It may look like an SUV, but this crossover offers minivan-like cargo space.
Those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 90s clearly remember the age of the minivan in the US. Dodge Caravans, Pontiac Trans Ports, and Toyota Previas ruled the roads of suburbia. It wasn't long, however, until SUVs came on to the scene, initially led by the original Jeep Cherokee and Ford Explorer. Although smaller and having bumpier rides, SUVs were sexier and, therefore, trendier than minivans. Still, it was hard to argue against the many conveniences minivans offered, but by the time all was said and done, minivans lost out to SUVs.
Today, SUVs, generally speaking, have lost out to car-based crossovers. Most car buyers today realized they don't need the off-road capabilities SUVs offer, but they still like the styling and attitude, hence the rise of the crossover. Moreover, some of today's crossovers effectively combine the best minivans traits wrapped in something designed to look like an SUV. Which crossovers, specifically? Three-row crossovers. Without question, three-row crossovers are hot sellers in America right now and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. According to MSN, "through the third quarter of 2017, five of the top 20 best-selling SUV crossovers in the US are up more than 20 percent year-to-date over 2016."
And three-row crossovers, specifically, are in demand. This week's series begins with the new for 2018 Volkswagen Atlas. It is made in America (Chattanooga, Tennessee) for America, designed inside and out to cater to a market segment Volkswagen would very much like to dominate. What's immediately clear is that VW thoroughly did its homework.\ The Atlas, to summarize, has plenty of interior space, good powertrains, and a very comfortable ride. Just to give you an idea as to how large the Atlas is, it's nearly 200-inches in length, just over 7-inches longer than the Ford Explorer, one of its competitors. Like the Explorer, the Atlas has that coveted third row, allowing for a total of seven passengers.
When not needed for human occupants, the third row folds flat for increased cargo space. The second row bench and optional captain's chairs also fold flat. If this setup sounds kind of minivan-ish, then you'd be right. A minivan's second row is (or was) a bench seat, thus allowing up to eight passengers. Captain's chairs were optional. If you want an eight-seat crossover, however, there's the Honda Pilot, which we'll discuss in detail later in this series. Overall, the Atlas offers a downright enormous amount of cargo space, 97 cubic feet, to be precise, when all rear seats are folded flat. The current and aging Dodge Caravan, by comparison, has 140 cubic feet with its rear seats folded.
Under the Atlas' hood is a choice of two engines, the standard 2.0-litere turbocharged four-cylinder with 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, or the optional 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V6 with 276 hp and 266 lb-ft. Considering the Atlas has a curb weight of 4,728 pounds, the V6 is the preferred choice. Both engines, however, are paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission, sending power to either the front or all four wheels. All-wheel drive is optional as well, but only with the V6. Zero to 60 mph happens in 7.9 seconds, which isn't exactly fast even for its segment. For example, both the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse are nearly two seconds faster to 60. Another key area where the Atlas slightly lags behind is fuel economy.
The V6 models returns 19/17/23 mpg city/highway/combined, whereas an AWD Pilot V6 returns 18/26/21 mpg. Built on VW's MQB platform, which also underpins many other VW and even Audi vehicles, was the logical choice here. It helps to offer an overall smooth ride that no body-on-frame SUV could ever dream of having. The exterior design, however, certainly does project some SUV-like styling. For example, notice the square-like wheel arches and beefy front end styling. Remember, this design is targeted to SUV-loving Americans, so VW had to get the right attitude here, and we think it did. At first glance, we definitely see some influence from the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Interior quality is generally top notch throughout, which is something we've come to expect from Volkswagen. However, there are a few cheap plastics here and there, a result of cost-cutting measures. There's also an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although you'll have to opt for the top SEL Premium trim, which begins at a little under $50,000. Pricey? Definitely, but other features this trim level offers are a 360-degree camera system, adaptive cruise control, three-zone climate control, remote start, and a Fender audio system. If spending that kind of dough is beyond one's budget, the base Atlas has a far more reasonable starting price of $30,750, not including destination fees.
Volkswagen has undoubtedly made a winner here as the Atlas represents quite a shift from European-focused crossover buyers to those in America. With the Touareg now gone in the US, VW required a flagship crossover that would not only appeal to its current customers, but, more importantly, attract people away from the well-established competition. The Chattanooga production plant is more than ready to meet the hopeful demand.