2018 Volkswagen Atlas Review: The SUV You Buy Before Your Mid-Life Crisis

Test Drive / Comments

Stop living, abandon all hope, curl up in a ball, and die with an IV labeled "401K" stuck in your arm.

It was only a matter or time before that characteristically composed crossover SUV ride, one that feels like driving a tight car and not a lumbering train off its tracks, migrated over to the mid-size seven-seat SUV with a Volkswagen flair. And maybe that sentiment was magnified by the fact that a week prior to receiving the Atlas, we found ourselves behind the wheel of a body-on-frame Ford F-150 Raptor, but whatever the case, absolutely nothing felt normal when we first started up the Atlas and drove off.

Immediately it was easy to see what Volkswagen was up to. Through the magic of its engineering department, it managed to take a full-size SUV and make it feel just like a car on the road in a way that shrink-wraps the Atlas' large body around the driver's seat. The effect is most apparent in the way the Atlas steers. Unlike many large SUVs, which dial in steering resistance and necessitate large steering angle changes to ensure the driver really wants to merge lanes (you sure?), the Atlas' wheel is feather light and requires slight inputs to cause the front end to dart. It's not skittish, but turns are surprisingly easy for a vehicle this size.

Part of that can also be blamed on how flawlessly Volkswagen transmitted its signature dynamic on-road feel to the Atlas. Unlike the Tiguan we recently tested, the Atlas' four-corner independent suspension wasn't too stiff or too mushy and the way it meanders through traffic makes the task of driving as easy as any other afterthought. It's a driving style that's both pleasantly surprising and worrisome at the same time. After all, if it feels so much like a car, then what's left of the SUV? Quite a lot, actually. Or at least that which translates well over into city use. For one, the Atlas' exterior dimensions preserve well inside the airy cabin that seats seven, so it never feels cramped.

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Large car conveniences and maladies were also present, with parking remaining a PITA and potholes being dispatched easily in spite of the road-tuned suspension. Alas, the Atlas is an SUV for the city surface streets, like a Nissan Pathfinder, rather than for the badlands, but it can be had with Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Our tester, loaded with the transversally-mounted 3.6-liter V6 (the 2.0-liter turbo engine isn't available yet) only sent its 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels using an intelligent 8-speed automatic transmission as the intermediary party. It typically was in the right gear, but like a Volkswagen, delayed throttle response meant stabs at the gas pedal never delivered linearly.

That's normal for a turbocharged engine, but not so much for a naturally aspirated V6. Regardless, the overall sentiment about the Atlas is that it offers great value. Riding on the same MBQ platform that the Volkswagen group uses for the Audi TT and even the Volkswagen Passat, the Atlas was smooth and quiet as a luxury car and could turn on a dime, and that helped make it a perfectly boring pleasure. Frills on our SE with Technology were kept at a minimum, a bland interior and responsive but annoying touchscreen infotainment system being the only "luxury" item in the car. It worked well except for some reason, it couldn't tune between satellite radio stations without skipping to another preset or forcing us to manually type the station number.

Best to just cue up Apple CarPlay and stick to Spotify on this one. The bulk of the Technology Package doesn't include things like the power rear hatch or three-zone climate control system but it does stock all the the driver aids. Loaded onto the Atlas SE with technology is a lane departure warning system, adaptive cruise control, pedestrian monitoring, a rear-view camera system, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert. For that kind of kit, expect to spend a minimum of $38,015 including the $925 destination charge, the technology package adding $2,100 to the $34,990 Atlas SE base price after forgoing the $1,800 4Motion all-wheel drive system.

Is it all worth it? That all depends on what's sought after in a car, but there's no doubt that the Atlas' strength lies in its ability to be as capable as possible while muting any SUV annoyances. It does so by silencing the driving experience entirely, driving it into the corners with a light steering wheel, short rack, and suspension that feels more like that of a Golf than a clumsy high center gravity vehicle that can rip up off-road courses in exchange for delivering headaches in the shopping mall parking lot. For those that get actual pleasure behind the wheel of a car, keep in mind that the Mazda CX-5 is in dealerships now. For everyone else, Volkswagen is counting on you to buy the Atlas.

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