2020 Volkswagen Atlas

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Review: The SUV For Everyone

by Deiondre van der Merwe

There is a lot to love about the Volkswagen Atlas, figuratively and literally as the German brand's largest product on sale worldwide. It offers an impressive range of trim configurations, and the two engine options give buyers the choice between the frugality of a 235-hp turbo-four or a 3.6-liter V6 enabling the towing of up to 5,000 lbs by the midsize SUV. Further customization is granted through the choice of front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, but regardless of the configuration, the Atlas provides a refined experience that lives up to the reputation of the MQB platform it shares with the VW Golf. With 11 trim/engine combinations on offer, the Atlas range is bound to have a model for anyone and despite slightly lazy power outputs and average fuel economy, the VW shines in many other areas. An abundance of standard features, a plethora of space, and great design emphasize the SUV as a worthy competitor in the three-row segment, but can it maintain its position against the seasoned Honda Pilot and savvy Subaru Ascent?

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Changes: What’s the difference vs 2019 Atlas?

Still relatively new to the market, the biggest SUV offered by Volkswagen adds modest updates to the 2020 model.

The 2020 Atlas offers 11 trims to choose from, with the 2.0T engine now available in SEL guise for the first time, while all models are now equipped with the Car-Net telematics system and a standard Wi-Fi hotspot. Certain trim levels see upgraded standard features, including the SE with Technology R-Line trim now receiving park distance control, a hands-free tailgate, and 20-inch alloy wheels, while the SEL Premium gets 21-inch rollers. The most notable change for 2020 is the shortening of what was previously one of the segment's best basic warranty of six years/72,000 miles down to four years or 50,000 miles.

Pros and Cons

  • Extremely spacious
  • Comfortable for long trips
  • Good value for money
  • Plenty of standard features
  • A broad range of configuration choices
  • Sluggish performance
  • Subpar fuel economy
  • Limited additional options

Atlas Exterior

2020's Atlas remains unchanged on the exterior end of things in comparison to the Atlas of yesteryear, with a major facelift already confirmed for the 2021 model. It's a big SUV, but VW has used that to advertise masculine styling features like a broad two-bar grille and squared-off LED headlights on all models, while LED taillights are present from the SEL onwards. 18-inch alloy wheels are the default on S and SE models, growing to 20 inches on SE with Technology, R-Line, SEL, and SEL R-Line trims, while the Premium gets exclusive access to 21-inch items. Standard roof rails add a rugged touch, while extra refinement is optional from the SE with Tech in the form of a panoramic sunroof - made standard from the SEL. R-Line affixed models get sporty front and rear styling with blacked-out detailing to set them apart.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Front Angle View Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Rear Angle View Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Rear Angle View 1 Volkswagen
See All 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Exterior Photos

Dimensions

The Atlas is a rather substantial SUV and is bigger than most rivals within a similar price range. The VW has a sprawling wheelbase of 117.3 inches and is six inches longer than that of the Honda Pilot. It isn't particularly narrow either, measuring in at a width of 78.3 inches. The ground clearance of the Atlas is an impressive eight inches, though it isn't a match for the Subaru Ascent's 8.7-inch capabilities. The base level Atlas tips the scales at 188 pounds less than the Subaru Ascent, with a curb weight of 4,242 lbs, while the heaviest Atlas weighs in at 4,528 lbs with the V6 and 4Motion AWD.

Exterior Colors

The Atlas provides a total of seven colors to choose from, down from last year's eight with the culling of Fortana Red from the exterior palette. Those that remain are far more sedate, yet the midsize SUV still remains stylish with hues such as Pure White, Deep Black Pearl, Tourmaline Blue, Platinum Gray, and Reflex Silver (limited availability) accessible across all trim levels. SE with Technology trims add Pacific Blue and Terra Brown - the latter also of limited availability - to the mix, while R-Line models miss out on Pacific Blue altogether. We think the Atlas looks best in Terra Brown or Tourmaline Blue, but those with a predilection for something a little more sedate won't be amiss opting for Pure White.

  • Deep Black Pearl
  • Pure White
  • Tourmaline Blue Metallic
  • Platinum Gray Metallic
  • Reflex Silver Metallic, Build Out: 12/18/2019
  • Reflex Silver Metallic, Limited Availability. Build Out: 12/18/2019
  • Pacific Blue Metallic
  • Terra Brown Metallic, Build Out: 12/18/2019

Atlas Performance

Despite a broad range of trim options, just two engines are made available, neither of which is exactly what we'd describe as a hot performer. Volkswagen also makes available two drivetrains - a segment standard - with front-wheel-drive the default on 2.0T models, while the V6-equipped derivatives can be specced with either FWD or optional 4Motion AWD. It's the V6 you'll want if you wish to tow anything, as with the correct attachments, both FWD and AWD derivatives are capable of towing up to 5,000 lbs, while the 2.0T models can only tow a maximum of 2,000 lbs. These figures are average for the segment, with many rivals matching the 5,000-pound capacity of the V6.

The four-cylinder engine equipped with FWD will get the Atlas from 0-60 mph in a little over seven seconds, while the V6 engine and all-wheel-drive gets you there in around the same - blame the torque deficit and extra weight. This makes the Atlas an unremarkable performer compared to other V6-powered rivals like the Honda Pilot, while the Mazda CX-9 with its turbocharged engine will nail the sprint in seven seconds dead.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Front View Driving Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Rear View Driving Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Engine Bay Volkswagen

Engine and Transmission

Two different engines are available across the Atlas range; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (standard on S, SE, SE with Technology, and SEL models) or a 3.6-liter V6 engine (available on all trims but standard on the R-Line and Premium models), although it's technically a VR6. The 2.0T motor focuses on fuel economy, but still produces ample outputs of 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the 3.6-liter V6 generates 276 hp and an almost inconsequential bump in torque to 266 lb-ft. An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard with both engines, and no manual gearbox is available.

Getting up to speed from a standstill seldom feels like a lively affair - regardless of engine choice - but on the road the Atlas never feels underpowered. Throttle responses are good from both power plants, although the linearity of the V6 is particularly noteworthy, and it makes towing loads a confidence-inspiring affair. The turbo-four exhibits some sluggishness when outside of the boost threshold, but once the turbo is spooling, there's torque on demand across a broad spectrum, making overtaking and in-gear acceleration easy.

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

Handling and Driving Impressions

The Atlas is the poster-child of midsize SUVs in terms of comfort, but less so when it comes to agility and fun driving dynamics. On the latter front, the Mazda CX-9 has it licked, although we can't exactly fault the Atlas' impressive responses to steering inputs. With a foundation in the MQB platform shared with the Jetta and Golf, the driving position feels very much like a smaller car. It aids in making the Atlas feel smaller while you drive, and as such, the Atlas feels wieldy in tight spaces unlike the clumsiness displayed by other SUVs in this segment.

The ride quality is the shining star in the Atlas' constellation of driving attributes, however, particularly on lower trims where the smaller wheels and taller tire sidewalls help cushion the impacts of all but the biggest abrasions. Higher trims with 20- and 21-inch wheels are somewhat stiffer, but they still deal with most surfaces well, and there's a good deal of composure to be had on multiple surfaces - even those with rapidly changing camber.

The Atlas strikes a firm middle-ground between being easy to pilot, comfortable over long distances, and light on its feet without being overly sporty. Some might miss out on the sense of agility afforded by the Mazda CX-9, but in all other aspects, the Atlas is a strong contender.

Atlas Gas Mileage

Though the Atlas displays strength in many aspects, fuel efficiency, unfortunately, isn't one of them. The FWD-equipped 2.0-liter turbo is the most efficient of the lot and has EPA estimates of 20/24/22 mpg city/highway/combined. The 3.6-liter V6 is slightly thirstier with estimates of 17/23/19 mpg in FWD guise and 16/22/19 mpg in AWD format. V6-equipped rivals are far thriftier, consuming 2.0T-beating combined estimates of 23 mpg on the Pilot and Ascent, while the turbo-four in the Mazda CX-9 achieves 24 mpg. The same 18.6-gallon fuel tank is standard regardless of engine choice, allowing a maximum range of 409 miles in mixed conditions.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    18.6 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 22/26 mpg
* 2020 Volkswagen Atlas 2.0T S FWD

Atlas Interior

Despite a relatively affordable starting price, base-model Atlases have a surprisingly upmarket interior, with upper trim levels piling on the exclusive luxury features and tech. Finding an affordable seven-seater that doesn't over-utilize cheap plastics might seem like an unreachable fantasy, until you're enclosed in the cabin of the VW. In terms of space, the Atlas is on par for the segment, but the third-row seating is more generous than most, spreading the available space out between all three rows rather than just gifting the front few occupants with luxury at the expense of the rearmost passengers. Regardless of whether the Atlas is equipped with cloth or leather upholstery, the seats feel comfortable and durable, and the MQB underpinnings lend a sense of comfort and car-like positioning that set the Atlas above most in the segment from an ergonomics perspective.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Dashboard Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Steering Wheel Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Dashboard 1 Volkswagen
See All 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

Ideal for the large family, the Atlas comes standard as a seven-seater, but buyers can select a six-seat setup with second-row captain's chairs on certain trims. Six-footers won't find anything to bemoan in the front or second row, though the ability to stretch one's legs out becomes less apparent in the third row. The Atlas still fares better in this regard than most rivals do, and access to the third row of seats is pretty easy - especially between the second-row captain's chairs, if selected. There isn't a substantial diminishment of headroom from front to rear, with front-seat occupants given 41.3 inches, while those in the back only sacrifice a little at 38.3 inches. It's a well-conceived interior that places practicality above excessive style, and the modular platform the Atlas is built around ensures the seating position is comfortable and sight-lines are generally uninterrupted.

  • Seating capacity
    7-seater

Interior Colors and Materials

Seats in the Atlas S model come clad in Titan Black cloth as standard, but fortunately for most buyers, all subsequent trims get leatherette or genuine leather upholstery. V-Tex leatherette seating is present from the SE model, available in either Shetland (light beige) or Titan Black. The only model to see genuine leather is the SEL Premium and can be chosen in any of the colors mentioned above, with the addition of Golden Oak. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard in all models but the S, while models from the SEL upwards get wood-feel trim inserts along the dash and doors.

Atlas Trunk and Cargo Space

The Atlas impresses yet again with a large amount of trunk space - 20.6 cubic feet behind the third row of seats to be exact, big enough for a large family to go away for a weekend. The rearmost seats can be folded down to increase space to a handy 55.5 cubic feet, and if you're really in a pickle, the second-row seats can be folded too for a whopping 96.8 cubic feet of cargo room ready to be utilized - one of the best figures in the segment. Additionally, the large cargo bay is square in shape making it easy to load large items.

General storage potential in the Atlas isn't terrible either, with an impressively large center armrest and a number of cupholders throughout, including three for the third row of seats. Pockets are found behind both front seats and al doors have wide-enough door pockets, too.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Trunk Space Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Maximum Cargo Space Volkswagen
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Trunk Space with Seat Folded Volkswagen

Atlas Infotainment and Features

Features

Yet another formidable aspect of the VW is the array of standard features that come equipped even in the most affordable model. The S model comes equipped with a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, dual-zone manual climate control, multifunction steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers, as well as automatic headlights. An increase of features is seen in the SE with the addition of standard equipped with push-button start, three-zone automatic climate control, a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat and heated seats, with a power liftgate added to models with the Tech Package. This tailgate can be equipped with hands-free functionality from the Tech R-Line, which also gets a heated steering wheel and driver's memory function. At the top of the range, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats are added on the SEL Premium.

Standard driver-assistance tech from base upwards includes forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, front-assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Adaptive cruise control and lane-assist are standard from the SE with Technology with the inclusion of park distance control, while the SEL Premium includes park-assist, high beam assist, and an overhead view camera as standard.

Infotainment

Volkswagen is capable of equipping its vehicles with high-end infotainment, but on the base model Atlas S, you only get a 6.5-inch touchscreen interface with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, and six speakers, while the Car-Net app suite incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. All other trims get a more appropriate eight-inch screen that adds SiriusXM/HD Radio functionality and an additional three USB ports. The six-speaker sound system carries over, only replaced on the SEL Premium by a 12-speaker Fender system. Navigation is added from the SEL, while VW's digital instrumentation cluster is reserved exclusively for the SEL Premium.

Atlas Problems and Reliability

The 2020 Atlas has suffered no recalls thus far, although the 2019 model found itself on the receiving end of five recalls for incidents including a faulty steering wheel column and engine failure. While recalls are concerning, Volkswagen does their best to get rid of any doubts present in the minds of purchasers by offering a four year/50,000-mile basic warranty and an industry-leading two year/20,000-mile maintenance plan at no additional cost. 24-hour roadside assistance is also available for either three years or 36,000 miles.

Atlas Safety

Volkswagen's 2020 Atlas has been awarded a five-star overall safety rating by the NHTSA. The Atlas has also earned stellar ratings from the IIHS and hit a mark of Good in every category, but still missing out on a Top Safety Pick award.

Key Safety Features

Safety features are abundant in the Atlas and all models come equipped with six airbags including dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags, as well as a standard rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system, intelligent crash response system and automatic post-collision braking system. From the S upwards, blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian monitoring are also included. SE models and upwards see the addition of adaptive cruise control, and the SEL models include park distance control, while on the SEL Premium you get a 360-degree camera.

Verdict: Is the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas a good SUV?

The Atlas is a fantastic SUV, but it is not without its faults. Engines that don't inspire and aren't exactly frugal hold the VW back from reaching the top of the segment, as does the fact that a large number of features can't be equipped separately and can only be attained by purchasing models higher up the trim ladder. But, the Atlas offers many merits in other departments.

A supernova in terms of space and comfort, the Atlas has more than enough standard features and an intuitive infotainment suite. The SUV was made to be a capable and comfortable family hauler and it certainly does it well, if at the expense of engagement. It brings a highly agreeable and plush ride, and an undeniably premium feel from the SEL upwards. The interior is a strong point and offers high-quality materials, and the technological progression of the cabin is emphasized by the virtual cockpit found in the higher trims.

The Atlas is attractive enough to be noticed and provides enough solid and reliable power for a pleasurable and hassle-free journey, whether you're off to pick up the kids or on a long road trip.

What's the Price of the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas?

At base level, the 2.0-liter Atlas S has an MSRP of $31,545 while opting for the V6 AWD will bring it up to $34,745. The 2.0-liter SE comes in at an MSRP of $34,695 and the 2.0-liter SE with Technology model is priced at $35,895. Both can both be optioned with the V6 motor for $1,400, but adding AWD adds a further $1,800. The SE with Technology R-Line comes in at $40,645 equipped exclusively with the V6, with the same charge of $1,800 applicable for AWD. SEL models revert back to the 2.0T at $40,795 and $42,595 with the V6, while the V6-only SEL R-Line starts at $44,295. The V6 SEL Premium is the top of the range model with an MSRP of $49,195. A $1,020 destination fee is applicable when buying any one of the Atlas models.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Models

The Atlas range offers seven trim levels (S, SE, SE with Technology, SE with Technology R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL Premium) with two engine choices resulting in 11 possible configurations for 2020. A 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is standard on the S, SE, SE with Technology, and SEL, with a V6 optional. The SE with Technology R-Line, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium are all only available with the 3.6-liter V6.

At the base level, S models come with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat, and cloth upholstery. Standard infotainment features include a 6.5-inch color touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto as well as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Standard driver-assistance tech includes a rearview camera, pedestrian monitoring as well as a blind-spot monitor, rear traffic alert and forward collision warning.

SE models see the addition of fog lights, keyless entry, push-button start, three-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, and a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat. A bigger eight-inch touchscreen also provides HD and SiriusXM radio, and 20-inch wheels grace the SUV in this trim.

The SE with Technology models see the addition of adaptive cruise control, remote start, park distance control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror as well as a power tailgate.

Over and above this, the SE with Technology R-Line model gets 20-inch alloy wheels, black exterior trim, and sporty interior styling elements, while the liftgate is now hands-free.

The SEL model adds LED taillights, a power tilting/sliding panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel, power adjustment for the front passenger seat, digital instrumentation, and onboard navigation, while the SEL R-Line blends these tech features with the styling elements of the aforementioned R-Line model.

The fully loaded SEL Premium rides on 21-inch wheels, gets ambient lighting, genuine leather seating, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a 12-speaker Fender sound system, park assist, a surround-view camera, and high-beam assist.

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0T S
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$31,545
2.0T SE
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$34,695
V6 S
3.6-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
$34,745
V6 SE
3.6-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$36,095
2.0T SE with Technology
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$37,045
See All 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

The Atlas does not offer an extensive range of additional packages, with Volkswagen instead choosing to split the available equipment across a broad range of trims.

A towing package is available at a cost of $550 for the S, SE, and SE with Technology models, provided the engine chosen is the V6. Second-row captain's chairs are available from the SE with Technology models upwards for an additional $695 and a panoramic sunroof can be added to the SE with Technology and SE with Technology R-Line models for the price of $1,200.

An extra $995 will get you 20-inch black wheels on the SEL and SEL Premium models and optional AWD is available on all but the SEL Premium as it comes standard equipped with 4MOTION.

What Volkswagen Atlas Model Should I Buy?

The top level SEL Premium is by far the best buy, with features not seen in other models and an ultimately luxurious feel that goes beyond expectations for a family-sized SUV in its price range. The hulking VW comes stock-equipped with AWD and the more powerful V6 engine as well as every available feature in the Atlas range, including the virtual cockpit, genuine leather upholstery, and 21-inch wheels. The 12-speaker premium Fender audio system is a winner, too.

The SEL Premium is also the only model to come with park assist, a surround-view camera, and high beam assist for extra safety. Opt for the captain's chairs if you can do without an extra seat as it improves ingress and egress into the third row, and is more comfortable for passengers in the middle row overall.

Check out other Volkswagen Atlas Styles

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Comparisons

Honda Pilot Honda
Subaru Ascent Subaru

2020 Volkswagen Atlas vs Honda Pilot

The Honda Pilot and the Volkswagen Atlas fall into the same price bracket, though the Pilot offers a 3.5-liter V6 across all models that's not only marginally more frugal than the 2.0T, but more powerful than the Atlas' V6. The Pilot is also simpler to order, with Honda classifying the lineup into fewer trims and with cleaner differentiations between each. High levels of safety and convenience tech are present on both, but the Atlas' infotainment is our pick, as are its third-row seats which are far more commodious than those in the Pilot.

The two perform similarly in terms of spacious interiors, though the Atlas comes with a Wi-Fi hotspot and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto that the Honda does not at a base level. The two are ultimately very close, but it's the Honda we feel provides the best value for money, with more available at a lower price, whereas you have to buy a top-spec Atlas to really get all the good stuff.

See Honda Pilot Review

2020 Volkswagen Atlas vs Subaru Ascent

The Subaru Ascent is ever so slightly more affordable than the Atlas with an MSRP of $31,995 and offers more power from a base level with a 2.4-liter turbo in comparison to the Atlas' 2.0-liter. Despite more power, the Ascent claims victory in the gas mileage stakes at 23 mpg combined to the Atlas 2.0T's 22 mpg, and it can tow just as much as the Atlas at 5,000 lbs. The Ascent is better off-road, thanks to permanent all-wheel-drive and the X-Mode configuration of the CVT - a gearbox that otherwise ruins the Ascent's power advantage. But while the Subaru is rugged and ready, yet still frugal, the ruggedness translates to a sense of cheapness inside. It may have many of the same features available, but the interior looks and feels dated, and this is where the Atlas beats it by a big margin. The Atlas is also more spacious, and it's more comfortable, while the Ascent feels a little rougher. Ultimately the two are closely matched, but we'd forego the CVT and its accompanying fuel consumption benefits in favor of the plusher, more upscale Atlas.

See Subaru Ascent Review

Volkswagen Atlas Popular Comparisons

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