Leg Room 41.5 in
  • Front Head Room 41.3 in
  • Rear Leg Room 37.6 in
  • Rear Head Room 40.4 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The base S model is only available in Titan Black cloth. Even this cloth upholstery feels more upmarket than some leatherette seats we've experienced before. From SE trim, leatherette upholstery is standard in either Shetland Beige or Titan Black. The SE with Technology and SEL trims add Mauro Brown additionally.

SEL Premium specification adds genuine leather in Shetland and Quartz, Titan Black and Mauro Brown, or Titan Black and Quartz. The base S is the only model that does without a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Base models use high-quality plastic trim, while SEL and upward have wood trim on the dash and door inserts.

Atlas SUV Trunk and Cargo Space

VW's Atlas has a lot to boast about when it comes to cargo-carrying ability. With all three rows in place, it still has 20.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity. With the third-row folded flat, the luggage capacity grows to 55.5 cubes. Fold all rows flat, and you get a mighty impressive 96.8 cubes to work with, which is impressive. The Atlas's boxy dimensions mean the cargo capacity is also one giant square, making the available space practical to use.

Storage spaces include a bin underneath the center armrest, multiple cupholders, a sizable glovebox, and large door pockets.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Maximum Trunk Space CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Trunk Space with Seat Folded CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Atlas Trunk Space CarBuzz

Atlas Infotainment and Features

Features

The people at Volkswagen were feeling extremely generous when they decided what features to include as standard across the range. All models get full-LED exterior lights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, roof rails, cruise control, auto headlights, a rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring, a full suite of airbags, and post-collision braking. From the base model, you get dual-zone climate control, but this upgrades to tri-zone on SE models and up. Keyless access, remote start, and a heated steering wheel are available as you move up through the trim levels, and niceties like power-adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, heated rear seats, a power liftgate, heated steering wheel, and even more driver assistance systems become available higher up in the range. On SEL models, the VW Digital Cockpit system is standard.

Standard driver assists include automatic post-collision braking and VW's IQ.DRIVE technology, which includes hands-on semi-automated features like lane centering and obstacle detection. Top-end models get front and rear radar, blind-spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist.

Infotainment

The base S model comes with features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker audio system. However, the standard screen is just a 6.5-inch capacitive unit, and there are only two USB ports. The entry-spec model runs the aging MIB2 software, which isn't all that great. All the trims above S get a more appropriate eight-inch screen that also includes HD radio, Sirius XM capability, three additional USB ports, and the MIB3 software. The SEL trim adds navigation while moving to the top SEL Premium trim also adds a 12-speaker Fender sound system. Even with the smaller 6.5-inch screen, all the features are glued together well by an intuitive and quick-to-react operating system.

Atlas Problems and Reliability

The 2021 VW Atlas scored a low 70 out of 100 rating for quality and reliability from J.D. Power, which is slightly disappointing. The number of recalls might have something to do with this low score, since there have been quite a few. During its first year on sale in 2018, it was recalled 13 times, followed by another six recalls in 2019. Five recalls were issued for 2020, which include issues such as loss of steering due to knuckle failure, failing tires due to overcuring, headlights being aimed too light, and an incorrectly welded front seat frame. Added to these, the 2021 model was recalled for damaged relays in the fuse box that may lead to a fire, frozen rearview camera images, and incorrectly machined wheel lug bolt holes.

The Atlas is sold with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and a maintenance plan that covers two years or 20,000 miles in the USA.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    7 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Maintenance:
    2 Years \ 20,000 Miles

Volkswagen Atlas Safety Ratings

In review of the VW Atlas, the NHTSA awarded a full five stars overall. The Atlas SUV scored only four stars in the frontal crash and rollover categories, however. As a family vehicle, the Atlas needs to score well in safety tests, and, fortunately, the IIHS concurred. Crash test reviews of the Volkswagen Atlas by the authority resulted in six top scores of Good, although the base model's headlights received only a Marginal review.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

To achieve top safety ratings, the VW Atlas has to come well-equipped with safety features. Standard fare includes tire pressure monitoring, six airbags, a rearview camera, automatic post-collision braking, and traction and stability control. Unlike some SUVs from the competition, there's no comprehensive safety suite as standard across the range and driver assistance features are unlocked as you move up the various trims.

S and SE models get forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic assist. The SE with the Technology Package adds park distance control. The three top-spec models add high-beam control, traffic jam assist, and dynamic road sign display. SEL Premium configurations include a surround-view camera system.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas a good SUV?

The new VW Atlas is an excellent SUV, but there are some downsides. The drivetrains on offer are far from inspired, sip more fuel than competitors, but are solid performers. The interior doesn't look as stellar as it actually is, and will disappoint those that want the inside to look as good as the outside. However, the ride is plush, and the Atlas will happily swallow a family, all their luggage, and additional bits and bobs comfortably. In higher trims, the Atlas starts to become a proper premium vehicle with a solid technical progression topped off by the virtual cockpit. Where the Atlas shines, though, is as an attractive family cruiser that provides as much comfort as it does space.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas?

Entry to the range in the US is through the S trim, which has an MSRP of $31,555, with the SE upping the base price to $34,905. The SE with Technology can be had for $36,945 with the four-cylinder engine and $38,345 with the V6. If you want the SE with Technology in R-Line spec, you'll need to fork out $39,745. Adding AWD to any of these ups the cost of the Volkswagen Atlas by $1,900.

You can have the SEL with the four-pot (AWD only) for $42,425, or you can choose the FWD V6 version for $42,325. In R-Line spec, the FWD SEL goes for $44,025 - again, adding AWD to either of these models ups the total bill by $1,900. The SEL Premium costs $47,225 with the four-cylinder engine, or $49,025 with the V6 - either way, you can only have it in AWD. At the top of the range, the Premium R Line requires an outlay of $50,725. These prices exclude Volkswagen's destination charge of $1,195.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Models

The range of VW Atlas models extends over eight trim levels and two powertrains, resulting in eighteen configurations. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder is stock on the S and SE trims, and can be had in SE with Technology, SEL, and SEL Premium models. The 3.6-liter V6 can be equipped to the SE with Technology, its R-Line variant, the SEL, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium. The Premium R-Line is powered exclusively by the V6.

The base model is equipped with 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, manually adjustable front seats, cloth upholstery, and a six-inch touchscreen with one USB port, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The MIB2 setup powers the infotainment system.

One step up, the SE trim adds keyless entry with push-button start, tri-zone climate control, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, ten-way power adjustment for the driver's seat, and an eight-inch infotainment screen with MIB3, HD radio, and SiriusXM.

Next up, the SE with Technology can be had in two configurations, depending on the powertrain. Either way, it features 20-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, remote start, a power tailgate, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and park distance control.

The SE with Tech R-Line comes with more aggressive 20-inch alloy wheels, black exterior accents, a few sporty interior trims, and stainless steel pedal caps.

SEL trims come with a power panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, a heated steering wheel, power adjustment for the front passenger seat, navigation, a digital instrument cluster. Lane keep assist is standard here, as is travel assist, emergency assist, and dynamic road sign display. In SEL R-Line spec, 21-inch wheels are added, along with the exterior enhancements from the SE with Tech R-Line.

The SEL Premium throws power-folding exterior mirrors with puddle lights and 20-inch wheels into the mix, as well as genuine leather upholstery, heating and ventilation for the front seats, heated second-row seats, and a 12-speaker Fender sound system.

At the top of the range, the Premium R-Line boasts blacked-out exterior goodies and a standard trailer hitch. It's only available with the V6 engine in AWD.

See All 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

Apart from the optional AWD system and V6 powertrain, there aren't many optional extras available. The options lists consist of standalone items like larger alloy wheels, side steps, and a bike holder attachment for the roof rails. On the SE with Technology and upwards, you can add the second-row captain's chairs for $695, and the panoramic sunroof for $1,200 to those models that don't have it as standard.

πŸš—What New VW Atlas Model Should I Buy?

With an entry price of $31,555, the Atlas is one of the few mid-size SUVs we can recommend diving straight into the base model. The infotainment screen might be on the small side, but the 2.0-liter engine is up to the task, the interior is family-size and family-friendly, and it comes with features other base models ignore like dual-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and blind-spot monitoring.

Those with more to spend won't be able to resist the SE with Technology, though, which brings useful driver aids like adaptive cruise control, and the super-useful remote start and power tailgate. The SE with R-Line is more of an appearance package that the Atlas doesn't need. So if we were spending more money, we would rather go to SEL trim with the V6 engine at $42,325, for added luxuries like a heated steering wheel, power adjustment for the front passenger seat, navigation, and a digital instrument cluster.

Stepping into the SEL Premium is where things start feeling luxurious, but at $47,225, the value proposition starts slipping away. With a $50,725 price tag for the SEL Premium R-Line, it's time to start looking at finding the extra $4,225 and get into the Audi Q7's excellent base Premium trim.

Check out other Volkswagen Atlas Styles

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Comparisons

Honda Pilot Honda
Subaru Ascent Subaru
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Volkswagen Atlas235 hp21/24 mpg$31,545
Honda Pilot 280 hp20/27 mpg$37,580
Subaru Ascent 260 hp21/27 mpg$32,295

2021 Volkswagen Atlas vs Honda Pilot

The Atlas's wide variety of models is a good thing, but it can also be viewed negatively. Honda's Pilot is a much simpler car in comparison, only available with one 3.5-liter V6 option that's more efficient and more powerful than both engines found in the Atlas. Both cars come with lots of comfort and safety features as standard, but we prefer the higher-quality interior of the Atlas. The Atlas also scores points for having a usable 3rd row and more cargo space than the Pilot.

When comparing entry-level models, the Atlas wins. Honda doesn't offer a decent infotainment system at a base level, but the overall Pilot range is better value for money. Honda also offers you more kit at a lower price, whereas you have to pay close to $50,000 to get all the luxuries in the top-spec Atlas.

See Honda Pilot Review

2021 Volkswagen Atlas vs Subaru Ascent

Since VW decided not to increase the pricing of the Atlas by too much, the Ascent is now the more expensive option. Not by much, however. The Ascent uses a 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with more power than the base engine on the Atlas, but better fuel consumption. However, the Subaru's poor CVT gearbox ruins whatever power advantage it has. Unlike the Atlas, which only has AWD, the Scooby has a permanent four-wheel-drive system with X-Mode. The Ascent matches the Atlas when it comes to standard features, but it struggles to reach that German quality. The Atlas is also bigger and more comfortable. The Subaru's engine is a peach, but its poor gearbox makes us lean in the direction of the Atlas.

See Subaru Ascent Review

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